The dark night of the soul spread out over thirteen episodes.
What They Say:
Darkness lurks everywhere, in every human heart, and sometimes it takes just a second of weakness for it to take root. For Takao Kasuga, that germination begins when his obsession with his beautiful classmate Nanako meets the opportunity to “borrow” her used gym clothes. Unfortunately, his loathsome act of laundry theft is witnessed by Nakamura, the strange girl who sits behind him in class. Soon, Nakamura’s own dark obsessions begin to hook their twisted tendrils into Takao’s miserable existence.
Blackmailed into a “contract” under the threat of having his guilt revealed to his entire class, the former bookworm who could spend hours reading Beaudelaire’s “The Flowers of Evil” now finds himself entwined in Nakamura’s growing fantasies as she leads him down the garden path to damnation. As their blossoming relationship becomes ever darker, even the seemingly innocent Nanako is pulled into the nightmare.
Just what are Nakumura’s ultimate plans, and will the increasingly trapped Takao really be willing to carry them out? What you sow, you must ultimately reap, and there’s certain to be a harrowing harvest ahead!
Each episode is presented in Japanese 2.0 stereo. English subtitles are provided for non-Japanese speakers.
Each episode is presented in 16:9 anamorphic aspect ratio.
The front cover features the silhouette of a dark, weed-like flower looking somewhere between a sunflower and a dandelion with a half-lidded eye glaring out at the viewer. This is set against a dark, sickly gray background with faint, watery Japanese writing (probably kanji, but I could be wrong). The same flower also appears on the spine, with the show’s title underneath it in somewhat ornate white font. The back cover features a ghostly image of Nakamura. Underneath her is the show’s summary, which is presented on white, uneven strips, as if they were typed out and each line were cut and pasted on the back. Filigree-like neon green/yellow weeds creep up from the bottom and four screenshots run in a strip underneath the summary. The cast and crew listing along with the DVD specifications occupy the bottom fourth of the case.
The menu for each disk follows the same basic theme. The flower featured on the cover occupies the right side of the screen. Yellow-green weedlike filigree spreads from the left side, intertwining with the episode list. Each episode occupies a separate box, and choosing the first will automatically select the “play all” option. The only variation between the disks are how open the eye is on the evil flower. Each progressive disk has it open a little bit more.
There are no extras on this set other than previews of other titles available from Sentai.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I don’t like The Doors. It has nothing to do with the quality of their music or what they represent as a brand. As near as I can tell, they are perfectly fine musicians whose work has touched and entertained millions. But I don’t like their music. “Light My Fire” aside, their songs touch a rather dark and uncomfortable place within me, taking me to places I have no desire to visit. The aural quality of the instruments, the nearly ritualistic rhythm they use, and Morrison’s voice come together to make a sound that disturbs me. I bring this up to explain why I didn’t like Flowers of Evil. It’s an excellent anime that is, admittedly, designed to disturb, but it works too well in that regard. Every aspect of the show works together to create this effect and like the music of The Doors, it takes me to places that I don’t want to go.
Flowers of Evil is a series based on a manga of the same name by Shūzō Oshimi which was serialized in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine. The anime runs for thirteen episodes and tells the story of the contract between middle school student Takao Kasuga and his classmate Sawa Nakamura and how it spins out of control. Kasuga is a shy young man more comfortable reading than socializing with his peers. His favorite book is Charles Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil. One day while walking home from school, he realizes that he left his beloved book of poetry in his desk, and rushes back to retrieve it. While in the empty classroom, the gym bag of one of his classmates, Nanako Saeki, falls from its cubbyhole, almost as if by fate. Kasuga has a huge crush on Saeki and he fights—and loses—the urge to open up the bag and look at and touch her gym clothes. After he opens the bag he hears a noise in the hall and then panics and runs away with the clothes still in hand. This theft becomes a scandal in the class, but no one knows that it was Kasuga who did it. No one, that is, except Nakamura who tells Kasuga that if he doesn’t want her to expose him, he will enter into a contract with her where he will do anything she wants.
Nakamura is obsessed with the idea of perversion and she appears delighted with the idea that she found a huge pervert in Kasuga. She teases him, asking him how much he enjoyed rubbing Saeki’s clothes on his body, how much he liked how it smelled. She makes him wear the clothes on several occasions, including when he goes out on a date with Saeki. As the story progresses, Kasuga becomes increasingly repulsed and attracted to Nakamura, and wars with himself over his desire to be “pure” and his desire to give into the path of evil, as he likes to put it.
There are many different ways that one can look at the situation. Nakamura’s point of view is that she is helping Kasuga peel away the mask of civility to expose his true personality, and Kasuga believes that he is the victim of a total misunderstanding and that Nakamura is imposing her own perceptions onto him. What is unclear is who is correct and why Kasuga returns to Nakamura time and again even when she gives him an out. While it’s possible to infer that he experiences some sort of Stockholm Effect, the truth is probably a much more tangled and thorny creature than that.
As a character, Kasuga is very well written, which is why I can’t stand him. He’s shallow, pretentious, passive, and whiny. At first I found him sympathetic. While I don’t think I would have done the same thing, I do understand how events can escalate beyond one’s control. I also understand how events can be blown out of proportion when one is a teenager. However, Kasuga allows his passivity to perpetuate Nakamura’s victimizing, and not only that, he eventually seeks it. He is a pathetic, masochistic young man who is presented with countless opportunities to break the contract, but continually gives in because he is unable and unwilling to break free from Nakamura’s orbit. This is not a criticism of how the character is written. This is a sophisticated, nuanced story with believable characters, but this is also a story where I cannot fully divorce my emotional reaction from the property, and because the emotional impact of the story is essential to both its purpose and reception, it’s important for me to lay out its impact on me.
Every single aspect of this anime is crafted to create this unsettling atmosphere. The unity of form and purpose here is brilliant, but goes too far for me. For example, the show constantly shows us the same areas again and again—places in the town that Kasuga walks through every day that are characterized by weeds, rusted metal, and other signs of age and decay. The mountains loom in the background in most of these shots, providing a sense that this town is isolated from the rest of the world and acting almost like a border guard to prevent escape. The repetition of these dark, depressing images highlights Kasuga and Nakamura’s feelings of isolation, dissatisfaction, and loneliness.
The animation style also works to disturb. It’s slower than most shows. Slower to the point where it creates tension, much like the quiet moments in a horror film. And the style itself feels out of date somehow. There were many times when watching this that I was reminded of the rotoscope style of Ralph Bakshi’s work, such as Fire and Ice and Wizards. The characters move with a distinct lack of fluidity that has come to characterize the anime style, and they appear separate from their surroundings, like images on two distinct panes overlaying each other, almost as if calling to attention the fact that this is an anime. In addition to that, faces are often indistinct to the point where they are blank if the character is in the background. When detail is added to a face, it’s often to make them appear disturbing, such as Nakamura’s Grinch-like smile. All of these elements: the repetition of areas, the dingy colors, the sense of decay, the slow speed, and the lack of fine detail create a visual sensation that something is wrong, perhaps to put the viewer in Kasuga and Nakamura’s headspace.
The only area where the quality of the anime faltered was the final episode. In the finale, Kasuga confronts Nakamura. At this point he and she had tried to run away, past the mountains, only to be stopped by Saeki, who forces him to choose between them. Nakamura refuses, saying that he is an empty person, and the three are taken in by the police. Kasuga’s contract with Nakamura is now void and neither girl wants anything to do with him. He comes to the realization that Saeki doesn’t need him to be happy, but Nakamura does because she’s so damaged. He goes to her home in a last-ditch effort to connect with her, and the two struggle. As they struggle, a series of images flash on the screen along with words. Because this is a subtitle only work, all of the dialogue is presented on the screen, so during this moment, a great deal of visual information is presented to the viewer at a pace that makes it nearly impossible to digest. This, perhaps, explains whyI had three conflicting thoughts while watching it: 1) that Nakamura would somehow turn out to be either a figment of Kasuga’s imagination or an extraneous personality; 2) that Kasuga had raped Nakamura or was fantasizing about raping her; or 3) that Nakamura had been raped in the past and that was what “broke” her, for lack of a better word. How much clearer this would have been had I been able to understand the dialogue is debatable, but the whole scene doesn’t make sense to me.
The scene also doesn’t make sense in terms of the story as I understood it. There was never a moment when Nakamura seemed to need or like Kasuga, and thematically speaking it made more sense that this realization that she needed saving at all was just another one of Kasuga’s pretentions—such as reading Baudelaire even though he didn’t understand it. The entire series appeared to be about exposing Kasuga: exposing his hypocrisies, his pretentions, his juvenile understanding of love and sex, and his hollow existence, but this ending does not fit that theme and because of that feels unsatisfying. Honestly, I thought that Kasuga, Nakamura, or both would end up killing themselves by throwing themselves out of a window at school. One of the images that was repeated time and again was of a latch on a window at school, which I thought was foreshadowing. It could have been that it symbolized something else, but there really seemed to be nowhere else the narrative could go other than the suicide route. It’s not that that’s what I wanted to happen, it’s just what I expected.
Flowers of Evil was a very well done anime with a sophisticated, nuanced story and a clear theme. However, the ending does not satisfy and the entire series was disturbing in a way that was troubling and not enjoyable. I knew going in that this would be a disturbing show, but it took me to darker places than I had anticipated. In a way, this show worked too well, so if you are interested in watching it, make sure that you know what you’re getting into. I’m not comfortable in saying definitively that I recommend this or not, so this one stays open ended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: July 8th, 2014
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection