New To Blu: Flowers of Evil

Michelle reviews Flowers of Evil, recently released to blu-ray.

"Do you like my sexy hair?"
Flowers of Evil is one of the most underrated and incredible anime series of 2014. Unfortunately, the slow pacing and animation style turned off most casual anime fans and it has received mixed reviews. It was also overshadowed by blockbuster shows like Attack on Titan and Kill la Kill, leaving it to languish in cult status. Viewers who do take a gamble (like I did), however, will be rewarded with a creepy and gorgeous tale filled with dark beauty and sinister undertones.

The story follows a high school student named Takao Kasuga, an introvert who loves reading obscure literature and poetry. He has an unrequited crush on Nanako Saeki, his pretty and popular classmate. Takao has a weak moment, and in a fit of love-induced insanity steals one of Nanako’s belongings—unbeknownst to him, his creepy female classmate Sawa Nakamura catches him in the act. She then blackmails him with the information and makes him enter a “contract” with her in exchange for keeping his secret. The consequences of his acquiescence are far-reaching and devastating.

In a world of giant robots and over-the-top action sequences, the unhurried and deliberate pacing of Flowers of Evil’s story can seem boring and tedious. There are very few slow burn style anime series and it’s a hard pill for fans to swallow sometimes. The director, Hiroshi Nagahama, is known for another delicate and slow series called Mushishi, and he is adept at keeping the audience’s attention even with a subtle material. As this is a coming-of-age tale, the young characters are very emotional and make irrational decisions, and as is common with Japanese anime, they tend to seem over-exaggerated and melodramatic. It can be a little distracting at times, but doesn’t detract from the overall plot.

"Do you like my sexy glasses?"
One of the most polarizing aspects of the show was the choice to use rotoscoping for the animation style. Rotoscoping is a technique where they film everything using live actors and draw over the footage to make it look like a cartoon. The result is realistic looking with a high frame rate—I cannot recall any other anime that has used this method, as it seems to be more commonly used in western animation. It has the effect of making it look more like an actual television show and less like traditional anime. 

Some people think it’s lazy, but I feel like it was a deliberate stylistic choice by the director. Because of the propensity of rotoscoping to enter the “uncanny valley” it makes the overall atmosphere creepier and unsettling. Often times, the character designs become less defined and more abstract, depending on what is going on at the time. It’s minimalist for the most part, but ends up being effective for a few choice scenes.

One of the most interesting aspects of Flowers of Evil is the musical score. The background music is constantly foreboding and menacing which makes for a distressing and uncomfortable feeling throughout the series. The opening theme is a normal peppy anime theme, but it is sung by various voice actors from the show and changes slightly every episode. They sing it in a sarcastic manner as if making fun of the necessity of anime series to have a happy J-pop song. The ending theme, A Last Flower by Asa-Chang & Junray, is one of the coolest songs I have ever heard. It’s eerie and chilling and always starts at weird times at the end of each episode, slowly creeping into the character’s conversations.

"What a couple of idiots?"
If one were to try to encapsulate the theme of Flowers of Evil in one word, it would be deconstruction.  The entire series is a breakdown of common anime tropes and fan expectations.  It’s ironic that many of the detractors of this show seem to miss that point entirely.  The main character is obsessed with his ideal version of a girl and he has to deal the cognitive dissonance associated with discovering her true personality.  Just as the typical otaku has a narrow mindset of what anime is supposed to be like and cannot come to terms with something different and unexpected.  That makes this series genius in a way, and it is unfortunate that a lot of people will skip out on it because of the bad reviews.

Perhaps this series resonated with me more because I am a fan of meta-style and post-modern storytelling.  It’s definitely pretentious and that can be really off-putting to some people.  If you have a taste for something different and a little bit surreal, give Flowers of Evil a chance to blow your mind.

-Michelle Kisner