Aside from trying to symbolically ‘murder’ the reader, Shūzō Oshimi’s coming-of-age manga was an avant garde exploration of the perversion and depravity of the human heart and soul. With the caustic subject matter, an anime adaptation was always going to court at least a little controversy. The major problem that fans had on reception, however, was with Hiroshi Nagahama’s use of rotoscoping – a process of animating over live action footage as used by Ralph Bakshi on 1978’s The Lord of the Rings and Fire and Ice from 1983.
Such is the limitations of the technique that the characters are subdued and stilted by awkward movements, and even in the middle distance their faces disappear from screen. And yet it adds to the pervasive oddness and the inherent creepiness of the series. As an experiment it’s both triumph and a fiasco. Being the first anime to exclusively use rotoscoping, it should be commended, but it’s hard not to mourn the drama, or indeed the anime, that could have been.
Set in a grungy town in the Gunma Prefecture, the story follows middle-schooler Takao Kasuga, a bookish oddball who’s obsessed with the dark poetry of Charles Baudelaire, particularly the titular collection, The Flowers of Evil. Even more than his obsession with poetry, is his yearning for schoolmate Nanako Saeki. After witnessing Takeo ‘accidently’ stealing Saeki’s gym clothes, Sawa Nakamura forces him into a contract. Desperate for him to admit to his pervasions, Takao is put through the emotional wringer, hungry for Saeki’s affection but lost in his own troubled nature. He strikes a pathetic figure, and is by no means relatable, but then none of the characters are. It’s this nakedness to storytelling and the ugly realism of its ensemble that make it both a winning and off-putting watch.
Positioned from an outsider’s perspective, there’s a longing and despondency to the lingering shots and the distance it puts itself from the characters. There’s a sense of Serial Experiments Lain in the unflinching exploration and the plaintive, slow-burn plotting. Lain does benefit from a richer sense of narrative and has a more rewarding long game; Flowers of Evil, in contrast, is a deeply difficult show to enjoy, but as a thematic journey it’s a stunning piece of work.
Special Features: Credits / Also available
FLOWERS OF EVIL: COMPLETE COLLECTION / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: HIROSHI NAGAHAM / SCREENPLAY: AKI ITAMI / STARRING: SHIN’ICHIRO UEDA, MINAMI SASAKI, YURIKO MISHINA, TOKIWA AYA, KINOSHITA AI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW