Manga Title: Aku no Hana (The Flowers of Evil)
Mangaka: Shuzo Oshimi
Genres: Psychological thriller, drama, bildungsroman
Living in a small town where all the metal seems to be rusting and nothing much ever happens, the teenager Takao Kasuga trudges to school each day. Kasuga considers himself different from others; being a reader of less known books (to his classmates anyway) such as Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs Du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) and not taking much interest in his friends’ mundane activities, he’s in a delusional world of his own – one that is crushed by just one decision.
Forgetting his copy of The Flowers of Evil in his desk, Kasuga returns to an empty classroom to get it and spots a bag of worn gym clothes that have been left behind. The bag belongs to Kasuga’s crush, Nanako Saeki, and against his own better judgment he grabs them, pulling them out. Hearing a sound behind him, he quickly conceals the fact that he is holding them and makes a getaway, still hanging onto the gym clothes.
Unknown to him, he was seen with the gym bag by Sawa Nakamura, a girl who sits directly behind him in class. At the start of the volume Nakamura swears at her teacher when he questions her about her low grades, and she’s considered to be strange by her classmates, who avoid her. Later that day she comes across Kasuga when he’s riding his bike and tells him she saw him take the clothes. Already guilt-stricken after running off with a girl’s sportswear, Kasuga falls into a panic at hearing this. Nakamura threatens that if he doesn’t take her on a ride over a nearby hill she’ll rat him out. Kasuga runs away, his mind sinking further into despair.
The following day the teacher announces that Saeki’s clothes have gone missing, which sparks off instant rumors of a pervert lurking around the school- possibly one of their own classmates. To top it off, Nakamura insists this time that Kasuga form a ‘contract’ with her in return for her silence. They start meeting daily and Nakamura slowly begins to reveal her less than wholesome motivations for threatening Kasuga.
She’s in no way trying to pull off a prank; Nakamura expresses that she feels a deep sadness within her and wants to release it on the world. Calling herself a deviant, she states that she wants to ‘peel Kasuga’s skin off’ and reveal the deviant lurking within him too.
A while after Kasuga comes across Saeki in the hall, and out of the blue he asks her out on a date, which she accepts.
Nakamura overhears and decides to use this as an opportunity for Kasuga to reveal his inner self. Caught between the fear of being told on with its subsequent shame, and the consequences of following Nakamura’s directions, Kasuga reluctantly adheres to her wishes. And so the three main characters find themselves entangled in a triangle that involves their deepest inhibitions, fears and desires, whilst all about them – the flowers of evil are blossoming.
Most of the first half of Aku no Hana focuses on the three characters introduced above. Kasuga seems idealistic at first, being somewhat more knowledgeable than his peers; he looks down on them and believes no one in the backwater town he lives could ever understand him. We later find that he’s quite weak-willed, filled with angst and easily coerced by the domineering and often cruel Nakamura.
Nakamura is forceful and controlling, literally pushing Kasuga into difficult situations. She confides in him that she hopes he is a true deviant who will ‘set the town on fire’. Though considering herself to be a deviant, instead of putting her thoughts into action, she by extension wants Kasuga to do it. She finds pleasure in seeing Kasuga doing perverted things, giving her a feeling that there is someone else in the world like her.
She presents herself as being the opposite of Kasuga – who mainly has delusions of grandeur from reading – and is only interested in action, in the release that can be found in expressing her inner turmoil outwardly.
At first it seems that Saeki is the victim of Nakamura and Kasuga’s perverted intentions (though Kasuga is mostly being manipulated a little too easily by Nakamura). Herself a beautiful honors student, talented and showing great promise, it’s obvious that’s she’s being unwillingly groomed by her parents into a role she doesn’t truly want. Her own frustration with this is subtle at first, however it’s revealed more fully as the plot develops.
Aku no Hana is a brooding tale about the angst of not just growing up, but of existence itself. Kasuga, Nakamura and Saeki all represent relevant examples of individuals whose bottled-up feelings finally come to the surface, and what happens as a result. The manga isn’t philosophical about these issues either; no in-depth theories are presented to explain the characters’ actions – Aku no Hana merely chronicles them powerfully, and the rest is left up to the reader.
I initially watched Aku no Hana when it was released as a 13 episode anime series and started reading the manga afterwards. Whilst attaining an even darker feel than the manga it’s pretty true to the source material. The anime was directed by Hiroshi Nagahama (director of both seasons of Mushishi) and uses rotoscoping techniques that give it a unique feel.
What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?