Aku no Hana: The Rite of Spring Anime Season 2013

I have not witnessed a backlash as hard as Aku no Hana’s first episode, and in fact I doubt I’ll ever see anything more outrageous than the backlash it got. Admittedly, I became part of the “backlash towards the backlash” towards Aku no Hana via Twitter, and I’ve also been actively avoiding discussion on the likes of the MAL and ANN forums, so in all honesty I don’t know everything there is to know about the extent and depth of how angry everyone got because of one contentious episode of a highly anticipated anime. I can, however, see where these complaints originate.

Aku no Hana, how do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways. The biggest and most outrageous of all the complaints is the fact that the anime is a colossal departure from the source material, which in this case is a manga currently running in a shounen magazine. How exactly shall we say that this anime is a departure from the manga? Well, that’s a question that has to be answered with more depth, so I’ve separated it into a couple of key aspects. I’ll start with the biggest one.

Character Design

[gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88].mkv_snapshot_16.58_[2013.04.06_15.02.49]

There’s nothing to circumvent the fact that Aku no Hana is going for an “uncanny valley” style of design. Are they human, or are they dancer potatoes? The anime moves away from the original manga design, and even from general anime design in general, to go for something in between animation and live action. Maybe it makes them uglier, or maybe it makes them nauseous to look at. One thing for certain, though, is that they absolutely look Japanese. No, seriously. This is much closer to what Japanese people look like than any other show I’ve ever seen. So it should be to your interest, if it’s your opinion that the characters are ugly, that you’re actually insulting Japanese people as a whole for the sake of preserving “anime” people. What is it that is being sanctified in this vilification? Food for thought.

Besides, I believe it is for the better that the staff on this anime make this kind of change. The manga opts for the more attractive route and makes the character look comparably more visually appealing. Once the plot ball gets rolling in the later episodes, the cutesy faces and grade-A body types serve as a chilling contrast between their shiny exterior and their exceptionally putrid interior. Sort of like in School Days or Higurashi, the effect is purely aesthetic and adds to the pathos of the situation. However, there’s a distinct line between using moe for contrast and moe for pandering to otaku. Case in point, Aku no Hana itself. Saeki is fine because she exists to lampoon the very concept of this trend, but Nakamura’s situation is wildly different. As much as there is a bunch of stuff in the manga that’s out to make Nakamura the ugliest character in all anime history, she’s still beautiful and attractive, which is hard to reconcile when you look at it from a more symbolic perspective. Maybe I’m just overthinking it and there’s really no difference in message between the two styles of character design. Once the anime actually gets to that point, I may discuss this point of view in more depth. But for now, I’ll just say that I approve of this change.

Pacing

[gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88].mkv_snapshot_13.58_[2013.04.06_16.55.20]

This tends to be the most common complaint in terms of adaptations in general: the opening does not unfold like it does in the manga. In fact, the manga doesn’t even begin until 15 minutes into the first episode. Everything that happens before it is original stuff. I think it’s worth looking into the original material with more depth than just “they reused backgrounds and it was slow pacing”. Watching this kind of anime sort of demands that you at least think about why the show does what it does. In this case, the first episode establishes the character of Kasuga.

[gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88].mkv_snapshot_13.29_[2013.04.06_16.54.36]

Kasuga is aware of a disconnect between himself and his family and friends. His home life is uneventful, at times standoffish, and his parents make the minimum effort to pay attention to him. Technically, his mother does pay attention to him, but it’s surface-level interaction that’s expected of a housewife in general. His father, on the other hand, is both present and non-present at the same time. He’s shown as a source of Kasuga’s penchant for literature, but he nurtures his love of reading with somewhat lukewarm enthusiasm. Otherwise, he has no presence in Kasuga’s life. Kasuga’s relationship with his parents feels more out of responsibility than love.

[gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88].mkv_snapshot_08.19_[2013.04.06_16.53.51]

His relationship with his friends is of no real significance either. The level of their friendship barely reaches past discussing interests and hanging out with each other for lack of anything better to do. He attempts to discuss deeper topics like the relationship between fear and laughter or the significance of Baudelaire’s poetry because that’s his personal interest, but his friends laugh it off as just another strange quirk of Kasuga’s. He may spend time with his friends, but they barely understand each other outside of academics. When it comes to extracurricular interests, the world of literature and interpretation runs deep into Kasuga’s perceived worldviews, so it’s hard to relate to his friends who are more interested in videogames, comics, and girls.

Basically, he feels intellectually alone. The same backgrounds show up to us twice to convey the monotony of his walk to and from school. Society bores him because no one understands him. So, his only solace in the droll, stifling world of academics and Japanese society is to read poetry. The book that gets the most screentime, Le Fleurs du mal, happens to be the title of the anime itself. Supposedly, when he quotes passages from this book of poems, his head fills up with the atmosphere. In the daytime during tests, the classroom disappears and all he sees is the azure sky and the bright clouds. When he’s along in his room, the image of a starry night sky permeates our perception. However, something else creeps into Kasuga’s train of thought.

[gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88].mkv_snapshot_12.06_[2013.04.06_16.53.20]

I say girls when it comes to his friend’s interests, but what I really mean is the verbal sexual harassment you hear during the P.E. scene. Kasuga doesn’t join in on that stuff because he has an entirely different problem. To him, girls are precious and fragile. Which brings me to my last point. It’s clear that Saeki elicits some sort of reaction out of  Kasuga, but what? The first few times they lock eyes it’s obvious they have the hots for each other. In Kasuga’s case, it’s because she is something of grave significance to him: a muse. An insufferable, immaculate woman and the object of his poetic fantasies. In his head, Saeki is perfect and pure. However, to what extent does that attraction…

[gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88].mkv_snapshot_21.36_[2013.04.06_17.01.17]

…become obsession? Think of the passages he was reading.

To the most lovely, the most dear,
The Angel, and the deathless grail
Who fill my heart with radiance clear —
In immortality all hail!

Into my life she flows translated
As saline breezes fill the sky,
And pours into my soul unsated
The taste of what can never die.

Sachet, forever fresh, perfuming
Some quiet nook of hid delight;
A lone forgotten censer fuming
In secrecy across the night.

~Excerpt of Hymne, from Le Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire (ggsubs uses the Roy Campbell translation in this case)

In other words, this poem expressed the eternal power and allure of women. When Kasuga reads this poem, he thinks of Saeki. Well, to put it precisely, he think of his image of Saeki. One thing that must be understood about Kasuga is that he’s manufactured an entire identity out of a middle school girl that he has a crush on. We have no clue about how much of his delusions are actually true, but he thinks of that image of Saeki and something rustles within him. Visually, it appears to us as the flower in Kasuga’s book of poems. As he thinks more about his image of Saeki, the more the flower trembles and grows in response. Does the flower represent his spirit as a poet? A fledgling creative mind looking for an answer to his mundane and agonizingly dull life?

Or does it represent something more sinister?

[gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88].mkv_snapshot_21.54_[2013.04.06_16.59.49]

We’d have to watch more to find out.

So Basically…

Aku no Hana is a manga that mocks the idea of virgin purity in girls. Aku no Hana is an anime that mocks the idea of virgin purity in adaptation. Since the MAL community is a bunch of faggots when it comes to their precious source material, a low MAL average score means that Aku no Hana ends up winning. Winning what, though? The satisfaction that it has thoroughly angered its own pathetic fanbase? The success of calling them pieces of shit for not understanding the sheer amount of SODEEP? As this is only the first episode, only time will tell. One thing I do know, however, is that the first episode has successfully weeded out the pieces of shit from the hipster elitist faggots that fell in love with everything about this anime. I happily join their ranks as one of them.

Addendum

  1. ty 2DT for taking the step forward that I so often forget to take.

  2. I am going to inexplicably compare this anime to the manga regardless of my views on adaptations and it’s going to be the most frustrating thing to try to forget to do. Much like unlearning a bad habit.
  3. I’m not touching the rotoscoping topic with a 50-foot pole. It is echoed in my words about character design, anyway.
  4. Well okay, I think the rotoscoping does a lot more work in introducing subtle body language than key animation can ever hope to achieve.
  5. I bet you don’t even understand my wonderful choice in titles, you uncultured swine.
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3 comments

  1. damn. I like you a lot. This was to that guy who blamed their dislike of it on acting, btw, his blog wouldn’t let me post, so you can have it and imagine you were reading it on there.

    “The creator requested they employ rotoscoping to thicken the atmosphere, which I think has been incorporated to aghast warranting and applaud worthy effect. Manga art style is trash, which is why I don’t really like most things from Japan besides maybe this, Jojo and Dark Souls. Some mecha too.

    Typical anime productions have still frames, recycled art styles, all sorts of huge disparities in production values between serializations, yet I never see fans kick up more of a fuss pertaining to these aesthetic inadequacies with long running shounen or other garbage things anime fans think pass for decent shows.

    This is a show that explores nihilism. Nakamura who is extremely numb to everything and sees it as all meaningless, then Takao who is all too easily roused emotionally. Sawa’s father who doesn’t understand her at all, which exposes the fragility and artificiality of family relations. The way society is just defiantly oblivious to their plight. Parents being sad, parents encouraging friendly relations, police hauling them in for curfews. But to Nakamura and Kasuga it’s all a fallacious misunderstanding.

    I just can’t imagine such an awesome plot and certain scenes such as the ink rampage being half as effective with a typical anime look.

    Anime is a geographic definition. But fuck, if it were a style, I’d love to say ‘being from Japan doesn’t make it like anime.’

    Just ignore that the show exists when Part II comes out and watch something like Strike Bitches, Shit Eater, some moefag garbage. I don’t know.

    I bet you hated Big O and Dead Leaves too.”

  2. ps your articles are really good. I especially liked the character interpretation of them both.

    1. I appreciate that. I am holding off on my final opinion on Aku no Hana until the yearly 12 Days of Anime blogging spree, so look forward (like way forward, like four months or something) to reading more stoof on that. And anything else that might catch your attention.

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