Takao Kasuga is a budding high-schooler who loves reading books; especially Charles Baudelaire’s ‘The Flowers of Evil’. He also has a huge crush on the popular girl in class Nanako Saeki. One day walking home he forgot his favourite book and runs back to pick it up. Unbeknownst to Kasuga he found Nanako’s P.E. uniform fallen out of the shelf. For some reason he panics, steals it and takes it home. It wasn’t long before the news of Saeki’s missing gym clothes was spread and the overbearing guilt builds up inside Takao. Then comes Sawa Nakamura, a strange and downright creepy outcast in Takao’s class who somehow witnessed him taking Nanako’s uniform. A downward spiral series of unfortunate events soon entails on our characters…
It’s obvious the author has a twisted mind if he’s the one who came up with Aku no Hana’s plot. What you first believe Aku no Hana to be is a typical romantic comedy between Kasuga and Nanako, with the comedic third wheel (Sawa) blackmailing Kasuga into doing all of these bizarre things. Aku no Hana is not just a romance anime, it’s a mad romance anime. Just imagine all the crazy things you wanted to do as kid but didn’t because your mother wouldn’t let you. The creator is projecting all of his crazy ideas into Sawa, and oh man, Sawa is one hell of a crazy bitch. I wonder if her hair is naturally red or it’s blood-stained from the unfortunate victims Sawa claimed in the past.
“Aku no Hana is not just a romance anime, it’s a mad romance anime.”
Aku no Hana is more about character deconstruction than character development. As each episode progresses we see the regression that goes on inside of Takao, as he succumbs to Sawa’s perverted and twisted influences, from the forced stripping to wearing Nanako’s gym uniform. It has a disturbing, uncomfortable and helpless atmosphere that us, the viewers can’t do anything about but just watch.
Aku no Hana caused a degree of controversy as it aired over the Spring season. Most of the critical opinions expressed boils down to the animation method the director chose – rotoscoping.
Rotoscoping is an animation technique where animators trace over live-action footage, frame by frame, in order to produce a life-like moving image. Rotoscoping is no stranger to anime as some series have adopted the use. Peeping Life is one example where the motions of the actors where recorded into stylised CG while Trapeze is another where it’s used in certain scenes. A famous use of rotoscoping can be found in A-ha’s music video ‘Take on Me‘.
“The animation was half-assed”
The thing about the examples I’ve mentioned is that the rotoscoping works in each respective series, each used the technique to there advantage and made it fit into their own worlds. Aku no Hana’s rotoscoping (in general) just didn’t work. Characters standing in the far distance have no faces but gradually do as they walk closer towards the camera. The subtle body motions were rough and edgy early on in the series, until the director realised and decided to not animate them at all, leading to various scenes in the second half of the series where it feels like a PowerPoint presentation. There was even a scene where Kasuga was kneeling down, but the rotoscope made it look as if his legs were shrinking into midget territory. The animation was half-assed, at times it felt as if the animators lost all hope tracing over nine-thousand frames and drawing weird and derpy faces which fall short on the uncanny valley. It’s obvious most of the project’s budget went into the live action.
Not all hope is lost in Aku no Hana however as there were numerous golden moments throughout the show. The scene where Kasuga and Sawa trash their classroom in the seventh episode was most highlighting moment in the series. The slow-motion cinematography was simply beautiful, the rotoscoping surprisingly worked really well and the scene alone would cause you to think along the lines of “Heh, wow, Kasuga and Sawa sure are fucked up in their heads”. The decision to disregard the sound of the carnage and play the ending theme as the scene overlaps into the ending credits was probably the only best decision the director made. If there’s any reason to drop Aku no Hana, at least watch until the seventh episode. Call me crazy, but after forcing myself watching all thirteen episodes, I didn’t mind the rotoscoping at all in the latter half of the series. Maybe Kasuga and Sawa destroying the classroom got me, but I guess by the time I got used to it.
Meanwhile, the cutesy and attractive character designs in the original manga were obviously thrown out of the window of a skyscraper in favour of the actors’ physique casted in the live action filming. Even if the realistic styling on the faces complimented the realistic feel of the series, the designs are bland, weird and aren’t memorable at all. Voice acting is okay but at times the performances feels quite wooden. Sawa’s outbursts were the huge offenders as her face looked more like she was smirking when it was meant to be filled with anger, rage and hate.
The ending is, really; a train-wreck. Without spoiling much in great detail, the pacing in the anime is a hell of a lot slower than the manga. I had worries when I caught up to the manga if they were going to adapt all the material in the first arc in thirteen episodes at all, and believe me, there is a lot going on in the first arc.
Disappointingly, they compressed two entire volumes worth of material into a two-minute brief montage. Which is a big metaphoric slap in the face by the production, even as far since they promised something ‘special’ for the final installment.
The music in Aku no Hana was abysmal. The opening sequence was cheaply produced with fancy title cards with opening credits. The ending is a bog standard white on black credit roll, along with the creepy music theme “Hana” by Asa-Chang and Junray.
“Aku no Hana is a live action drama with an ‘anime skin’ on top”
Aku no Hana is a strange anime – okay, sure, it’s a live action drama with an ‘anime skin’ on top. Watching Aku no Hana felt like having your parents read you a bed-time story and spitting on your face each time they turn the page. Not everyone is going to like or enjoy Aku no Hana, nor everyone will understand its ‘compelling’ story or the ‘pretentious’ metaphors. The director understood the consequences and took the gamble – and valiantly lost.
I guess Aku no Hana is like Marmite, you either love it – or hate it.
Season two never.
– 4/10 –
TL;DR – Go read the manga.