Imagine yourself as a teenager, with a huge infatuation on the cutest girl in class, and due to your apprehensiveness, you never talk to her. One day, you discover her gym clothes left behind, and you snatch them up for your own keeping. Well, now you’re a deviant and there’s no coming back from your actions, but at the same time you have another classmate blackmailing you over your shared secret of theft. But wait, there’s more! Now the girl whose clothes you stole suddenly wants to be your friend, and so you’ve added more drama to your existence and it’s all about to come to a head.
Yeah, that’s the twisted, demented plot Aku no Hana, or “Flowers of Evil,” from mangaka Shūzō Oshimi, now adapted as a series directed by Hiroshi Nagahama (Mushishi) for a 13 episode cour. If you’re watching shows that are action heavy and need a slow paced, tense thriller/drama, Aku no Hana might be right up your alley. But was does the first half of this rather divisive series hold beneath the dark petals?
The first thing you will notice about this series is its animation style. The animators at Zexcs went with a rotoscoped style, and you will either love, appreciate, or simply hate this creative design choice. I’m personally a fan, even if it can create some pretty ridiculous frames of animation or laughable faces, it looks fluid, and adds some realism to a grounded series. Much like Kids on the Slope did a few years back, animating your characters this way brings life to CG drawings in a way we hardly see anymore. But it’s a technique that should be used minimally, so as to not become overused and the standard, thus lessening its appeal. Seeing the characters move semi-realistically and their hair seemingly react via each strand is a breath of fresh air.
On the other side of the production values, we have a solid cast voicing the characters, with newcomer Shin’ichirō Ueda covering Kasuga, Mariya Ise (Durarara!!, Panty and Stocking) as Nakamura, and Yōko Hikasa (K-On!, Is This a Zombie?). Each bring their individual personas to life, and create an atmosphere that’s then accentuated by the hauntingly subtle soundtrack. It’s not trying to do anything too new or stirring with its standard fare of strings and discordant notes, but Hideyuki Fukasawa makes it work for the series. And oh god, the opening and ending themes for Aku no Hana, C-R-E-E-P-Y! Especially the ending; with its unusual time signature and straight delivery of its vocals. Now, I am not a person who’s easily startled or frightened by a track, but Asa-Chang & Junray’s redone “Hana” track encapsulates the mood of the entire series in its 1:30 closing moments. But none of that matters if the rest of the show is mediocre, does it?
Aku no Hana is rather straightforward from episode one, but the atmosphere and character interactions create one of the most tense anime airing currently. You’ll follow Takao Kasuga through his day-to-day life as he interacts with his modicum amount of friends, his family, and his schoolyard crush Nanako Saeki. We’re presented with a character that’s instantly relatable to most internet folk: he’s a loner, a bookworm, and someone worried about his reputation enough to carefully consider every action. Okay, so maybe that last descriptor isn’t so relatable, but for the Japanese, reputation is key, and all that some have for them. Kasuga does not wish to tarnish his in any way, so when the idea of stealing Saeki’s gym clothes presents itself, he’s torn. Unfortunately, another classmate, Sawa Nakamura, was there and saw as Kasuga committed the deed and now has Kasuga at her very whim. Nakamura isn’t someone worried so much about her reputation, as she has no friends and is just an isolated person not necessarily looking to change her ways. She just wants to have some fun.
Playing on Kasuga’s weaknesses, Nakamura has him exactly where she wants him and controls nearly every aspect of his life with odd requests and declarations for him to do to ensure his secret is safe. She simply wants him to open up, “break his walls down”, and just live life. Kasuga struggles through the first half of the series with Nakamura’s requests, but by the end of the seventh episode, you see something stirring in him that leads you to believe her words are getting through to him. Is he falling in love with her, is he embracing his deviant side, and what’s Saeki going to think of all of his alone time with Nakamura?
Wait, I assure you it’s not a lovey-dovey love triangle like a sitcom, it’s all tense and unnerving. Please don’t think that description is saying it’s bad by any means.
Just over halfway through its run, Aku no Hana has set up for a pretty bizarre ending. It can end in a number of ways, but Kasuga’s current outlook has me leaning towards a not-so-pleasant future for him. With only six episodes remaining, I’m definitely hooked on Aku no Hana and cannot wait to see it to the end, and watch its full bloom!