Kasuga Takao is a boy who loves reading books, particularly Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. A girl at his school, Saeki Nanako, is his muse and his Venus, and he admires her from a distance. One day, he forgets his copy of Les Fleurs du Mal in the classroom and runs back alone to pick it up. In the classroom, he finds not only his book, but Saeki's gym uniform. On a mad impulse, he steals it.
Now everyone knows "some pervert" stole Saeki's uniform, and Kasuga is dying with shame and guilt. Furthermore, the weird, creepy, and friendless girl of the class, Nakamura, saw him take the uniform. Instead of revealing it was him, she recognizes his kindred deviant spirit and uses her knowledge to take control of his life. Will it be possible for Kasuga to get closer to Saeki, despite Nakamura's meddling and his dark secret? What exactly does Nakamura intend to do with him?
Aku no Hana was published in English as The Flowers of Evil by Vertical Inc. from May 8, 2012 to October 14, 2014 and has been published in Spanish as Las Flores del Mal by Norma Editorial since September 26, 2014 and was published in Italian as I Fiori del Male - Aku no Hana by Panini Comics under the Planet Manga imprint from November 9, 2013 to February 7, 2015 and has been published in French as Les Fleurs Du Mal by ki-oon since January 12, 2017.
I will mainly write about why I love the scenario and characters and why I preferred the second part, the one which has never been adapted into anime. For this purpose, I am going to spoil the whole story, so don't read this unless you have finished the manga.
I moderately liked the beginning of the manga because I did not really understand what the characters wanted (the MC in particular) and it seemed to me that they were acting irrationally. The escalation of catastrophic risk taking was fine but not enough to make me love the manga and I think I was right because the
rest of the manga gives a new meaning to this part which is in fact a mere introduction.
To me, it tells the story of boy who is introvert/asocial but not deeply abnormal and who cultivates his uniqueness because he fails to fit in. He believes that if he can't be as good as a normie than the other normies, it means he has a different/superior fate and he convinces himself that his "thing" is poetry, something the others can't understand. He finds a place for the pretty girl he fancies in this thinking pattern, calling her his "muse" (which is quite ridiculous). The MC is therefore at first pretty unhappy and lonely but comfortably confined in his simplistic relation with the rest of the world and vaguely in love with some girl he doesn't really know. This distance between them, which should be a source of pain, actually comforts the idea he has made of himself and make the situation more coherent and convenient than if he tried to seduce her.
When he gets closer to her, it is in fact natural that it doesn't go too well: he is still asocial, he doesn’t know how to fit in by her side and he doesn't have much to say to her. I hadn't understood it, reading the first chapters (I couldn't tell if it is normal, if we are supposed to understand later, of if I am a bit dumb, but however I understood later). On the other side, Sawa gives him an opportunity to increase his uniqueness, to improve his pattern which keeps him away from the others. She is genuinely different, way more than him, and even offers some new categories to add to his pattern (the concept of perversion, the concept of "shit-eaters" (misanthropy in fact) and the concept of "other side") which he tries to match with his understanding of Baudelaire's poetry. When he rejects Saeki to turn to his tormentor WHOM HE DOESN'T EVEN UNDERSTAND, I thought it was dumb, but it's actually very coherent. To this selfish interest is apparently added the desire to help Sawa, to offer her the company of someone who is like her and who can understand her, in opposition to Saeki who is a normie et doesn't need him. However, we clearly feel that he never completely succeeds, that she remains more special than him, that he never understands her and can't really save her, which creates a malaise during this whole part of the story which I find retrospectively delicious.
Then comes the chapter of the summer festival: she betrays him, pushes him away and tries to die alone. He doesn't understand, neither did I at the moment, but it's actually simple: she's thanking him for all these efforts he made for her which have mitigate her misery for a little while but wishes that he keeps living because she understood that he was less abnormal than her and that he could find his place in the world with some efforts, unlike her. The MC only understands this in the end and I only completely understood it at the same time he did. But what makes her so different? Why would Sawa be so desperate while he wouldn't? Is she right to think this way? She's right, and the reason is simple: as seen in the last chapter (which, in my opinion, was not necessary to understand this, but it is an indisputable confirmation which puts an end to any hesitation), she is genuinely, clinically crazy. I don't know anything about psychiatry but it must be some form of schizophrenia. Her perception of the world is biased, everything she says or do in the whole manga is irrational. She's desperately crazy while the MC is merely a bit different from the normies.
For some years, he won't get out of the illusion that he was different like her, that he was able to do something for her, and he will live in the nostalgic remembrance of their relationship and the incomprehension of Sawa's final act. It all changes when he meets the third girl whom he will seduce without giving up his particularity but without persisting in withdrawal. He will understand that he can be normal too, even if he has a passion apparently rare in his environment (literature), and finally give up his dumb pattern which was his shell during adolescence. Then comes my favourite passage: he meets Sawa, who almost didn't evolve, unlike him, again and, after a night of horseplay, reminiscent of the horseplay of their adolescence, she tells him not to ever come again because he is not like her.
I should also write more about Saeki and her friend Kinoshita who suffer a lot because of the MC's mistakes, they are two very good characters, but the essential point is here: a MC who doesn't fins his place and cultivates his difference; he believes (wrongly) that he can help a truly different (crazy) girl and persists in this way despite his failure without ever finding any satisfaction; it takes a lot of time for him to get over it but finally becomes normal while she remains in her desperate situation from which no one can get her out, and anyway from which the MC won't ever try to get her out anymore.
Shuzo Oshimi dedicated this work to “all the boys and girls who have ever suffered the torments of puberty.” But the “torment” Kasuga experiences is not due to the blackmail of a sadistic girl who witnessed his moment’s indiscretion in swiping his crush’s gym uniform. It’s in the blossom of that flower that no one hears, the desperate cry from within that no one understands – the flower of evil.
Aku no Hana’s first 6 volumes relate a chain of twisted events as the reckless decisions of three young teenagers lead to one outrageous happening after another. Desperate to find what is
dear only to them, each one wrestles with the inexorable desire for individuality. In delusional fervor they acknowledge their own perversity, and before the insurmountable heights of reality they face their own mundanity.
After a three-year time skip, volume 7 begins the story of a quiet, listless boy who has lost faith in his own significance but somehow cannot let himself enjoy the ordinary after all that has passed. Kasuga has spent his whole life running from himself and reality, clinging to one distraction after another in exhilaration bolstered by secrecy. The fantasies he spent his late childhood pursuing beckon with seductive charm, while the tangible world, with all its joys and losses, hovers just within reach.
In some ways, Aku no Hana as a whole is a visceral experience. It claws the depths of raw, subconscious desires, and awakens unarticulated and barely-acknowledged feelings of grief and longing. But it is simultaneously imbued with symbolism, with every image purposeful and infused of meaning. It can be experienced in a few hours of fervent page turning, or dissected with an intellectual scalpel.
The manga itself matures with Kasuga, abandoning outlandish incidents for less flashy, more satisfying ones in the second half. The artwork, too, improves greatly, becoming more proportionate and losing its unbalanced overemphasis on eyes and screams. After the glamour of the first half, there is a vague sense of loss in these volumes, which echoes the absence of Nakamura and the extraordinary in Kasuga’s life. This segment of the story draws the reader in as gradually as it draws Kasuga out of his indifference. While the first part offered its readers and its characters the attraction of the bizarre, it ultimately could not deliver the fulfillment of the second with Kasuga’s ordinary struggles with the demons of his youth.
There is something both painful and beautiful about Kasuga’s loss. As he claws his way into adulthood, he wrestles with those he hurt and those who hurt him, striving to let go of what he pursued with such passion as a child. Even so, with the end of one world comes the beginning of another. It is as though Kasuga and Nakamura were half blind to the beauty of the real world as children, and now simple backgrounds are replaced with gorgeous detail and shading, including sunlight that radiates vividly even from the colorless page. Kasuga is now able to find value and enjoyment in what seemed meaningless to him before.
And like a long lost friend, the flower of evil returns in dreams and moments of creativity, safely contained within the confines of the words of a notebook . . .
Aku no Hana fills me with despair, not because of the subject matter that it covers but because it's a classic example of the "Death Note" phenomenon that happens a lot in anime and manga: a particular work starts off with an interesting concept, ends up becoming insanely addictive as shit gets more and more intense until finally, all of that momentum is lost with a major event happening that kills your buzz and you're left feeling more unsatisfied than a sexually frustrated wife is with her impotent husband. Aku no Hana is a good manga but if you're expecting a completely fucked up story
all the way through, you're going to find yourself SORELY disappointed.
Aku no Hana is split up into two parts: the first 33 chapters cover Kasuga's life in middle school along with all the demented things that end up happening to him until a time skip occurs. The remainder end up covering Kasuga's life in high school post-timeskip along with his attempts to become a well-adjusted individual. I'm just going to rip this bandage right off from the start: the first 33 chapters are nothing short of addictive, to say the least. The entire tone of the story was completely morbid and it just grips you the moment you pick up the first chapter.
Nakamura has to be one of the most captivating female leads I've ever come across, not because she's elegant and charming but because she's BATSHIT INSANE!!!!! She's essentially the entire reason why I couldn't put this manga down whatsoever. You know your manga is gonna be good when one of the main characters ends up calling a teacher a shit-eater and ends up scaring him in the first chapters. As the story progressed, I kept wanting to know what the hell would go down between Kasuga and Nakamura and the events that went down left my mouth agape in pure shock and awe.
Forget all that typical high school romance crap, the shit that she and Kasuga end up doing together wouldn't be out-of-place in a perverted anarchist's wet dream. Vandalism, stealing gym clothes, shit-eaters, oh how I wish I was in Kasuga's place and I had a tank of kerosene. You keep wondering how the mangaka will top himself, thinking that there's no conceivable way that he can make things become even crazier but you'd find yourself sorely mistaken. This continues all the way until Chapter 33, which is where the manga reaches its zenith. Had the manga ended right then and there, Aku no Hana surely would've earned its place as one of the craziest and most intense mangas ever written. Sadly, the story continues.
The last ~25 chapters of the manga are a complete and total departure from the dementia that came before. Instead, it focuses on Kasuga trying to become a well-adjusted person in a world where he feels like he's an outcast. Surely, this kind of story had some potential but it was sorely squandered. For one thing, Nakamura is missing from the bulk of these chapters. Up until that point in time, Kasuga was constantly playing off of Nakamura and vice-versa. Their dynamic was made the manga exciting to read in the first place, so seeing Kasuga and his self-loathing without anything to balance it out just made the entire thing tedious to read through.
The tone shift in Aku no Hana came out of nowhere. This manga spent ~60% of its run as an incredibly fucked up high school drama and there was absolutely no hint or foreshadowing about this shift in tone coming at any point in time. If you're going to shift tones, why not make it more gradual? Time skips can work to great effect, but the way Aku no Hana set itself up made it so that a time skip wouldn't work whatsoever. Chapter 33 was the absolute climax of the manga! How the fuck are you going to do a time skip from something as intense as that?! How are you gonna go from Kasuga and Nakamura calling everyone shiteaters before doing something completely insane to Kasuga alone in high school hating himself?
For the record, it's not like I have a problem with self-loathing high school kids with fucked up pasts in the first place either. I adore the SHIT out of Oyasumi Punpun, for God's sake! Here's the difference though: Aku no Hana started out as this incredibly fucked up manga that ended up becoming more and more demented as it progressed. Punpun on the other hand was told from the psychological perspective of someone from childhood to adulthood and how he gradually turned into a pessimistic and self-loathing adult when he used to be a sweet, innocent, and optimistic child. As surreal and macabre as Punpun got, it was nowhere NEAR as demented as Aku no Hana was.
Now where does Aku no Hana stand now? Were it not for the final 25 chapters, it would've been something I would enjoy reading the shit out of. The ending was fair enough, I guess but honestly... I wanted to keep reading more of that demented anarchist's wet dream that had me hooked from the moment I started reading it. If you want to give Aku no Hana a chance, by all means do so. Whilst I did make that Death Note comparison, I should point out that Aku no Hana is nowhere near as bad as Death Note was once the Near and the SPK rolled by. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but for what it's worth, Aku no Hana was one hell of a ride from beginning to end. Anyway, that's all for now. Feedback is always welcome, and with that I'm out. Peace :)
Life is basically a series of meetings of people who may have or not some effect on the involved. These effects can be minor or big, but, undoubtedly, they change people. For good or bad, meetings are one of the few things that can truly influence people. Aku no Hana shows one of such meetings and how it changed everyone involved for the worse and how these people dealt with it.
Aku no Hana (The Flowers of Evil) is a psychological manga written, created and illustrated by Shuuzou Oshimi, who also created Boku wa Mari no Naka. It began serialization in 2009 and ended in 2014.
Since 2012, it has been completely translated and published in English by the company Vertical Inc..
Kasuga Takao is a run-of-the-mill student with a regular crush, except for the fact he loves to read, particularly the French Symbolists, and the fact that his favorite book is Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. One eventful afternoon, he forgets his book at class and goes back to find it. Once he gets to the classroom, he finds not only his book but also the gym clothes of his crush, Saeki Nanako. Remorsefully, he brings both of these things home. Little did he know that, Nakamura, the "weird" girl of class, saw everything. She blackmails him into creating a contract between them, in which Kasuga should do everything Nakamura wishes. These events forever change the protagonist's life in unforeseen ways.
While the premise may seem traditional and a bit clichéd, the story from that point on is unusual and unnerving. It delves into aspects of humanity's nature in thought-provoking reflections on our own society, such as our need to follow society's rules while fighting our own bestial impulses. Moreover, the analysis given by Nakamura that "people are all shiteaters" and perverts is hugely impactful in a highly depressing way, particularly because of the image it evokes, similarly to Les Fleurs du Mal's movement, Symbolism.
Exploring the connection between Aku no Hana and literature it is evident the influence of the classics in it. The manga presents a lot of the tendencies the symbolism had, particularly the ideals of humanity's decadence and the focus on the effects of the things rather than the things themselves. This accentuates the connection of them and, at least to me, make it seem that Aku no Hana would have been more suitable to "traditional" literature. Another thing that points to it is the high lyrical value of some scenes and the character interactions themselves.
The main theme of Aku no Hana is the people's point of view of each other and how easily they are manipulated. This is made apparent particularly by the way Nakamura acts, always trying to take advantage of other people and toying with other people's emotions to reach her own objectives. The social aspect of the story is its most marking aspect and it creates a feeling of hate in the reader. This impact is very intense and even a bit unnerving.
Another point of importance for the story is how hard it is to overcome the past, as no matter what Kasuga does, he can't seem to forget that one year with Nakamura, even years later down the line. The trauma is perfectly represented on the sense of profound apathy that dominates Kasuga through part of his future, and could even be classified as depression. This realism makes the story even more impactful and shocking.
The characters aren't likeable in any way whatsoever, as they all have deep character flaws that hold a huge influence on their actions. Some of them are simply crazy and almost psychopaths that disregard basic aspects of humanity. However, this exaggeration serves to show problems with our own society and the way we lead our lives, in some ways.
The art of Aku no Hana is, specially at first, deformed, but that seems to be simply a way to accentuate the characters own mannerisms and humanity's lack of form. There also is a heavy usage of symbolism, particularly with the titular "Flower of Evil", and in that regard Aku no Hana nails it. The subtlety of it is contradictory, as it tries to send a very shocking message, but, somehow, it works, striking a vital balance between subtlety and impact.
This last point, again, makes it seem that a book format would have suited Aku no Hana better. Everything about it corroborates that, from the way the story is told to the contradiction of subtlety and shock-aspect. I was constantly reminded of that while reading it and, to be frank, it diminished my experience.
Aku no Hana is not a particularly enjoyable read, it is too shocking and thought-provoking for that, but it is highly appreciative of a trained eye to observe its details and criticisms.
It is not a series everyone would appreciate, that is a certainty, but those who understand it will probably be deeply impacted by its message. Sadly, it is too reliant on that to be a definite recommendation, as its is deeply ingrained in every aspect of the manga. This characteristic makes Aku no Hana a high-level read that needs an experienced reader with some knowledge of literature to be fully appreciated.