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.
Let me start this review off with a miniature literature lecture. Charles Baudelaire was a crazy French poet who was an aspiring lawyer but decided to drop it all and become the archetypal struggling artist. He borrowed money extensively and spent them on booze and whores. Of course, he burnt out and died from overdrinking alcohol but he left behind a grand literary legacy. His poetry was vulgar, decadent and entirely brilliant, inspiring a movement called the Symbolist movement.
But rather than focus on Baudelaire, let’s focus on another poet called Rimbaud (Takao also reads him). Rimbaud became and avid fan of Baudelaire. He was a young teenager and felt trapped in his parent’s home. He frequently ran away from home and eventually moved to Paris to join the Symbolist movement there. The most important thing he preached was the theory of the voyant. Rimbaud believed that a true poet (the voyant, or seer) could only achieve the pinnacle of his art with what he called ‘the derangement of the senses’. He believed that a poet had to achieve every kind of evil and suffering, to make his own soul into a monster. He saw Baudelaire as the first voyant in the whole of poetic history. Of course Rimbaud took the same path of decadence Baudelaire took. His poetic career only lasted 5 years, yet he wrote works that are widely read by the French public even to this day. After his 5 years in Paris, he spontaneously decided to travel to Africa and in the end became an arms dealer. He died of a sickness he caught overseas.
Finally let’s go to an era that’s closer to our time, around 1940s – 1950s in America. A group of Literature students in Colombia University felt sick to their stomach about the actions of the US government and about life in general. Of course, I’m referring to the Beat Generation. Allen Ginsberg’s famous “Howl” and Jack Kerouac’s famous “On the Road” became a cult classic, leading to the rise of an entire new counterculture movement altogether. The most important thing is that the members of the Beat Generation were influenced by Rimbaud. When one reads On the Road reads up about the lives of Beat Generation writers, the main theme running among them all is spontaneity and anarchic freedom. They aimed to flout the rules and societal norms as much as possible and to lead a life of utmost chaos.
After reading a couple of the reviews posted on this manga, I see the same things repeated again and again. I see people reading it as a manga about Femdom and they claim the plot is unoriginal because the “sadistic girl forcing the guy to make a contract” has been done before. On the other hand I saw the work as a completely differently thing altogether. Of course it requires a certain mindset to see this perspective.
There are those people who take a look at the society they live in and genuinely hate it to the very core. They see people who live lives of unhappiness and die unfulfilled. They get the impression that everyone is socially isolated from everyone. They see people indulging in stupid pleasures like dirty jokes and momentary experiences like karaoke sessions. They think chasing after stuff like wealth and cars are just another form of escapism and self-delusion. They dream of running away to Woodstock in the 1960s and spending 3 days of freedom and drugs and rock and roll. They dream of following the footsteps of street artist Banksy and spraying paint and art all over the walls of the city. They think that people are only truly free when they are free to run around in fields, to scream, to have cathartic moment after cathartic moment, to ride On the Road without limits and without care. They don’t like the obligations they have towards society and think it’s a complete waste of time, to live such a myopic lifestyle.
Of course, all this is like simple Anarchist theory. You can read more about these sorts of theories of human freedom in things like the works Situationist International and the movie My Dinner with Andre. What I see Aku no Hana as is a portrait, a representation of the burden (and it is a huge burden) and yet simultaneous beauty of leading the lifestyle of sin Baudelaire and Rimbaud once led. Nakamura isn’t just a sadistic BDSM queen; she’s a representation of that lifestyle, a symbol. Takao submits to her because the sheer thrill of their exploits is a form of exaltation. Likewise, I was drawn towards the glimpse of that lifestyle, two people doing things I could never have done and looking so unbelievably joyous in their carnage.
Normally I classify works under two forms. One is a work that is a beautiful illusion, a work of fiction that is perfect in every way for escapism and sentiment, drawing out simple emotions. Things like melodramas and thrillers and comedies fall under this territory. Then there are those that have glimpses of direct, real lived experience within them, those works that can give you bits and pieces of life. These are the works that will enrapture your soul and depress you because they capture just a mere iota of a full experience that you know is currently out of your reach or force you to confront a dire reality. Things like Welcome to the NHK, Subarashii Sekai (by Inio Asano), Synecdoche New York, All About Lily Chou Chou, Fight Club (to a small extent, it’s more of a thriller).
It didn’t pick up though until that first event in the classroom. The ultimate glimpse of pure anarchist delight embodied in the two dancing adolescent youths. There’s a certain mindset that you need to have before entering such works, the mindset that you are both lonely and damned, the twisted romantic view of life. Aku no Hana is a work for dreamers. The first step is to not see the main characters superficially as a mere twisted couple mimicked in many other stories but representatives of different aspects of humanity. Anarchy, conformity, angst, spite, jealousy, rebellion are all present.
Seeing past all the standard critiques, it’s not a matter of clichés or characterization at all, in the end it all comes down to how much you empathize with that beautiful vision of anarchic self-destruction.
This review may sound like it comes from a complete sociopath (Most likely. I had Fleurs du Mal and Rimbaud's Complete works before I even knew of the manga. Also I'm one of those hopeless dreamers who plans to live some kind of struggling artist life in the future) but this is just a single perspective that may perhaps change some people's views when engaging with this manga (I hope).read more
This manga is crazy. I'm sorry, actually, allow me to correct myself, this manga is FUCKING crazy.
So you thought School Days was fucked up, you haven't even begun.
I'll start with the flaws, because they are apparent. First of all, the story isn't the most original thing you've ever heard of. You have a boy who has a crush on a girl and is forced to make a contract with another girl because he is caught stealing the first girl's underwear. It doesn't take a genius to realize where the romance is going to be placed. The characters aren't the most developed characters ever and they aren't actually very three dimensional. The art is average, which is not a bad thing but it isn't a strength. In fact, if treat the manga as a morally psychological manga, that is based on Les Fleurs du mal, it falls a bit short as the themes aren't expressed with enough emphasis.
Still, and I might be overstating this, but I believe this manga has dwelled itself in a specific sort of "art" that we rarely see in stories. Most stories try to use pleasure as the appeal to the audience. What I mean is that while we are experiencing the story, we gain a sense of pleasure through it, which attracts us to continue. Whether that attraction is through the thrill of action, the calm slice of life scenery or just plain hentai lust. On the other hand, this story has decided to use discomfort to attact us, and we keep reading because we are enjoying that feeling of that "discomfort". It's not the easiest emotion to explain, which is why I end up describing each chapter as "weird" or "Oh Shit!". This discomfort isn't the same as what the Romans got from Gladiator fights or what we feel when we watch SAW, as they produce a thrill which attracts us, instead we are enjoying the feeling of being "trapped" and "pressured", maybe even disturbed. Still, its great when we finish and we can sit back and realize, "Fuck yeah, that isn't me!" Unfortunately, the characters are relatable enough that when we sit back and think about it more, we realize that we see ourselves in them.
What I do praise is the way the story is so fast paced, that when we feel trapped because of the characters, we have no time to relieve ourselves before they get into an even deeper mess. Of course, its better to not have to wait for it monthly to fully experience this effect. Things happen in each page, and there are barely any pages wasted on metaphoric dialogue or drawings of the random scenery unless they somehow make a big impact. Big events happen in each chapter and the story moves at an extreme speed. Such pacing doesn't work for all mangas, but for this one, I can definitely say it does.
I'm not going to lie, some people are not going to enjoy this. It seems to try to become something deeply psychological, but falls short because of the rather unrealistic personalities of the characters. Still, let me ask you this, do you feel good when you read this? And if no, then why are you continuing? read more
I actually think this manga could be labeled as a "horror-manga" because it all plays out like some sort of demented never-ending nightmare. Not the sort of nightmare where you're chased by a serial killer, mind you. But rather the sort of nightmare where you discover that you've forgotten to wear clothes to school. (I would name the genre "social-horror")
The set-up is wonderful! Kasuga Takao is a somewhat pretentious boy who considers himself different (and perhaps better) than other people because he's reading difficult french poetry. His favorite book is "the Flowers of Evil" by Baudelaire (thereby the title of the manga). One day he coincidentally finds the gym-bag of the girl he has a crush on and in it her sweaty, recently used gym-outfit. When looking through the bag he hears someone. He panics and runs home with her gym clothes! Unfortunately another girl from his class, Nakamura, saw this. Being a complete sociopath, Nakamura sadistically begins to blackmail Kasuga.
I don't think I should describe the plot more than that. This manga is unique and the story is its strongest point, but Aku no Hana does have some other flaws. The art is good for the most part, but the expressions can be a bit over the top at some times. Still that's not a big problem, it often has a needed comedic effect, but I can't help but find Kasuga a bit annoying when he's constantly exploding in embarrassment! Still other expressions are pure gold, Nakamuras sadistic smile never quite leaves you. Another problem with the art is that it does good when the frame is zoomed in, but often peoples bodies look awkward, unbalanced and wrongly proportioned when you see them in full frame. (not always though)
But nitpicking on the art isn't very productive. A bigger problem for the manga is that at times the character motivations seem a illogical, if you're a person who easily take issue with that, you're probably going to have some problem with this manga. The characters themselves aren't very lovable, but the situation they're in and the friction between them makes things interesting so the manga doesn't really suffer from that.
So: Is it any good? Well, that's not an easy question. I enjoyed it, and I feel sort of guilty, but also confused as to why. I always wanted to continue reading, I wanted to know what happens next. That's a good sign, perhaps that's what's most important in determining if a manga is good. But why? Why did I wish to read on? I think there's three reasons. First of all (here's the reason why I feel sort of guilty), I think it hits a sort of sadistic sweet-spot, it's the same kind of fun you get from watching failblog, a mix of "haha!" and "oh god no".
Secondly, I sort of related to it (in a slightly far-fetched way). Kasuga's paranoia about people thinking he's a pervert, his underdeveloped personality and emotions, his will to just run away from his life, I think these are things many people have experienced at some point in their life. Though I think I would relate to it way more if I was the same age as him. His reactions are sort of illogical at times, but as I said in the beginning, it plays out a bit like a nightmare. It's like the entire manga is a manifestation of paranoia about people judging you as a pervert! And that's a theme I think most people would find interesting, especially if you haven't sorted that out yet. (though this manga will absolutely not help you sort it out!)
And with that I touch on the third reason I enjoy this manga, the confusing reason; It just sort of fascinates me! I'm not sure why, it's the same sensation I get from watching weird art. Something about this manga is just beautifully disturbed, almost surreal. This manga is funny and awful at the same time. I'm not sure it's "good", but it's definitely not boring. I don't know who it's written for, but if the set-up intrigues you give it a shot! You're in for a strange ride...read more
Note: this review is written in the hindsight of seeing both the anime and the manga, and my feelings are a product of the combination of the two. Please keep this in mind. I was introduced to this manga through the anime which at the point I am writing is still airing.
Aku no Hana is a dark coming-of-age manga that explores very deeply into the Japanese "psyche" that is 変体 or 'hentai'. It is very important to note that the translation of hentai is not the common association of 'pervert' in a sexual manner, but rather "deviant". (While watching different subtitles from different subbing groups I noticed that sometimes the distinction is not made.) It breaks away entirely from what people both inside and outside of the anime bracket imagine to be a show set in high school, supposedly exploring the "normal" life of a teenage school boy. It instead illustrates a school life that is 'slow and awkward and horrifying and at times incredibly disturbing, where old cliches are either torn apart or transformed into something poisonous.'
The art at the start of the manga is truly nothing special, it is rather generic and at times a little goofy. To start with, having begun the series via the anime, I found the manga hard to read as I much preferred the sophistication and originality of the illustration in the animation. However, if one compared the latest chapters to the first, the art styles are barely comparable - Shuuzo has truly grown along with his manga. Despite this, it is still, for the most part, nothing exceptional.
However, as explained in the previous paragraphs, there is a great deal of the manga that is hugely disturbing, and many of the scenes that are particularly graphic or what could be described as "trippy" are illustrated astoundingly. I'll allow you to see for yourself, rather than attempt (poorly) to explain myself further.
If not for the story, the characters are perhaps the strongest part of this series. The main protagonist is Kasuga. Despite his flaws, it is incredibly hard to not find yourself very attached to and feel deeply sympathetic for. For much of the manga and the anime, as is obvious from the start, he is just a shy, honest high school boy who wants to be worthy to someone and be good and virtuous. His character is so fully written and laid bare before the reader, it is a wonder to devour him, page after page. Much of Kasuga's personality can be described as stressful, or anxious, and both the anime and the manga do a miraculous job of transferring this emotion onto the viewer - I have never read or seen anything that can make me feel as strongly as the character does.
Contrasting beautifully with Kasuga is Nakamura, whom can probably be described as the antagonist of the series. She is deeply twisted and bitter to the core, a hater of the world and everyone in it. After seeing Kasuga's theft of Saeki's gym clothes, she creates this questionable image of Kasuga in her mind: the image of a disgusting, sick pervert. A true deviant. Whether or not this image of Kasuga is true is perhaps the main question that the manga seeks to answer, and indeed one for the reader too.
 http://shibirerudarou.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/deviant-flowers-of-evil-episode-6-7/read more