Apr 8, 2013
czxcjx (All reviews)
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).