The Flowers of Evil
Takao Kasuga is a bookworm. And his favorite book right now is Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil. While the young man may often be seen lost in thought as he rabidly consumes page after page, Takao is not much of a student. Actually when we are first introduced to the middle school teen, we find him sneaking some reading as he receives and F on a recent language exam. Nakagawa is known as the class bully. When she is not receiving zeros she is usually muttering profanities to those around her. While she doesn't care for books or their readers, she does have a thing for troublemakers. Takao may not be one, but having read over his shoulder a few times, she knows he is not very innocent. If anything he is bored and aware of it. Together, by chance, they shake up their entire rural community as Takao tries to break out of his shell in a random moment of passion and affection...not directed towards Nakamura. And contrary to Takao's predictions, the girl he was falling for, Nanako Saeki, responds by eventually accepting the bibliophile for who he is. Or at least, who she thinks he is. And therein lies the conflict. Takao is not a hero. He is not troublemaker, either. He is a regular teen who through equal moments of cowardice and chivalry takes a long step towards adulthood as he desperately tries to cover up a dark secret. Takao Kusuga has stolen an item precious to someone he is attracted to, and if he doesn't form a "contract" with his new best friend, she is going to tell.
913 people found this review helpfulPreliminary
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
230 people found this review helpful
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. read more