The biggest criticism aimed at this was of course the animation, namely the fact that they chose rotoscoping over traditional means. By now, it’s been excessively debated over in anime forums and derided by a lot of people. Some people couldn’t get pass the sloppiness of the first few episodes, with characters lacking detail and fluid motions.
Okay, so I admit that even I wasn’t a fan of the animation. For the early episodes. It was really distracting at first because of how inconsistent it seemed to be. But after a while, it really started to grow on me. I think it added to the uncomfortable atmosphere of the show, because the people weren’t perfect. I had a theory back in my first impression that the reason for such an unusual stylistic choice was not just to make it look more realistic but also to distort the characters. People in the distance lose details in their faces the farther away they are from the screen, and some people just had really bizarre character designs. Perhaps it’s a way to convey to the viewer that the people of this town are dull and insignificant. Or maybe it’s an byproduct of the rotoscoping process. Who knows for sure?
The story is not the lighthearted fare that most people expect from an anime featuring high school students. Quiet loner Takao Kasuga is a misunderstood teen who loves books and otherwise leads a very dull life. This all changes when, on a sudden impulse, he steals the gym clothes of Nanako Saeki, the girl he admires. Unfortunately, this shameful act is witnessed by Sawa Nakamura, a loner just like him with a volatile personality. She blackmails him into forming a “contract” with her, and faced with no other choice must follow her every whim…
Takao is a tough character to like, and how you view him can affect your entire viewing experience. At the start of the series, he’s a very weak individual who succumbs to his inner desires easily. He spends a good portion of the series being paranoid or wallowing in his despair. You could say he’s the new Shinji Ikari of the 2010s. There were a lot of times where I would just grab the monitor and yell at him to just toss the gym clothes in the garbage. Many of the problems and obstacles presented to him could have been easily prevented, but his hesitation and lack of conviction keeps adding more setbacks to him.
This series is all about Nakamura’s psychological torment of Takao. She makes him do things that constantly put him outside of his comfort zone (and mine for that matter). Being forced to secretly wear the stolen gym clothes of the girl you like during your date with said girl is sadistic. Combine that with the constant guilt on Takao’s mind and you have the perfect setup for a total meltdown sometime in the future. The whole thing just screams of a Jerry Springer episode gone wrong.
Because the real tension of the show lies in Nakamura’s unpredictability and Takao’s self-deprecation, the pacing can really slow down. This is one of the reasons why this show has been so heavily criticized. There are often long stretches where very little dialogue or action takes place. In fact, the very first episode does nothing but show an ordinary day in Takao’s life, and it is as mundane as it can get. There are a lot of places where entire scenes could’ve been cut entirely and the narrative wouldn’t have suffered at all. The tension between Nakamura and Takao should keep you on edge the entire time you’re watching, but it’s often ruined by the sluggish pacing in between.
Despite all of the setbacks, the show does have its moments. The scene from the midpoint of the series where Nakamura and Takao vandalize their classroom is still my favorite moment. Everything from the haunting score to the slow-motion choreography of chaos was perfectly executed. The rotoscoped animation style also turned out to be the best choice for this scene, as no other animation style could’ve captured that intensity with such realism.
Aku no Hana is certainly a unique anime experience, quite unlike any other in recent memory. The rotoscoped animation was derisive amongst viewers, the pacing was painfully slow, and the characters were difficult to like. Even then, it managed to execute a tense atmosphere throughout its entire 13 episodes and showed a dark portrayal of blackmail and psychological torture. Plus, the animation did eventually get better around halfway through, which makes me wonder why it took so long. While it wasn’t perfect, I liked that this show took risks that most other anime studios wouldn’t dare take. It’s certainly a strange experience, and I know there won’t be a lot who will really enjoy this show. Still, I think it’s worth viewing at least once to see what the buzz is all about.
- Chances of this getting a second season are pretty slim, but I do want to see the crazier stuff that they teased at the end…