Anime for People who Don’t Like Anime: Aku No Hana

Pros:

  • Very good portrait of what it feels like to be a teen boy who doesn’t know how to process his emotions in a healthy way
  • Rotoscoped animation gives everything an unsettling, almost Gothic feel
  • Every scene drips with anxiety and discomfort in a really satisfying way

Cons:

  • The main character is very passive and watching him get pushed from plot point to plot point by other characters can be a little frustrating

Content Warning:

I don’t discuss it explicitly in this piece, but Aku no Hana contains and engages with themes of sexual assault and bullying. If you’re going to watch and engage with the series, please do it a way that’s safe for you. 

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I relate a lot to Aku no Hana. In high school I had severe depression and as a result I spent a lot of time reading and thinking that I was deeper and more interesting than the people around me because of my experience with suffering. I was wrong, but watching the main character of Aku no Hana try to interact with a world that feels alien to him struck a chord. 

The show follows Takuga Kasao, a repressed and bookish teen who doesn’t have anyone that he feels can truly understand him. His father is quiet and intellectual, his friends are crass and perverted, and the only way he is able to synthesise those two sides of himself is in a copy of Baudelaire’s Flower of Evil. A book of poetry that he carries everywhere and constantly quotes from. He sounds insufferable but comes off more pathetic in practice. He’s pretentious and not particularly likeable but his attempts to be understood by an uncaring world are nonetheless compelling.

In opposition to Kasao is Sawa Nakamura, the outcast of his class. She’s the one who really drives the plot forward, blackmailing Kasao into increasingly uncomfortable situations just for the pleasure of watching him squirm. A seething ball of libido and nihilism that thinks she’s found an equal.

Every scene in the show drips with unresolved tension and alienation. The unconventional rotoscoped animation creates an uncanny valley effect; human movements, proportions and mannerisms depicted in thin rough lines and glossy flesh tones. Everything in the town seems to decay; rust staining street signs, weeds growing up through cracks in cement, the sky itself seems fenced off from the characters by a lattice of electrical wires. The setting, just like the characters, is small and coming apart at the seams. 

If you want a sample of the tone, this is the music that plays over the end credits.

The specific beats of the plot aren’t particularly interesting or inventive, but they’re carried by the tone. From the first episode you immediately understand who Kasao is as a person, even as he buckles under pressure and makes dumb, panicked decisions. You can understand him because the series is so adept at capturing the melange of anxiety, eroticism, and alienation that’s unique to adolescence.  Aku no Hana is a story about kids who don’t know how to handle their emotions and, lacking a support system, do dumb destructive things to themselves and to others. 

What differentiates Aku no Hana from most other anime is the feel of it. Simply put, it reads as cinematic in a way that most series don’t. The shots allow themselves to breathe and hang in the air, or to focus in on a characters eyes or lips or hands. It allows for a setting and mood that’s divorced from action. These characters live in a world that doesn’t care about them, that will continue to move and to exist independently of their actions and long after they’re gone. Their movement in the world will be awkward, uncomfortable, and uncanny, and in some moments beautiful. 

It feels like it was written for the current moment where the promise of a just and caring society has been ignored, leaving us all without guidance, direction, or constructive emotional outlets. Maybe I’m projecting that last part, but even so, the series remains one of the few transcendent pieces of media about the experience of being a teenager that I’ve encountered.

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