Life is basically a series of meetings of people who may have or not some effect on the involved. These effects can be minor or big, but, undoubtedly, they change people. For good or bad, meetings are one of the few things that can truly influence people. Aku no Hana shows one of such meetings and how it changed everyone involved for the worse and how these people dealt with it.
Aku no Hana (The Flowers of Evil) is a psychological manga written, created and illustrated by Shuuzou Oshimi, who also created Boku wa Mari no Naka. It began serialization in 2009 and ended in 2014. Since 2012, it has been completely translated and published in English by the company Vertical Inc..
Kasuga Takao is a run-of-the-mill student with a regular crush, except for the fact he loves to read, particularly the French Symbolists, and the fact that his favorite book is Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. One eventful afternoon, he forgets his book at class and goes back to find it. Once he gets to the classroom, he finds not only his book but also the gym clothes of his crush, Saeki Nanako. Remorsefully, he brings both of these things home. Little did he know that, Nakamura, the “weird” girl of class, saw everything. She blackmails him into creating a contract between them, in which Kasuga should do everything Nakamura wishes. These events forever change the protagonist’s life in unforeseen ways.
While the premise may seem traditional and a bit clichéd, the story from that point on is unusual and unnerving. It delves into aspects of humanity’s nature in thought-provoking reflections on our own society, such as our need to follow society’s rules while fighting our own bestial impulses. Moreover, the analysis given by Nakamura that “people are all shiteaters” and perverts is hugely impactful in a highly depressing way, particularly because of the image it evokes, similarly to Les Fleurs du Mal’s movement, Symbolism.
Exploring the connection between Aku no Hana and literature it is evident the influence of the classics in it. The manga presents a lot of the tendencies the symbolism had, particularly the ideals of humanity’s decadence and the focus on the effects of the things rather than the things themselves. This accentuates the connection of them and, at least to me, make it seem that Aku no Hana would have been more suitable to “traditional” literature. Another thing that points to it is the high lyrical value of some scenes and the character interactions themselves.
The main theme of Aku no Hana is the people’s point of view of each other and how easily they are manipulated. This is made apparent particularly by the way Nakamura acts, always trying to take advantage of other people and toying with other people’s emotions to reach her own objectives. The social aspect of the story is its most marking aspect and it creates a feeling of hate in the reader. This impact is very intense and even a bit unnerving.
Another point of importance for the story is how hard it is to overcome the past, as no matter what Kasuga does, he can’t seem to forget that one year with Nakamura, even years later down the line. The trauma is perfectly represented on the sense of profound apathy that dominates Kasuga through part of his future, and could even be classified as depression. This realism makes the story even more impactful and shocking.
The characters aren’t likeable in any way whatsoever, as they all have deep character flaws that hold a huge influence on their actions. Some of them are simply crazy and almost psychopaths that disregard basic aspects of humanity. However, this exaggeration serves to show problems with our own society and the way we lead our lives, in some ways.
The art of Aku no Hana is, specially at first, deformed, but that seems to be simply a way to accentuate the characters own mannerisms and humanity’s lack of form. There also is a heavy usage of symbolism, particularly with the titular “Flower of Evil”, and in that regard Aku no Hana nails it. The subtlety of it is contradictory, as it tries to send a very shocking message, but, somehow, it works, striking a vital balance between subtlety and impact.
This last point, again, makes it seem that a book format would have suited Aku no Hana better. Everything about it corroborates that, from the way the story is told to the contradiction of subtlety and shock-aspect. I was constantly reminded of that while reading it and, to be frank, it diminished my experience.
Aku no Hana is not a particularly enjoyable read, it is too shocking and thought-provoking for that, but it is highly appreciative of a trained eye to observe its details and criticisms.
It is not a series everyone would appreciate, that is a certainty, but those who understand it will probably be deeply impacted by its message. Sadly, it is too reliant on that to be a definite recommendation, as its is deeply ingrained in every aspect of the manga. This characteristic makes Aku no Hana a high-level read that needs an experienced reader with some knowledge of literature to be fully appreciated.
Thank you for reading. Hope you enjoyed it!