Aku no Hana 02 – Despair with the Devil

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This episode of Aku no Hana tells its tale in a more conventional style than the previous. And despite some hiccups with the rotoscoping, it manages to work its wonders yet again.

For one, the pacing is excellent. The somber dramatic scenes never feel like they’re overstaying their welcome—all touched upon with such a measured finesse that you can feel the realism suffuse into the narrative. The first scene, for example, is done with a certain sensibility that allows viewers to empathize with Kasuga’s situation. The way he looks at the gym bag, shifts his eyes back and forth, plays the indecisive Ikari Shinji, and reaches into the bag to smother himself with Saeki’s scent—it’s so relatable because it’s so plausible.

Excellent cinematography.

Excellent cinematography.

Added to this is the phenomenally built atmosphere. This time Aku no Hana uses a more minimal soundtrack and places Kasuga into the forefront of the action. This direction works perfectly as the soundtrack and cinematography subtly pair together, composing melancholic tunes over panning backgrounds. It permeates the screenplay with Kasuga’s anxiety. Furthermore, the abstractions in the art style continue to represent his unstable mind, which complements so phenomenally with the pervading atmosphere.

The general effects of rotoscoping also add to the realism in play. The body motions and lackadaisical attitude with the shifting momentum builds up otherwise dull moments. When Kasuga collapses in his room after having escaped with the stolen gym clothes, you can see all the small actions he does in shifting his body weight, moving his hips, placing his arms to support himself, and ultimately prostrating himself. These subtler actions give rise to a truly meaningful connection to his character. The way the screenplay unfolds due to the benefits of rotoscoping makes these moments so palpable.

What bros.

What bros.

The realism also goes hand-in-hand with all the lewd talk among Kasuga’s friends. You gotta love some “jungle” and “rape” banter among best buds. Kasuga’s not very close with his friends past generic high school banter, which continues to build onto his lone wolf portrayal. What’s less obvious here is the allusion to last episode’s scene, with Kasuga crouched into a fetal-like position while watching Saeki play.

Woe is me.

Woe is me.

This episode’s focus solely on Kasuga and his turmoils is admirably done. His need to console his angst-ridden self with Les Fleurs du Mal doesn’t go away. It’s a central aspect of his character, and whereas the manga forgets this during later portions of the story, the anime so far has continued to remind us of his character’s essence. While others may interpret Baudelaire merely as a gimmick to fuel a one-dimensional character, there’s so much more complexity going beyond the surface. Kasuga is a lonesome pretentious douchebag, and the way the narrative plays out his monologues continues to deliver this message.

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Other characters are given less airtime, and this works well with the direction to concentrate onto Kasuga. Saeki plays as the pure maiden. She’s one-dimensional here and isn’t given a hint of complexity, but that’s the point. As seen in last episode, Kasuga doesn’t even know her and is already madly in love, going insofar as to call her “his muse and femme fatale.” He’s substituting his lack of knowledge of her with his own ideals, falling more in love with a concept than the real person. And especially for manga readers who know what’s to happen, this works phenomenally in conjunction with future portions of the story, i.e., when she is characterized.

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As for Nakamura, her own one-dimensional tendencies work perfectly with the story as well. She’s not supposed to be delved upon as a realistic character yet; her being enshrouded in mystery works wonders for the narrative. Indeed, she literally plays the Devil in the story, offering the Faustian bargain to the woeful man. And by golly her scenes are plain creepy. While I found the manga to be psychological junk food, the atmosphere built into these situations (as detailed above) do so well in making them deeper.

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But Aku no Hana isn’t all sunshine and roses. The lack of facial detail ruins several crucial scenes, especially when Nakamura shoves Kasuga into Saeki (cue some awkward silence) and then Kasuga digs his face into her bosom in order to smell her (huh?). It felt like a clammy soap opera handled with clumsy actors. This is jarring not because the scene itself is uncomfortable, but because the technical proficiency ruins any immersion. This is a huge problem if absolutely important scenes with the already paltry-airtimed Nakamura and Saeki are ruined by sloppy artwork.

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As for other rotoscoping concerns, I don’t have a problem with the blurring and loss of mouths, eyes, etc. during pull back shots. These scenes don’t focus on the characters insomuch as the context of the scenes (which is the purpose of these distanced shots), so I find it hard to accept this as a valid criticism. It may be a lazy budget problem, but it still works in conjunction with the atmosphere. Making fun of others who call this an acceptable art direction is tantamount to telling others you’re an ignoble savage.

There’s not as much jarring frame skips this episode either. What skippy frames you do notice are done intentionally, like when the teacher announces Saeki’s gym clothes are stolen or when Kasuga runs away from Nakamura. And for these moments, I would say they do well in adding to the off-kilter art style, though I have mixed feelings over their implementation (seeing Kasuga wail his arms while running makes me giddy).

Overall, while this episode of Aku no Hana suffers from a few crucial scenes due to the rotoscoping, every other element in the narrative is practically flawless. I can’t give enough praise to how well the story is told. Now if only they paid more attention to facial detail..

Score: Great (7/10)
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2 comments

  1. There are some great insights in this post and although I took a slightly different approach in my post you do raise some good points about the characters and atmosphere.

    I personally do not see the merits in Kasuga’s characterization at this point. Though you mentioned his entire persona revolves around being a pretentious loner, I have my doubts that this will be enough to carry the show if it intends to get into any deeper psychological development. The problem I see with how Kasuga’s character has been built so far is that there isn’t enough background given to effectively emphasize with his desires and distress. While the cinematography has been effective at representing his instability at times, at the end of the day he’s still made out to be that weird outcast.

    Regarding the use of rotoscoping, you wrote this week that it has benefited the characters by detailing their subtle body language. Although I would agree that it has imparted a certain level of realism that may otherwise be difficult to achieve with conventional animation due to budget restrictions, when compared to the standards of live action film, it is merely commonplace. So I’ll end off this comment by posing a question. Do you feel that Aku no Hana would have been just as effective if it was done with live action film as opposed to rotoscoping?

    1. Indeed, the cinematography lifts most of the heavy weight—with Kasuga coming up short in terms of a backstory. Aside from his need to find meaning through highbrow pretenses, there’s little knowledge of his character, and this will likely hamper the show in later episodes if they do not elaborate on the reasoning behind his angst (a gargantuan problem with the manga). But at this point in the stage, it’s fine if the atmosphere lends most of the insight into his character. There will certainly be a time when we need a more solid foundation though.

      >Do you feel that Aku no Hana would have been just as effective if it was done with live action film as opposed to rotoscoping?
      Ah, this question has come up frequently in other aniblogs. Among many facets, certainly one of the advantages of animation over live footage is the creative potential with art design. From what we’ve seen so far, Aku no Hana has largely kept its foot in reality’s door. I could see these two episodes accomplished far better as a live action, especially since many of the current issues revolve around the poor rotoscoping integration. What I do look forward to most is the use of abstractions that add to Aku no Hana‘s atmosphere. For example, with the aku no hana budding at the climax of the first episode, it would be difficult to make a live-action rendition that doesn’t feel too jarring with that art style. However, that’s a diminutive issue in comparison to the more jarring rotoscoping in this art style. So whether or not more abstract artwork is implemented (and implemented well) will likely affect my answer for the series in general. Everything else—the cinematography, the dialogue, the acting—could be done just as well (if not better) as a live action.

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