Watching Aku no Hana is what I imagine it would be like as a one-time hooker. You spend one night staving your body away to beastly incarnations, succulent flesh, and anal fissures; and now that it’s over, you just want to drink in your misery and forget whatever abomination occurred.
Featuring the primordial tale of the “common man” enslaved by a contract with the devil, director Hiroshi Nagahama aims to take this source material and spin it into one of the most controversial anime of all time. Yet, merely spurring controversy isn’t merits for a strong-founded work. Shuuzou Oshimi’s Aku no Hana is unfortunately not an accurate representation of teenage angst. It’s dirty pleasure, sadist viewership, and above all, greasy junk food.
It wasn’t always like this; and surprisingly enough, it’s not the art style that warrants the most criticism but the writing. The series’ beginnings feature a controversial build-up with glacial pacing, and yet to be fair, this build-up layers brewing tension which wafts into the characters’ emotions and behaviors. Eerie music scores keep viewers restless, and panned overviews toward the setting keep the work in perspective. Further, the rotoscoping implementation attests towards realistic body language and subtler actions. The art direction is simply not as bad as others claim it to be.
Another aspect remarkable about the direction is the infused realism within many framed shots, and this is primarily because of the advantages of rotoscoping. Kasuga’s friends act brashly and inconsiderately, and yet it’s because of this that they make for one of the most accurate depictions of middle or high school buddies in anime. The strangers around Kasuga also do pretty much the same thing, and even other mundane events such as his mother scolding him for being out late, hold deeper complexity through the mother’s subtler gestures. It’s not the action of scolding Kasuga but the suggestive body language that make these scenes far more immersible (and hence memorable).
More unconventional film techniques are integrated throughout the work. The abstract symbolism has been chaotic and eerie, piercing much of the intangible angst surfacing thoughout the show. The still frames work much of the time, particularly in discomforting viewers and suffusing apprehension into the atmosphere. Scenes which span 10 minutes and simply feature Kasuga and Nakamura walking around the city holding hands, have been the most impactful within the series. Everything that’s left unsaid and yet told through their movements, enumerate the most multi-dimensional facets of their characters. The pure unabiding silence when Nakamura stares at another person builds so much uneasiness and says so much about her character. Suggestive play is excellent as well, such as the occasional closeups on Nakamura’s breasts or skirt, whenever Kasuga feels slightly aroused. The eerie OP and ED remain memorable and always transition nicely into the screenplay (something many anime titles do poorly).
This isn’t to say everything in Aku no Hana’s art style has been fantastic however. Some of the facial expressions don’t quite come across right, particularly “curious” or “surprised” faces on many of the characters. The minimalism within the character artwork just doesn’t give more tangled emotions that much justice. The traced rotoscoping can also feel so jarring and cheap at times that it reeks of a poor budget; seeing facial features phase in and out isn’t exactly precise attention to detail. Animation has also been wonky due to low sheet counts, and only so much can be said to enhance the atmosphere. Other key scenes with uppity animation absolutely flop, such as the multi-angle replays when one character gets fashionably dunked in water.
Most of all, the direction can’t save the writing. Once the events start treading along, you can’t help but prefer drowning in a pool of excrement. The mangaka Shuuzou Oshimi self-inserts hard as a Faustian devil weaving into a lifeless story (playing the cute Nakamura of course); you have to imagine what goes inside the man’s head when the material cuts to the throat and peters out ‘horror’ pretenses one after the other. What’s probably the worst about the series is its tendencies to overdramatize unnecessary events, and constantly churn out an ‘unsettling’ atmopshere to no effect or purpose, save for keeping viewers on edge. Diminishing returns takes a huge slice of Aku no Hana’s weakening storyline and tension, perpetually employing gloomy music scores. This ruins the shock or anxious nature of more appropriate scenes. Viewers can only be ‘unsettled’ for so long before they just adapt and get bored of the constant strings. It causes key scenes to feel less impactful.
Furthermore, Aku no Hana is terribly melodramatic. Many students’ actions are heavily exaggerated, and lots of events merely occur to keep the students (and viewers) on the edge. As such, it isn’t always a very realistic representation of teenagers, even the really really repressed ones. To be fair, it is more realistic than the majority settle out to claim; something as simple as one compliment from Kasuga’s crush could alter his whole behavior. That makes sense. However, something like the classmates all being so fixated on the trio’s relationships could be called nothing but exaggeration (almost as if… they were the main characters of a story!). It works to an extent, much like typical school gossip, but not so much that it accounts for all the incessant whispering and babbling about the three.
The characterization is severely lacking. One thing that holds down the series is the weak foundation in their personalities (for example, their lack of a backstory). This prevents the cast from being any more complex than the simple angsty emotions that define them. Moreover, proper motivations for their behaviors are never accounted for. For example, Kasuga has no reasons to explain his actions. A pretentious literature loner isn’t due motivation for all of his melodramatic and sissy behaviorisms (such as suddenly screaming “I’m not a deviant!” at the end of a date, or writhing in terror once someone taps his shoulder). You seriously can’t help but laugh at some of his behavior. That’s exactly how much they abolish whatever sensible atmosphere exists.
The inconsistencies in behavior (not teenage-affected inconsistencies, mind you) are prevalent in all three characters. Saeki never questions Kasuga or even has a concerned face when he acts so edgy and fearful. There’s also no explanation for why one character has a crush on another, nor what were the effects of an early library scene. Saeki eventually grows a newfound yandere penchant, from nothing.
Much of this could also be attributed to the (purposeful) overacting by many of the actors. Kasuga’s actor in particular is constantly on edge, as more and more ‘psychological terror’ events are inflicted upon him. It’s awkward because the character himself rarely acts rational despite the lengthier span of the storyline. What’s worse is that this “common man[‘s]” conversion to evil has been poorly established. Hence what events may be ‘shocking’ in later episodes are purely non sequiturs.
Now, if I haven’t convinced you yet just how bad the writing is, the story direction isn’t exactly the fairest maiden. The pacing especially has been dreadful. The beginning episodes feature long setups that eventually account for nothing when the action starts to arise. There’s also an unnecessary time skip halfway through the series, removing the potential for any new shred of development—all for the sake of plot convenience.
Moreover, the biggest problem with the pacing is that many episodes are so ill-timed that the season itself forgets to end on a natural spot or cliffhanger. Whether or not studio Zexcs can actually afford another season, these 13 episodes feel like (and unfortunately are) an incomplete work. Why stop so anticlimactically? This is tantamount to writing and stopping mid-