Oh look! I made a video review for this one a while ago, actually! Isn't that neat? I literally made that in the Vista version of Windows Movie Maker. It was so busted running on Windows 10 it wouldn't let me put in video clips. Anyway the rest of this page is gonna be the transcript of the video so that you can all follow along.
Uhhh okay so this is my first real youtube video; I've been thinking about this for a while, and thinking about where a good place to start would be, and I decided to just do it the easiest way I know how; reviewing shows I've completed, in the alphabetical order they show up in on My Anime List- I sort of slavishly keep track of everything I've seen there, it's a good resource.
To begin with, I figured I'd like to set the tone with reviewing a show I watched a while ago, and am still very much in love with- Aku no Hana. For those unfamiliar with Aku no Hana, who are watching because they want to know what all it's about and why it's so ugly, or perhaps because I sent them incessant twitter messages about supporting my craft, here's a quick summary so you can try to like... follow along.
Aku no Hana is an adaptation of a manga by Shuuzo Oshimi, comprising about the first quarter of the story. It's thirteen episodes, and follows the story of a student named Takao Kasuga. Takao, despite being a quiet, introverted boy who thinks of himself as an intellectual, kickstarts the events of the story by stealing the gym clothes of a girl in his class who he has feelings for, Nanako Saeki. Unfortunately, he is caught doing this by another classmate- the also quiet, introverted Sawa Nakamura. Nakamura senses a sort of kinship with him due to his initial violation of social norms, and begins blackmailing him into a volatile friendship built upon offending society.
Takao is a very withdrawn, restrained individual, prone to thinking and never actually doing. In contrast, Sawa is very openly misanthropic, chaotic, and frequently does things only because she has an interest in the results; she does not plan for the future. Normally two people like this would slide off of each other, like oil and water, but instead their different inclinations in regards to the self-expression become increasingly codependent, playing off of each other. Takao convinces himself that Sawa is correct in her philosophies, and Sawa creates increasingly deviant plans using Takao as a pawn in the action.
Another major underlying theme of the series is the conflict between violence and sexuality. The characters are fourteen, going through their romantic awakenings, so to speak; the story does begin, after all, because Takao steals his crush's clothes. However, the story very quickly develops the parallel between polite society and the destruction of rules, as conveyed through the characters of Nanako and Sawa. Nanako is a normal, pretty girl, and very popular- Takao often thinks of her as his muse and romantic ideal. Sawa, however, establishes herself as someone with no romantic interest in Takao- or anyone else, for that matter-, pursuing his friendship merely as a conduit to disrupt the repetitive nature of her daily life. Through his interactions with the two girls controlling his life, we as the audience are drawn into a discussion as to the heteronormative nature of relationships between men and women. Frequently the question is asked: which matters more, the pursuit of a typical romance, or the pursuit of a platonic relationship with a woman? The friendship that Sawa provides in order to further her violence is itself portrayed as an act of violence against the society she so hates.
And now we come to the spiciest part of all: the realization of Takao's hypocrisy, and the deconstructive nature of his role as an audience surrogate. Takao uses his scholarly nature and idle philosophizing throughout the series to generate excuses for Sawa's behaviour, primarily using the namesake of the show itself; forgive me if I say this wrong, I'm horrible with French- Baudelaire's novel Les Fleur du Mal. However, towards the end of the show, as he is pushed more and more to deviate from society by Sawa, he reveals the truth; the book is actually really hard for him to read, he isn't really the intellectual he projects the outward image of himself as; and that in reality, he's just a nerdy, unpopular boy who wanted a reason to feel like he was better than other people. In other, simpler words, Takao is just a pretentious loser. I'm pretty sure Sawa calls him a pretentious loser at some point, even. When he realizes that for her, the destruction of society isn't just a fun game, but a hallowed life mission, he withdraws almost to the point of betrayal. It is this betrayal that sparks the climax of the show; though, that said, I don't think I'll spoil it. Aside from saying that it was incredibly fun.
I opened this up with a joke about the art style of the anime- I frequently find it on lists of "worst anime art styles" and "anime so ugly it's impossible to watch". Quite frankly? I believe each and everyone of the people writing those articles is a coward. Not to sound too hyberbolic, of course. I get that that's a bit out of tone with the rest of the essay. I'm just an opinionated bitch. And for me? The style of the show is essential to its story- unnervingly realistic, teetering on the edge of the uncanny valley. As a matter of fact- I suspect this opinion will catch me some flak- I think it serves the story better than the manga's art does.
Furthermore, the realistic, rotoscoped style of Aku no Hana is what sets it apart in a sea of seinen dealing with dark themes. Every great anime has a visually distinct style; something that makes it stick out from the generic styles of big-eyed moe bait and popular shounen. The Aku no Hana crew stuck their neck out, fully aware there was some critic around the corner with an axe, and pulled something that hadn't ever been seen before out. Even if you hate the themes, even if you hate the story and characters, Aku no Hana is something that stands, unique and oddly radiant- in its darkened, neutral tones-, as art. I would recommend watching it for the animation alone.
As one last little rant before I close this up, I do want to say something specifically about Sawa Nakamura- I addressed her rage through the review of course, but this is something I feel like singling out especially. I think it might be something that's a little difficult for men to understand (if you're going to call me a feminist sjw for that, just leave now, it gets worse). When you live in a world where women are metaphors, objectified, and have their lives revolve around the self-insert protagonists of the media they're in- say, if you're a fan of something like Sword Art Online, to name something directly- seeing a character like Sawa Nakamura is beyond refreshing. She is neither a villain, nor a hero, but instead a driving force; she is not forced into romance or sexualization; she has no grand raison d'etre beyond her frustration with society and drive to break free of it. The question is posed, is she wrong, or is she right? And it is answered that she is definitely sick, and aberrant, but she has reasons for being so. People crumble around her and are forced to realize their own shortcomings- she exposes Takao's hypocrisies, and she drives Nanako to jeopardize her image as a model student. I've spoken before, on tumblr, about wanting to see more female characters portrayed as being themselves for the sake of being themselves, living selfishly and disdaining society. I think then that I worded it as, "female villains who are evil for the sake of being evil, not just because they had issues with a man". What's so compelling about Sawa is that she even causes the audience to question whether she's evil, or whether she's a villain. And you've already heard my thoughts on that.
So uhhhhhh that's baby's big first review. Apologies if it was a bit dry and formal, I'm new to this, and I had a lot of ground I wanted to cover. Apologies also if I didn't address something I should've addressed- I know I didn't give much air time to miss Nanako Saeki, but honestly her character development doesn't kick in much until the second quarter of the manga (spoilers: she goes off the fucking rails). Aku no Hana is a series close to my heart because of its dark and frank nature, so all said, it's definitely something I recommend if you can stomach the issues it tackles. OH and also at this point, while I'm making apologies, I would like to apologize for recording this off my phone. I'm broke as hell at the moment. Back to what I was saying- it's a good show. It's a beautiful show, even. If you can call a rotoscoped nightmare about a kid stealing his crush and eventual girlfriend's gym clothes beautiful, I mean. Here's my little scoreboard of how I rated it, overall- plot, art, characters, themes, and execution. Cute, right?? I made that in MS Paint [laugh]. Broke bitch skills. And also I would say that if you enjoyed Oyasumi Punpun, Aku no Hana is very similar in tone, so I recommend it if you liked that...