Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Flowers of Evil vol. 1-5

I was kind of avoiding this series. I really didn't seem like my sort of thing. I thought it would just be about kids being cruel to each other, and it sort of is, but not in the way that I thought. Then the anime came out and caused all sorts of buzz for its controversial use of rotoscope animation, and I planned on giving it a watch to test the waters before I dished out money for a manga book. But as things turned out, my library recently stocked the first five volumes, so I decided to give it a go. The library is always great for stepping out of your comfort zone.

Takao Kasuga is not your average middle school student. He socializes, but deep down, he believes he is different from the rest of them, and prefers to bury his face in his favorite poetry book, 'The Flowers of Evil'. One day after school, he forgets that book in class and goes back to get it. While retrieving the book, he sees the gym bag of his long time crush, Nanako Saeki, and not being able to help himself, pervertedly fondles her used gym clothes. When he hears someone coming, Kasuga panics and hurries home, gym clothes in hand. The next day, the whole class is up in arms about the theft of Saeki's gym clothes and Kasuga is wracked with guilt, thinking he is a sinner. Contemplating his crime on the way to his favorite book store, he runs in to class loner, Sawa Nakamura, who confesses that she witnessed his misdeed, and kicks off a cycle of sadistic blackmail that will make Kasuga question everything he knows to be true.

The first volume of this series was surprisingly comedic, and not dark comedy. Nakamura's crazy smile and expression, her calling her teacher "shitbug" to his face, and the psychological torture she employs on Kasuga just had be laughing out loud several times. And that's rare for me even for pure, straightforward comedies. I'm not really sure if this is intentional, or if there is just something wrong with me. I'm hoping it's the former, because it shocked me that I took pleasure in Kasuga getting mentally tortured. That isn't me. I turn my head when people get hurt in movies, so why did I enjoy Kasuga's angish? It's interesting and odd, but I'll just go with it. Life's too short to apologize for what you laugh at. With bullying being such a sensitive subject these days, I thought this would be an uncomfortable and serious read, but volume one didn't convey that at all. I feel like the overall vibe changed quite a bit in following volumes though.

I couldn't put volume one down. You could say that it was like a drug. Not just in that it was addicting, but I also felt strangely euphoric while reading. Especially during the climax where Nakamura puts her cruelty towards Kasuga into overdrive. Also like a drug, for every high, there has to be a low. After the initial glee of watching Nakamura screw with Kasuga psychologically hit its peak at the end of volume one, volume two kind of leveled off and rather than continue escalating, it was just more of the same. By the end of volume three, I thought that the three way relationship between Nakamura, Kasuga, and Saeki could be really interesting, but more and more I felt like the story was just turning into some kids' self inflicted melodrama.

I'm confused about how I feel about the characters. Technically, they should be super interesting and count as "well written", but somehow they just aren't clicking with me. Both Kasuga and Saeki actually develop quite well for only five volumes of story. Nakamura is still more of a mystery, but I can't fault the author on that because that seems to be the plan. I think the problem is that they are neither likeable or relatable. I thought I liked Nakamura at first, but I was just blinded by how shockingly blunt she is. On the surface, her actions are entertaining for a time, but underneath it all, she comes across as unhinged and just as angsty as Kasuga. Finally you see that she is just plain mean. But there is still a bit of intrigue on her exact motives, feelings and how she came to be this way, so I have not given up on her character quite yet. I briefly enjoyed watching these characters as a fascinated observer, but in the end, not being able to relate to them at all caused my interest to wane.

One thing I don't get is the eye flower imagery. What is it suppose to mean? I know that it is a stylized version of Odilon Redon's flower illustration from Charles Baudelaire's 'Les Fleurs du mal' poetry book, but I don't get the relevance as a piece of recurring symbolism. Do I have to read Baudelaire's poetry to get this? I doubt I would understand anyway, since I just don't get poetry either. I feel like I am missing a layer of understanding and enjoyment by not comprehending the eye flower's importance and not having previously experienced Baudelaire's work. This actually isn't a bad thing. Perhaps the importance and full meaning is not yet revealed and it is another aspect to look forward to. Or maybe if I read Baudelaire's poems, I will have a new appreciation of this series on future rereads....Or it could already be revealed plain as day for readers smarter than I to see. Then again, maybe it isn't plot important at all and I am over-thinking things. We'll see.

'The Flowers of Evil' has a strangely funny first volume and sets up a great premise. Subsequent volumes don't quite live up to the first, but there were still aspects to enjoy and still more to look forward to. I'm going to keep following this series, though it will mostly be out of curiosity, rather than anticipation.

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