Heading into Flowers of Evil, I was excited. I had heard good things about it through the grapevine, and the fact that it was using rotoscope animation was already getting the series a lot of buzz. But by the time the season hit its halfway point, I had no problem putting it on the list of four anime you could skip.
Still, even then, I was hopeful. The series had six episodes left to change my mind.
Good — Accurately Conveys a Realistic World of Teenage Angst
If Flowers of Evil does one thing well, it's the setting of its world. After all, in the self-centered world of middle school teenage angst, every little problem seems like it’s the end of the world; and both friendships and relationships can be as fickle as a weak breeze. Moreover, teens at that age think they are something special, that they understand the world in a way no one else can.
This anime excellently portrays the thought process of the main character in a way that reminds older viewers with brutal clarity of that time in their. But that raises the question, does anyone who has already lived through it seriously want to remember and re-experience the emotional and social turmoil of puberty? Certainly not me.
Bad — No Stakes, No Tension
Flowers of Evil is the story of a middle school boy struggling through puberty that finds himself blackmailed by the school's resident female deviant student into doing minor acts of perversion and destruction.
The series treats each of these deviant acts with suspense tactics taken straight out of a horror film. The problem is, the stakes are hardly life and death. In fact, the stakes are practically non-existent. Over the course of the anime, their deviant acts range from the embarrassing to the messy. And being that they are 14-year-olds, the absolute harshest punishment they are likely to get would be a verbal scolding and being forced to clean up their mess. Embarrassing? Sure. But nothing likely to have a lasting negative impact on one’s adult life.
Unfortunately, without stakes, there can be no tension. And without tension, every scene that's supposed to be building tension becomes a long, drawn-out waste of time -- killing the pace of the entire anime.
Of course, even the lowest stakes can feel big if you care enough about the characters involved. But sadly, Flowers of Evil has...
Bad — A Thoroughly Unlikeable Main Cast
Flowers of Evil follows three main characters in a pseudo-love triangle: Kasuga, a weak-willed boy who likes to read; Nanako, the girl he idolizes; and Nakamura, the deviant girl who blackmails him. All three are thoroughly unlikeable.
Kasuga manages that amazing trick of teenage nerds (I was one) of feeling superior to everyone else yet being a total doormat in life. Nanako, on the other hand, is a blank slate of a girl, eager to define herself by the first boy who shows an interest in her. And Nakamura is just an angry teenager, eager to cause pain wherever she can. None of them really have any redeeming virtues which makes it next to impossible to care about them -- much less empathise with them.
Bad — The Limits of Rotoscope Animation
While many people disliked the rotoscope animation style of Flowers of Evil on a purely aesthetic level, I have no problem with it as an artistic choice. Frankly, the backgrounds, flowing water, and generally any stationary object look more vibrantly realistic than in traditional style anime.
Unfortunately, rotoscoping has major problems getting the small details of objects -- especially if they are any distance away at all from the camera and/or are moving. This means that people's faces are, in general, little more than pink blobs. When they reach the middle distance, they may gain glasses or a line for the mouth, but it's not until the camera is in close-up territory that faces truly become recognisable as such.
Flowers of Evil is supposed to be an emotion-filled drama. Yet because of the limits of rotoscope animation, we are completely unable to see the emotions of any character not blessed with its own close-up. And even when said close-ups occur, the lack of facial detail is such that it is hard to read which emotion is which -- as nearly every expression looks like some kind of smile. This, again, makes it hard to connect with the characters in the story. Because their faces aren't clear, neither are the emotions they're trying to convey.
Bad — A Lack of Music
The role of music is vital in any film, TV series, or anime. Simply put, the music tells you how you should feel about the images you are seeing. In an action film, the score swells with big triumphant notes as the hero mows down the villain's army of minions -- making you feel pumped up, rooting for the good guy. But the same scene with slow calm music can evoke sadness at the futility of war and all the lives being lost.
Flowers of Evil, on the other hand, doesn't use either of these musical tactics for the most part and, instead, rarely has any music at all. This is a terrible idea.
Music is a huge part of how we connect with characters on screen on an emotional level. So while a rare lack of music at a critical moment can make you unsettled and unsure how to feel, a near total lack of music leaves you at first confused and, later, emotionally detached from the characters you are watching. And given how thoroughly unlikeable the main leads are, they needed any amount of help they could get.
Random Thoughts — Foreshadowing
I made it through the series of Flowers of Evil in a perpetual mixture of boredom and apathy -- except for a single short scene in the final episode. As I've stated time and time again in this review, the biggest problem I had with the anime was that I was unable to become emotionally invested. The characters were too unlikeable and the stakes were far too low. But in the final episode, we are shown a foreshadowing preview of things to come: broken windows, a burning book, a bat dragging across the pavement, and blood conspicuously running down the inside of a female character's leg. These are disturbing, shocking -- and captivating -- images. And as I watched them flicker before my eyes, I couldn't help but wonder, “Why wasn't this series about those moments!?” Seriously, this one short scene was more interesting and engaging than the entire preceding anime.
Flowers of Evil is easily one of the most unpleasant viewing experiences I have ever had. It is a boring, unengaging series filled with questionable story and character choices that only amplify the anime's major directorial problems. Simply put, to enjoy a slice-of-life story, you must empathise with the characters -- feel what they are feeling. Everything about this anime seems aimed to prevent that connection. It's just an utter train wreck of a series. I recommend it to no one.
Flowers of Evil aired on Tokyo MX in Japan. It can be seen for free and with English subtitles at Crunchyroll.