Disclaimer: This post contains massive spoilers for the Manga of Aku no Hana. If you don’t want to be spoiled, avoid this post. If you don’t care, then enjoy!
I have a thing for dark, psychological Manga with plots that revolve around incredibly messed up characters who make terrible decisions that cause their lives to fall into complete chaos. When I read Manga, I have this almost insatiable hunger to witness complete carnage and devastation and then see the affected characters try to overcome their despair and better themselves.
Of course, I like a lot of Manga that don’t follow anything of the sort, but if you were to look at my favourite Manga, you’ll find that just about all of them share these similarities.
But where exactly did my love for these kind of series begin?
It began with a little series that I’m sure you’ve all heard of at some point: Aku no Hana.
Also known as the Flowers of Evil, Aku no Hana is a dark psychological thriller Manga that focuses on the relationship between an introverted, teenage boy named Kasuga and an unstable, fowl-mouthed, sex-crazed girl, Nakamura, as they engage in some incredibly deviant activities and cause complete chaos around their otherwise boring and uneventful hometown.
You’ve no doubt heard of Aku no Hana, through its incredibly controversial and often poorly received Anime adaptation that originally aired back in the Spring Season of 2013. The Anime adaptation has been the subject of incredibly harsh criticism over the years for a multitude of reasons, most of which I strongly agree with.
Back when the Anime adaptation aired, I thought the show was alright. It had an interesting sense of atmosphere, it had a fantastic narrative focus on the psychology of its main characters and it explored some incredibly perverse and dark themes that were pretty different and unusual for the medium. But aside from that, I wasn’t all that engaged. The pacing was rushed, the characters weren’t portrayed as well as I’d hoped and the story ended incomplete in the middle of nowhere. The entire process of watching Aku no Hana, while interesting, was incredibly unsatisfying, and left little to be desired.
However, I was interested enough in what I saw from the Anime to check out the Manga a couple of years later.
And I was bewildered by how good it was. I was genuinely shocked.
The Manga of Aku no Hana was fantastic. It was one of the greatest reading experiences I’ve ever had. It still is. I’d go as far as saying that, in my opinion, it’s one of the greatest Manga of all time and it’s arguably my favourite.
But what did the Manga do that the Anime didn’t? First of all, it took its time setting up its story. It didn’t rush through any of its plot points and events happened at a fairly leisurely pace. We were given time to really understand its characters, particularly Kasuga, who’s thoughts and reasoning we get to see a great deal more of.
So while we’re on that subject, one of the biggest problems with the Anime adaptation of Aku no Hana was its portrayal of Kasuga as a protagonist. He was treated more like a bland self-insert with very little character development as opposed to being an actual character with his own thoughts, feelings and psychological issues. To make matters worse, because the Anime ends incomplete, we never get to see Kasuga go through the most interesting stages of his growth as a character either. The Anime treats him like a self-insert and by the end, the audience is left with the impression that he’s nothing more than that.
But in the Manga, Kasuga starts out as an emotionally complex and introverted kid who has a ridiculous amount of pent up deviance and a desire to go absolutely crazy and let all of his wacky thoughts and complex emotions burst out into the world around him. And later on, he fully embraces the darkness inside him and he does some completely crazy stuff that gets him into a lot of trouble.
The Anime only briefly touches on this part of Kasuga’s character and only in one particular scene: the infamous classroom scene.
This scene is probably the only part of the source material that the adaptation got spot on in terms of capturing the tone, significance and intention of the original work. But aside from that one scene, we never really get to see Kasuga get over his hesitance to embrace who he is, and that was the central focus of the entire Manga!
Meanwhile, in the Manga, Kasuga does a ton of things that are arguably worse than the vandalizing and destruction of the classroom. He and Nakamura steal the underwear of various girls in their class, he starts a humongous fire and he attempts to kill himself along with Nakamura in a blaze of glory while screaming that the two of them are embracing their true nature in front of a crowd of hundreds of people.
Why does he do all this? Because he’s insane. He’s an incredibly messed up kid, socially and mentally due to his circumstances growing up and the beliefs he acquired during his adolescence.
And as though that weren’t interesting enough, we actually get to see the aftermath of Kasuga’s actions and how he deals with, and moves on from, them. He eventually manages to suppress his dark urges and wild nature by finding consolation in the form of a girlfriend that he genuinely falls in love with and has a realistically developed romance with her. She learns of his dark past, and she helps him get over it all and by the end of it all Kasuga actually winds up becoming a very sociable and content individual.
And the Anime adaptation, explores none of that, and instead leaves us with a bland and uninteresting protagonist with little to no depth. And it’s a real shame, because Manga Kasuga is far from that. He’s an incredibly complex and well developed character that I, and most likely many others, can strongly relate to in a multitude of ways, from his introverted personality, to his depression and his overcoming it through the relationship he forms with those close to him.
But while the portrayal of Kasuga is the primary issue with the Anime adaptation, it’s merely the tip of the iceberg.
One thing the adaptation mostly managed to keep intact was Kasuga’s partner in crime, Nakamura. Her Anime counterpart isn’t as crazy or fowl-mouthed as her original incarnation, but it’s a far cry from the what we were given with Anime Kasuga. However, just like Anime Kasuga, we still don’t get to see a lot of the more interesting parts of Nakamura’s character. We don’t find out why she’s so messed up, we don’t learn why she’s so obsessed with bringing Kasuga over to the dark side of deviance and we don’t get to see her overcome her own inner demons. While she is portrayed fairly accurately in the Anime adaptation as a result of the story being incomplete we don’t get to see much else beyond her crazy antics and over the top, “shit-eater” language. Most of the depth of Nakamura’s character is lost in the adaptation, and the audience remembers her as nothing more than a sex-crazed lunatic with an appetite for destruction, when really she’s so much more than that. She’s a mentally disturbed girl with a whole myriad of her own problems that serve as reasons behind why she’s such a bizarre person and acts the way she does.
A lot of these problems however, are some what due to the Anime not adapting the entire Manga. I understand that more often than not that’s just how adaptations work. They adapt a chunk of the overall story, then leave it at a specific point in the story where they can cut things off and if the show sells well enough they pray for another season down the line.
However, Aku no Hana’s adaptation didn’t even try to leave it in a spot where things could be cut loose. It ended smack in the middle of the first of two major story arcs with very little closure and it skipped a large chunk of character development and complexity while doing so, both before and after the cut off point.
But with all this mind, the biggest, and most controversial part of the Anime adaptation, was its proposed art style and how the series conveyed the overall atmosphere of the source material.
I’m very rarely of the opinion that a shows visual presentation can be executed in a way that ruins the originally intended experience of the source material. The adaptation of Ajin was done completely with CGI, and I felt that it captured the original Manga fantastically, and even managed to enhance it through its fantastic sound design and lighting effects. Even the 2016 Berserk re-adaptation, despite its clunky animation and poor sound design, still managed to capture the generally dark, gritty and apocalyptic atmosphere of the original story.
But Aku no Hana’s rotoscoping completely destroyed everything relating to the intended tone and atmosphere of the source material.
The art style of the Anime is incredibly jarring. Back when I first watched the show, I actually found it to be a breath of fresh air. It was unique and it was unlike anything I’d seen before. But after reading the Manga, and then proceeding to rewatch the adaptation, I realised that the difference in art style was a heavy contributor to destroying the best things about the Manga’s presentation.
Shuzo Oshimi’s art style has never been particularly worthy of any high praise. It’s not bad, but it’s nothing spectacular either. He has a very plain and down to earth style for the most part, and his character designs are fairly simplistic and basic, lacking defining features that are common with most other series. However, what Oshimi excels at brilliantly, is beyond the designs, during scenes where his seemingly plain characters unleash their dark natures out into the world. Scenes where absolute chaos ensues and we’re given humongous double-page spreads of complete mayhem. Like this:
It’s in these moments, these gigantic panels of pure insanity, where Aku no Hana conveys its unsettling and dark atmosphere the best. The Anime, with its rotoscoping art style, loses all of this. These moments were defined by Oshimi’s style, and by stripping them of all their detail and simplifying the already basic artwork for the sake of creating something that looks “different” ruins the experience.
While the character designs of the Manga were very simplistic, the Anime character designs are even more so and what little defining details were there are pretty much gone. There’s almost no detail to them at all, the characters don’t stand out from one another much and to top it off they also just look plain creepy and not in a good way.
The facial expressions in particular are often like something lifted straight from a psychadelic nightmare that often feel unfitting when compared to their Manga counterparts. The source material often had moments where characters would wear freakish grins or the emptiest of expressions, but it was never like this and it was always made clear exactly what they were feeling.
The rotoscoping also causes a lot of animation issues too. The Manga itself was obviously not animated, and one would think that regardless of the art style chosen that adding any form of movement would surely enhance the experience a little. But the animation is shoddily put together with constant frame drops and realistic movement that just feels weird. There’s also a strange draw distance kind of effect where if characters are a far distance from the camera, they become less detailed. I’m not sure if this is due to rotoscoping in general or if it was a stylistic choice, but it felt strange. I genuinely feel that the animation heavily detracts from the experience due to how distracting it is. It’s jarring, it’s weird and it’s incredibly clunky and simply doesn’t feel right. Except the classroom scene. They nailed that pretty well. For some reason.
But my biggest issue with the rotoscoping is that the characters no longer feel like characters. They feel like actors that have been placed into an animated world, and it makes the whole production feel incredibly artificial, and considering Aku no Hana’s primary goal is to present a realistic, deviant themed portrayal of adolescence and isolation, that’s a major issue.
The entire tone and mood of the Anime just feels very different from the Manga. It feels creepy and seems as though it’s set in some kind of pocket dimension or artificial construct.
Meanwhile the Manga feels less spooky and more down to earth. It feels as though it takes place in our world and while it has a ton of unsettling moments, it always feels real and genuine.
I’m well aware that when a Manga gets adapted it is no longer the original authors work. It’s now the directors work, and they can choose to do whatever they damn well please with the series and take whichever direction they want. I even know that in the case of Aku no Hana, the director actually got the approval of Oshimi himself to use rotoscoping and the proposed scripts that made up the final product. However, I don’t believe any of these decisions were good decisions and that they unfortunately damaged what could have been a fantastic adaptation and potentially one of the greatest Anime series of all time.
Many Anime fans consider Aku no Hana to be a dull, boring and “try-hard” series with an unbearable protagonist and creepy animation. In the eyes of many, it’s an arthouse series with very little going for it other than it feels different.
It’s a real shame, because the Manga is nothing of the sort. It’s so much more than that. It’s an incredibly deep and complex tale about an emotionally damaged kid letting all his problems rise to the surface and unleashing his fury on the world through deviant acts and terrible decisions and then struggling to move on from his adolescent years and live an ordinary life. It’s a heartfelt story of a genuine friendship between two lost souls seeking to show the world that they’re more than just two “weirdos” and willing to die to prove to the world they’re worth something. It’s an unsettling insight into the darkest and most twisted parts of the human soul. It’s a fantastic Manga that everyone should read.
On it’s own, the Anime is a unique and passable viewing experience, but when put next to the Manga, it’s just not a good adaptation. It strips the original of its style, its themes, its purpose and its intention, and it’s really, truly unfortunate.
Perhaps one day we’ll get another Aku no Hana adaptation that stays true to the nature of the source and adapts the full thing properly. That would be something worth celebrating.
Have you watched Aku no Hana? Did you read the Manga? What were your thoughts? Would you like to see more posts like this? Be sure to let me know in the comments, and as always, I hope you enjoyed my rather lengthy ramble!