The flower has bloomed
|This came as an entertaining surprise. I was caught with the uttered, “I’m a piece of shit.” And the following experience had me clawing back into the tag for this review as I was entranced enough to write my thoughts. I have only one piece of advise for you, don’t drop it just because how it looks.|
|Aku no Hana was one of many unknown shows for me that I was keeping my eye on this season. The source material was highly regarded, and many people familiar with it were expecting great things. Well, with this 1st episode, Zexcs has made conversation about that lauded source material take a backseat to the unusual visual style it chose for the adaptation. No doubt that most of you are familiar with rotoscoping. I learned of it around the time of the first Prince of Persia, whose creator Jordan Mechner used video of his little brother for the eponymous prince’s various climbing, running, and jumping animations.|
|Were you feeling happy and optimistic about life? Yes? Well, Aku no Hana’s angst ridden storyline is here to ruin this for you now on a weekly basis. …Provided that you’re actually watching this. I know a lot of people were turned off by the art. The three of us didn’t mind it so much though (plus the storyline should make up for that once things get rolling).|
Kyokai || Is this REAL enough for you? – Anime is supposedly an escapism so it might be jarring for some to see real people rotoscoped (drawing over live action footage, previously dabbled in Baton), on the screen. But for me it was the thing that roped me in. This is not something you expect from ZEXCS because of their usual moe shows like Fortune Arterial, Onii-koto or Da Capo stuff but lately they have been moving towards mainstream series like LoLH, Another, Sukitte Ii na yo., Arve Rezzle, etc. They were very clever with the trailer showcase, which only showed their awesome location art plus Takao’s back. So, when I did get around watching it, it was like BAM, real thighs in anime. I agree with Takao, thighs are not supposed to be thighs unless they have a form rather than thin sticks, mostly seen anime and anorexic models. Director, Hiroshi Nagahama, has previously worked on Mushishi and Detroit Metal City and I have to say the man has style. This is definitely going to be one of the boldest adaptations to-date for this year and a lot of people won’t like the presentation style just because it’s not identical to manga. To me, this is the perfect story to do such an experiment with all of its little stints of morning walk to school to the highly detailed locations. The OP was pretty jarring from the mundane school transition but lyrics made up for it. Some might wish for the replacement of whitewashed slideshow but I’ll still be fine if they don’t. Overall, a treat to the senses and a gem for the people who have seen too much anime and need a change of pacing.
Lvlln || As an Art Choice – Animation is an abstraction of reality that shows just the details that the artists determine are worth noticing. Compare that to live action, which is more of a reflection of reality. Of course, I’m speaking in generalities, and special effects tend to blur the line between the two. Based on the 1st episode, Aku no Hana looks to be going for a completely rotoscoped look, with entire scenes shot in live action and then traced over (it’s unlikely that that’s exactly what they did; given the static backgrounds in most scenes, I’m guessing acting was done in an empty lot, animated, then placed on top of the beautiful prerendered backgrounds, similar to late-90s Playstation JRPGs). Regardless of how it’s accomplished, it’s clear that the true-to-life look is what they’re going for.
So I wonder if the best way to look at Aku no Hana isn’t as an animation that looks like live action, but rather as live action that has a particularly strong filter placed over it. It throws us into an utterly mundane world, showing lives of high school students. Boys making fun of each other over crushes, a delinquent student who has a knack for getting under her teacher’s skin, a main character who turns to a mysterious book when bored in class. It’s like an actual high school, without all the extra baggage that anime tends to throw into these settings. For that purpose, the rotoscoped visuals work extremely well. It makes sure that we never forget that what we’re looking at really is everyday life lived by real people in this world. Even though plenty of details get abstracted away, it gives the feel that the animation is a reflection of real life.
Yet there is enough there that reminds us that this is indeed all animated. Faces are painted on as if they were characters from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. I’m not sure if it was a stylistic decision or a technical limitation, but there’s an oddly discomforting 3DCG look to humans at times, and the framerate is clearly in the traditional anime 8-12 range instead of the 24 that we’d expect from live action film. More clearly intentional are the very brief (day)dream sequences, one of which shows the classroom disappearing around the main character as he thinks about… something. This is something that I think we’ll see expanded on and explored more deeply in future episodes.
Karakuri || Characters and Plot – Well, I think lvlln and Kyo have touched on the animation and stylistic choices rather well, so I guess I’ll talk about the characters and plot. We have Kasuga, our pathetic and extremely mundane lead and then his ‘femme fatale’, Saeki. Saeki is like the star of the grade and all around perfect girl. ….She gets more interesting in the future, but for now, she’s pretty much Kasuga’s angel and that’s about it. Kasuga idolizes her pretty hard, but other than that, he leads an extremely boring life. Oh and he’s really, really into literature. Now, and later on in the series, he’s a pretty realistic character and he’s… kind of an idiot, but that’s what moves the plot forward for the most part. Not like the kind of anime airhead, but he does make some pretty regrettable life choices (…like taking his crush’s gym clothes in the near future). Nakamura is obviously the abnormal one in this completely dull world. However, she isn’t really a ‘good’ type of abnormal since she has no problems with calling everyone ‘fucking worms’ and she pretty much hates everyone. Nakamura is a bit of a psychopath (and some of the other characters grow this way too), but for the most part, all of the characters are portrayed pretty realistically.
As for how the title works into all of this, er, I’ve never actually read Les Fleurs du Mal, but after taking a look at what it means, other than being Kasuga’s favourite book, it’s themes of ‘decadence’ and ‘eroticism’ (apparently these are it’s themes) are somewhat strong in the storyline. But in a rather twisted way. This is a really, really dark story. Compelling, but really dark. From the start of the manga to where I am, the entire plot is like watching a train crash in slow motion where everything just goes from bad to worse (mostly for Kasuga). There will be parts that are slightly less so, but at the same time, the blackmail thing (or other things later that I won’t spoil) will always cast a dark shadow of whatever Kasuga tries to do.
I’m fascinated by the presentation and amazed at the boohoo by some over it. Though, anibloggers are a very opinionated bunch, I’ll side with the ones who gave their nods at the highly eccentric yet strangely entertaining adaptation. It amazes me how people can watch their own mugs on daily basis but drop Aku no Hana just because it kinda looks real? Get reaaalll guys. You shouldn’t be watching anime if you are prissy about art style or animation because what matters is always the story and characters. Experiments are needed (including CG dragons to sloshy mechs), to helps add variety in presentation because if nothing changed, we’d still be watching humongous moe eyes, one-foot tall hairstyles and glitchy movements. I accolade this bold statement with a big and amused smile on my face.
Story-wise, I’m curious about Japanese high-school group dynamics. Do they behave the same way? I won’t be surprised if they do minus the extreme personalities shown. The bookish Takao seems pretty much fucked and he might soon be crying to sleep, uttering more sadistic lines because this Sawa chick looks fiercer than Yuno and that’s saying something. I’ve also seen some manga scans floating around twitter so I do have an idea on art style and extreme yandere tendencies. Takao seems to be the victim who will be bullied to no end but would he keep bearing it? I think not. I’m looking forward to the progress and have hardened my heart for some real mindfucks (that eerie ED is an actual hint, guys!). I’m enjoying it and if you haven’t already, go watch this and get fascinated by the posed questions and challenges.
I like the way this show looks. I’ve outlined some of the reasons why I think it works for the setting, but I haven’t been able to quite put my finger on it. The difference compared to regular anime is jarring, shocking, even. I feel like I’m at a loss as to how to properly judge the aesthetics. It’s not exactly visually pleasing, but neither would I call it ugly. It’s drawing from reality, but it’s also clearly not real. It’s an odd mix of familiar and unfamiliar that causes discomfort that’s not all too uncomfortable. I kind of wish that it had gone for the film-like 24fps to make it feel even less like anime, but budget constraints probably meant that was never an option. The 1st episode was very slow and uneventful, but I think of it primarily as an introduction to the odd visuals that we’ll be seeing for the rest of the season. And there were enough hints dropped that I see a lot of potential. If the story is as crazy as some manga fans have made it seem, Aku no Hana has set up a great visual baseline from which to grow and expand. Maybe it will deliver on that promise, maybe it won’t, but I’m excited to see how this experiment plays out.
I get people’s issues with the animation. I mean, it looks nothing like the manga. But I also kind of get why they did this too. This story is pretty realistic and the plot is all about people feeling trapped and trying to find some sort of meaning in a really, really stale life. The animation certainly compliments that. As does it explain the pacing. I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed how slow the episode was (especially since there are only 13 episodes and I don’t even know if there’s a good part to leave this at), but again, I can understand. I kind of see it like those first really slow episodes of Blood-C where absolutely nothing happened, since it will all make sense later. There’s a reason why they were so brutally accurate on just how dull and monotonous Kasuga’s life is and I think it will all be for good effect later. The ED was… really jarring, and I think I enjoyed the tense music too since it kind of reflects Kasuga’s inner feelings. There have been a lot of mixed opinions on this, but I don’t think this was as bad as people have been complaining about.