First Impressions – Aku no Hana

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.


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39 Responses to “First Impressions – Aku no Hana”

  1. skylion says:

    I’m recalling back when I was 16 years old, and renting the Rankin/Bass version of The Fellowship of the Ring. This production relied heavily on rotoscoping, and I recall feeling in awe of it back in the 1980s. After the Jackson LOTR trilogy I looked into it again. It feels dated and quite painful to watch.

    This was the mindset I felt watching this anime. I kept waiting for it to end and for a “proper” animation sequence to begin; as if it was an experiment to put the audience into a certain mindset.

    Much to my chagrin, it didn’t end. Rotoscoping is a great tool, but it was used very very poorly in this production as character model were broken from scene to scene, and it was more distracting than immersive.

    I understand the story is about alienation and the need to escape from that. I found the VA work to be superb and the dialouge to be very crisp and realistic…..but this sort of thing will come out despite the animation and art direction.

    I feel that they made very poor choices in this and have to be on that side that just scratches my head and wonders why….

    • skylion says:

      Rotoscoping is a tool almost as old as the medium. Walt Disney used it greatly in Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Pinocchio. It was only when the Seven Old Men got control of the art direction did it die out.

      • Irenesharda says:

        But that was rotoscoping done right, and


        at 15 frames per second.

        • skylion says:

          …and only used in a few choice scenes, and heavily buried under the painting and photography of the times. When Don Bluth broke from Disney, his first film (The superb Secret of NIHM) used it for much the same reason, fight or flight choreography.

      • akagami says:

        I’m learning something new! I didn’t know there was a term for “massacring art” =P

  2. Amutofan123 says:

    The art style is… growing on me. I myself was really shocked when I first saw it. I still don’t care for the designs or animation (and I feel like part of that stems from me growing accustomed to the art in the manga), but it certainly doesn’t deserve the uproar it received. After rewatching the episode a few times, I feel like the art really fits the whole mood and theme of the manga.

    The pace was really slow, but I also felt like it ended a great time. The whole episode did a good job at setting the tone for the show. I love the ending theme. It’s so creepy and ahhh~

    I’m really curious as to how they will animate certain, uh… scenes.

    My only real concern for now is what they will cover and how it will end in only 13 episodes. But anyway, I thought this episode was really great, despite all the hate it has been getting.

    • skylion says:

      I have to admit, that I have only seen the manga in terms of how the “haters” have made comparisons (some genius on G+ even made this poor skylion cry by adapting the art style of this show to K-ON of all things…it’s true, I wept). It has a style all it’s own, and it looks striking and deep in it’s own right.

      I just wish they would have gone for that over this style; they would have had a fan in me. If they want me to feel alienation, then give it to me in the terms of character narrative; don’t make me feel it over the production quality.

    • Irenesharda says:

      I too have heard that the pacing was slow and that they only covered half a chapter’s worth of material in a 40+ chapter series. The show is only allotted 13 episodes, and many fans of the manga were wondering how they are even going to get to the meat of the story going at so slow a pace?

      And with the anger raised towards this show in both America and Japan, I doubt they will get any sort of second season. I heard that the pre-sales took a major dip.

      • skylion says:

        …a major dip? Lots of shows can claim “Shut up and take my money”, this is the polar opposite if Sankaku and /a are any indication.

    • Karakuri says:

      I hope they at least get to the Show ▼

      since I really don’t think anywhere before that is a good place to stop. …As for the Show ▼

      , I think they kept it fairly classy in the manga, so if they attempt the same visuals for this, it should be okay. …Assuming they get that far.

      Ugh, I liked the pacing in the manga, since it was a believable time period for Show ▼

      • Muir says:

        lol so many spoilers here XDD

        I wanted to see what happens after the [Kara’s first spoiler] since the manga translations aren’t that far from that. It’s only up to 40 chapters, I’m assuming/hoping that they can cover more than that in a 12 episode series…or not. They stalled a shit ton of time this first episode.

  3. akagami says:

    I’ll disagree with you Kyokai, for me the art style or animation is an important part of watching anime. Otherwise I would just read a book or light novel and use my imagination.

    Of course good artstyle and animation cant help if you don’t like the story or plotline. That was the problem for Shinsekai Yori for me, I just couldn’t enjoy it. It definitely had an interesting premise, but just wasn’t my cup of tea… I really tried hard to like it, but after 12+ episodes in I couldn’t bear it anymore.

    That’s one reason why I didn’t enjoy Kotoura-san as much as I could have… because the character designs really bothered me.

    I did see this comparison and sadly the anime does look butchered to me. The drawings in the manga were pretty good, imo.

    Speaking of Blood-C, I was really disappointed. I highly enjoyed Blood+, and though seeing Clamp on the franchise would be great… but sadly was let down in the end.

    • skylion says:

      Yes, the art design on the manga looks very inspired. Feck me, why didn’t they do this?

      • Muir says:

        So my friend was arguing about the art. It ISN’T realistic. People are three-dimensional with gradients and shadows, these people only have nostrils until they turn sideways.

        Anywho, most of my friends are still brooding over the art, and more than half of the people dropped this series before they passed to OP claiming “I contracted cancer from this.”

    • Kyokai says:

      @ akagami, no worries, that’s what different opinions are for anyway. I enjoyed rotoscoping with this story but I do get that the fans of manga must have felt cheated or ditched.

  4. Irenesharda says:

    Well, the manga subject matter was never something I was truly interested in, however the utter uproar that came when this episode premiered made me go check it out.

    I got 2 min and 36 seconds in before I couldn’t take it anymore. I even skipped to the OP and then KNEW that this was not something I could watch. I’ve never been a fan of rotoscoping and I will only watch it if its done extremely well. Every other time, it hurts my eyes. I couldn’t take this, it was painful for me to watch it and also knowing that I didn’t really care for the plot anyway, turned me off doubly.

    For those who like it, have fun, but I will never be watching this again. The ONLY thing that I found interesting was the haunting ED that despite its weirdness and robotic voice is strangely alluring. I might just get the mp3 to that. Other than that I’m going to stay away from Les Fleurs du Mal.

    • skylion says:

      …I had to watch it by only concentrating on the subtitles and the inflections of the VA cast. In those terms, this is a great, deeply immersive story. I just feel that the tool of rotoscoping was used to a very horrible degree.

    • Kyokai says:

      Actually, I got hooked from the point of OP, “I’m a piece of shit.” No worries though, to each have their choice. ^^

      • Muir says:

        I liked the ending more~ The ending was totally fabulous huhu
        spooky, creepy, and fits right in with the elements of this series imo

  5. Liza says:

    It took me a bit to get used to the style(going in I was like, 0_o) but I think it will fit with the apparent overall dark theme of the show. I wish the characters didn’t lose their faces when they were ten feet away from the “camera”. That just seemed really weird to me.

    The ending theme I loved. It was so creepy and haunting. *shudder*

    I know this is one show which I will watch till the end to see where it goes…hopefully.

  6. skylion says:

    ..another thing that bothers me is how this will turn folk of to some interesting things in literature and the Romance movement. Baudelaire wrote during the Second Empire of France, which was something that Hugo riffed heavily on. Les Miserable is a zenith of that movement.

    • Gecko says:

      People like the Les Mis musical, which forgoes 300 pages of description for one song (aka the Bishop of Digne.) As well as all of the serious suffering that goes on for 19 years in prison for Jean Valjean.

      As for Hugo riffing off of Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal was formally published 3~5 years after Les Misérables. Les Mis is the zenith of the movement, for sure, because it was so well received.

      And the French at the time were still suffering from the “mal du siècle” (sickness of the century) from the backlash of the failure of the Revolution. So they were all pretty depressed. Les Mis has a bit of happiness, and everyone gushes over the revolutionaries, so they forget the actual misery it portrays every other second.

      But yeah, I really don’t want people turned off by this anime to that entire century of wonderful French literature.

      //sorry I’ve studied French lit.

      • skylion says:

        No need to apologize. It was my understanding that Mssr. B and Mssr. H has regular communication with one another. So publication history is a matter of time, distance, and well, paper being available….

        Thank you. You’ve distilled the essence of why the musical is more popular than the novel. I’ve read it so many times, but I always sing in my hear while reading it. My favorite of his is still Notre Dame du Paris. and that stuff ain’t Disney…

        • Gecko says:

          They probably talked at some point. Who knows, I didn’t study letters between poets and authors.

          Oh for sure, it sure isn’t Disney. Absolutely.

          I’d say the musical (I’m not sure if it’s only in French, or if there are translated versions out there) for Notre Dame de Paris is in some ways more beautiful than the Les Mis musical, although they repeat every single sentence about four times. It gets annoying after two chorus repeats, much more after five in a row.

  7. Highway says:

    I was actually captivated by the motion of people. Of course it was realistic, but it also had that shambling quality that so many people, especially teenage boys, have in their gait. I thought it was definitely something I’ll keep watching.

    • lvlln says:

      Yeah, I’m not exactly sure just what it’s trying to get at with the visuals, but there’s something oddly compelling I find about its choice of how to depict human motion. I could see it getting boring if it doesn’t change up after an episode, so hopefully those crazier elements shake things up in coming episodes.

  8. Jrow says:

    @Kyo: Slight correction, Another was done by P.A. Works, though I follow along with your point about Zexcs; I’m respecting that studio more than I have in year’s past for the animes they’ve chosen to adapt. This definitely looks like it could be the boldest thing they’ve done yet with such a jarring style.

    Content-wise, I thought the first ep. was pretty boring, but the end with Nakamura and then the flower had me back in to at least try another episode or 2. I feel the same as Liza above does about the animation style.

    • skylion says:

      I am on board with another try for the second; with watching the subs and voice acting….

    • Highway says:

      I’d have to agree that thinking about the content, there was very little going on. And it could have been extended mood-setting, but it could also have been “We’re not going to go very fast with this story.” Combined with the visuals that I found interesting for their uniqueness, but not for their intrinsic value, that might be a bad sign for the future. When the interest in the uniqueness of the visuals wears off, the show is going to need something to hold it up.

  9. JPNIgor says:

    I… just can’t keep watching it. Simply because I like beautiful things and there’s no way rotoscoping can be something beautiful (the scenarios are, though). Anyways, I would continue, to watch if the problem was only the rotoscoping. The VA is awful, because they are probably the same from the live action and just by hearing those confuse words with a voice that I would expect from a zombie that talks I get frustrated. Dropped in the middle of the episode.

    Awww, I was expecting so much from this anime TT.TT And the manga art style looks so beautiful… It’s such a shame, really.

  10. Overcooled says:

    …Well, now I know what rotoscoping is. I’m glad someone actually explained it in a post without assuming it was common knowledge T_T. Anyways, I don’t like or dislike it yet. It’s something I have to see more of to really judge. For example, Kuuchuu Buranko’s odd style was so shocking I couldn’t decide whether I liked it or not from the first episode. After a few episodes it became one of my favourite anime.

    I like the tension and the overall tone but it’s kind of…slow and boring so far. I hope things pick up soon or else I’m dropping it.

  11. kagamihime says:

    I think this is one of those shows that you have to watch twice, at least with the first episode anyway. The first time I watched it, I was still in shock by the rotoscoping and characters designs. Also it’s fine if you can respect the art direction, but there is no denying that the beginning dragged on much too long. Call it artistic direction, I call it a waste of time.

    It isn’t all bad though, the scene in the last few minutes where the gym bag fell on the floor was perfect. It was intense, and it gave me that creepy and unnerving vibe that despite my preference to the manga, the manga failed to give me that same reaction (until a little later). Plus the ed is pretty damn awesome and scary in a Hatsune Miku in your closet kind of way. I cannot fault anyone for dropping/bashing this, because come on this is a visual medium not a novel. If you don’t care about art you should just read the manga or stick to LNs, but I think it deserves a chance of 3 more episodes before you write it off completely. After all the manga author did agree to this right? I hope someone is blogging this at least.

    • Gecko says:

      The bag scene was really well done, I agree. The manga didn’t give that at all- it was just like “oh look, a bag fell on the floor.”

  12. Muir says:

    The manga is lovely~ but oh gosh, so much hype gone down the drain. It certainly was the topic of chatter among anime fans, but not a good one. It’s a mature series, they tried to give it a mature and serious animated style. It didn’t work ._. It’s just that style of animation isn’t favorable in the given time right now. It feels old, ugly to look at. At least that’s just me (and most people I know), I’ll keep watching it though.

    Main character that is propelled by the ideas of his favorite author, be sure to expect that in Henneko as well. The Ending was fabulous by the way~

  13. Gecko says:

    I think I like the art choices made. The backgrounds are pretty yet display decay, people are draw more realistically, and details come into focus as they are closer. I really like that. I really loved the two scenes with the street mirror that showed the characters move from the street into the mirror and out of the mirror, ect. I don’t really like the rotoscoping, considering the manga art was great, but I think there are some subtle things they’re doing with the flatness.
    As for the plot, this was slow, but I’ve read around 18 chapters of the manga to get a feel, and I think that when this show is over, this episode will have been necessary. To show how boring this place is. (I’m certain that must be obvious to everyone, so I’m not making it a spoiler.)
    And I’ve read quite a bit of Les Fleurs du Mal in the original French, so I can provide details on the poems that show up and/or any references. (The manga was just this huge testimony to Baudelaire, at least, up to what I read.) This episode had two different ones, “La Beauté” and “Hymne.” Both of them are overarchingly positive and lauding eternal beauty and clarity. The English translations I saw were rather good, although there are some major sound differences between the languages.

  14. D-LaN says:

    -Copypaste + modification frm my post on another website

    Eh the manface/realistic face is not too big of an issue to me after a while. If anything, I feel like I’m watching a J Drama. Still the art is…….. not too good at times. It can go into uncanny valley territory or looks derpy. Also I get the faces disappear frm far is suppose to be realistic (to a degree), but still. But overall, I kinda like the attempt at making it look realistic.

    Those are some detailed backgrounds and it really depicts an accurate normal rural town. And the BGM + some of the shots really feels like something bad will happen soon in a way similar to Another.

    The OP…… WT*LOL. ED is just plain creepy & weird DDDDDDD:

    -Why do I have a feeling Saeki will end up like the love interest in School Days?
    -Nakamura…. she either looks derpy or creepy depending on the scene. Her Kubrick stare is creeeeeepyyyy…. This gurl have PROBLEMS.
    -I like the way Kasuga and his friends are portrayed because they act like a normal person. Also the guys looks better in the anime.

    The rotoscopy is….. a hit and miss. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I like the realism they are trying portray, but I can see why ppl will hate it.


    -I also do the same thing with Kasuga in test too >< There are times I space out and let my imagination run wild while I'm doing a test…..
    -Is that a repeated scene I saw there? Is it suppose to be symbolizing the repetiveness in daily lives or is it suppose to be padding? I don't even know anymore.
    -The flower thingy is creeping me out D:
    The models they use for the characters

  15. BlackBriar says:

    Hmm… Though it tries an earnest effort to bring in reality as much as possible, the scenery doesn’t go well with the character designs. It’s like both are being photoshopped onto each other. As for the story, I went in without expectations but I didn’t like how things turned out. To me, everything including the characters was emotionally reserved as if they were barely trying to express themselves which made the general atmosphere utterly boring. Overall, no disrespect to the hype but I wasn’t impressed so I’m not looking to continue this. That’s one anime officially off my list this season.

  16. Annemette says:

    Next Next post: Don t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro 01 (First Impressions) Not Just for the Fun of It

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