Tag Archives: Aku no Hana

Writing Extremes: The Inane light and the unpleasant dark

Today, I thought I’d talk about two types of writing aesthetics, both extremely unrealistic but on opposite ends of the spectrum. To be specific, the light-hearted work that’s over the top and goofy compared to the excessively grim and gritty work. Now, you can have a light-hearted work that has a realistic scenario and characters just like you can have a dark and edgy work that’s very realistic. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the ones that go overboard.

To begin with, let’s talk about the overly goofy. To use an anime example, Heroman is like this. With villains who are one-dimensionally evil and a goofy super hero story with no sense of realism. Alternatively, consider Galaxy Angel. A zany comedic work with only a tenuous relationship to reality. Is that a bad thing? I would argue that it’s really not. A series like Heroman can be fun and entertaining in its absurdity. It may not have verisimilitude, but it’s also not trying to. This silly, over the top aesthetic can work for comedies or for more light-hearted action works.

Let’s move on to the area where I’m going to spend a bit more time. Namely, the excessively grim and gritty work. It’s just as unrealistic but, in my opinion, it’s worse. Why? Well, that’s because the overly light and fluffy aesthetic has some genres where it works and the overly dark stuff really doesn’t.

Think about it. Whereas the overly goofy stuff can be comedic or entertaining, the overly dark stuff is meant to be dramatic and serious. The problem is that it doesn’t work on either of those levels. In trying too hard to be dark and adult, it ends up going outside of any realm of believability for there to be a real drama or connection with the characters and no connection means no dramatic tension. Take Cheesesteak Suppository (Aku no Hana) or Midori Shoujo Tsubaki. Both works try to shock the viewer with how extremely dark they are, but neither one works because their characters read more as exaggerated parodies than as people. Which doesn’t work for a serious dramatic piece.

Compare them to something dark and well written like Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin or even BerserkBerserk may have fantasy elements, but the characters are complex and the dark moments are balanced with normal, everyday scenes that show the characters acting as normal, everyday people. In contrast, the excessively grim and gritty stuff has to constantly emphasise that its characters are abnormal and dark to the point where their characteristics are so far to that extreme end that there’s nothing about them that’s relatable or realistic. For a goofy comedy, having completely absurd and exaggerated characters can work. In a serious work, it just ruins any potential for immersion and makes it seem like the writer’s trying too hard.

Of course, I think the biggest problem with the excessively dark end of the spectrum is that works in this category frequently try to handle serious issues. Abuse, Sexual Assault, Murder, Insanity and so on. These topics get thrown in not because the writer has a good story use for them, but because they think it’ll make their work seem more adult. The trouble is that it, like the rest of the dark content, gets handled in a very over the top and rather puerile way. Rather like a young teenager trying to sound “adult” when they clearly have no real conception as to what they’re talking about. Bringing these issues up in the way they do just illustrates how far removed these works are from reality and comes across as disrespectful to those serious topics.

Let me emphasise, once more, that things can be either goofy or gritty without going to the extremes and those works are fine on both sides. But, when discussing the extremes, I am personally a lot more okay with the overly light and goofy than I am with the overly grim and gritty. Both are completely outside of any realm of reality, but the goofy stuff can be entertaining in certain arenas & the gritty stuff just comes across as unpleasant.

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Reviews of yesteryear: Cheesesteak Suppository

Aku no Hana was originally a manga written by Oshimi Shuzo, named for a controversial collection of poems from the French poet, Charles Baudelaire. The anime adaptation was written by Itami Aki. It’s a psychological drama, which is a genre I like when handled well. Of course, it’s usually not. The adaptation was handled by Zexcs. The only anime I’ve seen that they were involved in have been Mushi-shi and My-Hime. Which is somewhat encouraging, but there were other studios responsible for the major aspects of those anime, Artland & Sunrise. So I have no conception as to what a work they’re primarily working on might be like. I won’t lie, it’s a bit refreshing to go into something with no idea what to expect. Let’s look at Aku no Hana.

We start Aku no Hana with our protagonist, Kasuga, stealing the gym clothes of the girl he likes. Isn’t it just a treat to have a protagonist lose any likability they could have had the first time they do anything with story relevance? They don’t even waste your time pretending he isn’t a total waste of a person. It’s not the very first thing that happens, but it is the first important thing that happens. This anime loves to waste your time with long, drug out scenes in which nothing is accomplished. Presumably, to try to build atmosphere, but that only works when you actually do something with that atmosphere. That’s one of the biggest problems with the series, very little that happens is relevant. Back to the “plot,” and I use the term loosely. Kasuga’s perverted stalker behaviour is observed by a girl named Nakamura. She agrees to keep it a secret, if Kasuga will make a contract with her.

At its core, this is a story about deviance, which fits the title since Baudelaire believed that art and morality had to be kept separate and many of the poems in his collection were considered deviant. Six of them even being banned from publication after their initial release until 1949, almost a century after the initial volume was released. The issue with this theme, as used in this series, is that there are virtually no consequences for the deviant behaviours. The worst thing that happens is that Kasuga gets a talking to. Because this is a magical city where consequence is something that happens to other people. This level of disconnect from reality is an absolutely unforgivable problem in a series that professes to be psychological. Speaking of psychological elements, those are done extraordinarily poorly. Aku no Hana mistakes moving at a ridiculously slow pace, putting in music that’s supposed to be creepy, and still shots of scenery for psychological depth. Slow pacing, creepy music and still shots could all work in a true psychological piece, but they need something to work off of and Aku no Hana doesn’t have that integral piece. As such, they’re just stupid.

Moving on to the characters, there are really only three who merit mention since the rest can be described in simple terms like “Kasuga’s mom” or “that guy with the funny eyebrows” and don’t have anything going on beyond a few scenes in which they may or may not do something that’s supposed to be important. The first is Kasuga. He’s a whiny little pervert who likes to make excuses for his bad behaviour and has very little depth whatsoever. He reminds me of Shinji Ikari. Then we have Saeki, Shinji’s… I mean Kasuga’s crush. At first she seems like the typical “out of reach” girl. It’s only when we spend some time with her character that we realise she’s actually one of the dumbest characters in all of fiction, in addition to her general lack of personality. She makes DBZ’s Goku look like a genius. The plot just needs her to be insanely stupid so she’ll put up with Kasuga’s bullshit. I’m surprised she managed to reach secondary school without Darwinising herself. Finally, we have Nakamura. Our self-proclaimed deviant and blackmailer. There’s not much to her except being loud and insulting. She’s the only character I don’t hate. Because, if nothing else, she insults all the other characters.

The animation in this is terrible. Characters frequently lose their facial features because… the artists suck with perspective. The movements are jerky. The mouths don’t even come close to natural movements during dialogue scenes. A lot of the slow movements and frozen images might be better explained by lazy artists than attempts at atmosphere since these scenes enable them to do minimal amounts of work and they clearly aren’t doing well in those scenes that require actual animation.

There are some good actors in this. Both Hikasa Yoko and Ise Mariya are very skilled. Although you wouldn’t know it to hear them in this. Since the series has a general problem with characters being either over or under-acted. This is a psychological series. There’s no room for subtlety of emotion here… Wait, what? the creepy music gets tiresome. It could have worked if they’d used it only when relevant instead of using it constantly. But they even use it when it’s just a shot of people walking.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. Expect no yuri.

Aku no Hana fails to deliver any actual psychological elements, resorting instead to one and two-dimensional characters who are sure to annoy you. The series both looks and sounds bad and very little happens that results in any kind of consequence and nothing happens that results in character growth. It’s unworthy of sharing a title with Baudelaire’s work. As such, I’m going to just refer to it as Cheesesteak Suppository. Cheesesteak Suppository gets a 2/10. As either a psychological work or a drama, it fails on every conceivable level. I’m going to re-watch Perfect Blue and get some real psychological content.