Title: Flowers of Evil (Aku No Hana) Genre: Shounen, Romance, Psychological Artist: Shuzo Oshimi Publisher: Kodansha (JP), Vertical, Inc (U.S.) Serialized in: Bessatsu Shonen Magazine Translation: Paul Starr
My standards are now officially all over the place. From finding a way to be turned off by the very first episode of Mysterious Girlfriend X (Nazo No Kanojo X) to somehow not being affected by what is actually happening in Flowers of Evil, I'm convinced that I might need to evaluate just how I actually look at certain works. Maybe it's because it's a manga I managed to complete the first volume. Maybe it's because the story appealed to me more as opposed to the MGX anime. Or maybe it just didn't turn me off enough like that show did. Simply put, Oshimi's series is on a level of weird that I'm sure I enjoyed because of how perverse it's supposed to be. Takao Kasuga doesn't seem to be the most inspired person, despite the fact that he loves Charles Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil (Fleurs du Mal) poem and books in general. His personality is apparent when his teacher announces his failed grade scores; Takao then looks at his love interest Saeki--who is above him in popularity and in intelligence--while she receives her grade score, and fantasizes her wearing the school gym uniform. But whatever bemusement we may have had with Kasuga's perverse thoughts is negated when a girl named Nakamura, who sits behind him, is called upon. Not only did she fail her test, she didn't bother to answer any of the questions. How does she respond to the teacher when he berates her on her grade?
"Shut up, you shitbug."
I think it is obvious that from the first few pages of this volume, we get a sense that whatever is going to happen is not going to be normal. Once Takao steals--whether he wants to admit it or not--his love interest's bloomers and shirt and gets caught by Nakamura, that was the clincher. Flowers of Evil is not for the faint of heart. Sure, drool is not involved, but caressing and sniffing a pair of bloomers is. How Takao ever formed his insecurities is not explained at this point; it may not be explained in the next volume or two. But it's certain that he harbors some scars in order to get to this point, though that's probably guesswork on my part. Maybe Nakamura does too, but at this point, I can claim she just hasn't been raised right at all, especially since she is blackmailing our poor protagonist and demanding him to listen to her every order. It goes without saying that pushing Takao into Saeki's chest then demanding him to write an essay on how he felt is unusual. The incident in the library that happens later in the volume for the two borders on pretty creepy. But luckily for her Takao a sap: easily intimidated, easily manipulated. It goes without saying that the actions the characters take, gross or not, help the manga flow smoothly enough. From Takao's panicking to Nakamura's craziness, their perverse acts set the stage of how things went in this volume.
It's mostly thanks to that and enough twists in the story because I do have some issues with Nakamura's character and the downer that is the art. She is an interesting character, as she wants to be rebellious and views the world in a negative light. I can expect her character to be fleshed out more in later volumes. In this volume however, her use of language in certain situations didn't sit well with me, mainly because it felt unnatural. At times it almost felt like she just had to say it because she was supposed to, as opposed to going with the pace. Random can good, but not if it's abrupt. Maybe her personality will grow on me, for better or worse, in Vol 2. I'm almost certain the art won't grow on me. It's not very good. At best it's average. Some designs are not well drawn and the proportions in some of the panels leave little to be impressed with. The backgrounds are simple enough, but nothing great. This is how Oshimi draws, so fretting over the art more is just a waste. But it did affect my overall impression of this volume, moreso since these first six chapters grabbed me in a "curious, interested in seeing where this goes" way as opposed to "I'm sold" way. It will be interesting to see what will happen to Takao since the last few chapters things had been going his way. Note the had part. This is a solid buy for those who can deal with the creepiness of the bloomer sniffer, with the next volume something to look forward to; for others, this may not be your cup of tea.