I’m sure that we’ve all gone through a pretentious phase. A phase where all we tried our absolute hardest to convince ourselves and those around us that we were smarter, more cultured or, more talented than we actually were in a sad attempt to mask how little we actually knew. The funny thing is how simple this phase in somebody’s life can begin. It can start with something as simple as reading a book that’s not on the recommended reading list for 14-year-olds. That’s how our story begins for Takao Kasuga, the main character of Flowers of Evil. I’ve racked my brain trying to define Flowers of Evil using the same categories and themes that are often used to classify every other anime and manga under the sun and it’s a pretty daunting task. I’ve seen it described as a “corrupt pure-love story” but, I feel that the term love story casts an image on this series that I don’t want to see it associated with. If I were to categorize Flowers of Evil with any type of genre, it would be dark comedy since it succeeded in making me laugh.
Now you may be asking “How does a book of poems by Charles Pierre Baudelaire have a main character with a Japanese name like Takao Kasuga?” and if you are asking that, you’re a wise-ass and you probably shouldn’t be reading this review. However, you do have a keen literary knowledge. The story takes place in a quaint little Japanese town where Kasuga feels alienated and just plain bored since no one else seems to share his love for European literature from the nineteenth century so, now he has the idea that he is a whale in a small pond as far as cultural sophistication and intelligence, which is funny since it’s immediately revealed that his grades are ridiculously average. Along with this attitude, Takao embodies many elements of the modern high school manga/anime protagonist that makes me want to pull my hair out. He’s meek, quiet, easily flustered, hesitant and, overall dull as hell so, as a main character, he fails to draw your attention. The character that truly made me want to buy volumes 1 through 4 of this series and pre-order volume 5 is Sawa Nakamura, a character who’s blunt attitude and vulgar tongue found its way into my heart. At first I was scared that Nakamura was simply going to be one of those blank emotionless heroines that seem to be growing in popularity amongst sad otaku since the late 90s like Rei Ayanami or Yuki Nagato. However, all my preconceptions were blown away the first time I saw Nakamura call someone a “Shit bug” with a blank and unconcerned expression.
The manga’s story truly begins when Kasuga breaks out of character and steals the gym clothes of one Nanako Saeki, the “Prettiest, smartest, kindest girl in school” with the express purpose of possibly using them to masturbate. The simplest way to describe Saeki is she is the kind of character that every story based in high school needs because they remind the reader of that one girl they knew that they secretly masturbated to. Almost immediately after Kasuga gives into his sadder instincts, it’s revealed that Nakamura saw what he did and makes a deal with him that if he doesn’t want to be exposed, he has to submit to her every whim. Now, if this were any other shitty manga high school story, Nakamura’s “every whim” would involve a series of annoying passive aggressive requests like buying her cakes or taking her out to an amusement park with her actual goal being to spend time with this boring douche because she secretly loves him. However, Flowers of Evil throws me an excellent curve-ball since all of Nakamura’s requests are pseudo-sadistic practices designed to slowly drive Kasuga insane and make me laugh uncontrollably. Things like making him wear the aforementioned gym clothes under his own as he goes on a date with Saeki. Did I mention that he starts dating Saeki halfway through volume 1? Another thing that makes this stand out from your typical shonen romance bullshit.
Nakamura’s humiliating demands and the effect they have on Kasuga’s inner thoughts are what make this such a great read since he begins to question if he really is the deep tortured artist that he deludes himself into believing he is which makes me smile. Mangaka Shuzo Oshimi has claimed that Kasuga is very loosely based on himself as an early teen and if that is the case, then, I applaud him for finding such humor in ridiculing his forming self. Volume 4 ends with the notion that we may have a love triangle brewing between Saeki, Nakamura and, Kasuga which is usually an element in storytelling that makes me grind my molars in fury but, since these three have seen so much of each others inner workings, it feel more natural than your usual harem garbage. Flowers of Evil is a title that has really blown me away with how fresh and amusing it’s made the high school themed romantic comedy so, I’m dying to read more and you should too.