The pervert in anime has long been the outcast, the oddity, the butt of the slapstick joke, but in Shūzō Oshimi’s Flowers of Evil, that quality is an inescapable element in everyone’s psyche. In the small town of Kiryu in the Gunma Prefecture, perversion is the fount of suffering, and it seems to Takao Kasuga that no-one feels this truth more keenly than him. He’s foreseen the path of darkness in Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, and even as he agonises over staying in the light to be worthy of Nanako Saeki, his muse, he can’t stop himself from pilfering her gym clothes when he finds himself alone in their classroom after hours.
Sawa Nakamura, who sees the theft, takes advantage of Kasuga’s meek nature and pushes him into a contract. They meet every day after school, when she sets him tasks to uncover his perversions. In return, she promises to keep his secret from Saeki. With even characters that are supposed to be friends feeling isolated from each other, detached in their self-centred existences, it’s impossible to find anything to like about them. But how they use and respond to each other is fascinating, and you can relate to each one being so egotistical just to get through the days. It reflects the ugly fact that we all shield ourselves however we can, but those of us who are free of the teen years can at least be relieved that the worst of it is behind us.
While keeping the show in the bounds of anime, the use of rotoscoping, where animation is laid over live-action footage, was the only way director Hiroshi Nagahama could have captured the subtleties of the characters’ masks and glimpses of their true selves. It’s not an easy visual style to settle into, and rankled with many fans of the manga, but it lends itself to the eeriness of Kiryu’s strained calm, and the feeling that it’s allowing itself to be left behind by time. Facial features appear only when they’re close enough to be defined by the technique’s awkward scruffiness, but even this fits with the theme of the facades we take on in public. Simply because some details have to be missed out, though, you’re left wanting to see the raw recording that’s been covered up and blurred.
While not a show you often fancy coming back to, you’re tempted to see more of the menacing truth of human nature. It provides a space to watch a sense of reality unfold with the clear mind that comes from approaching a work of fiction, and in that way, gives us the comfort of helping us illuminate our own dark paths.