I have never seen an anime like Aku no Hana, pretty much in every respect. There’s something so singular about it – the way in which it presents itself on-screen. The beautiful real-world humanity that props up its characters. And, not to mention possibly the most noticeable thing, the use of the Rotoscpope animation style; something which gives Aku no Hana its distinctive, unique, and dare I say – divisive, feel.
I recently read a manga called Inside Mari, written and illustrated by author Shūzō Oshimi. Now, my thoughts on that piece of work by him, are… complex to say the very least – far too obscure to structure into a coherent set of sentences. So, I came to arguably Oshimi’s most famous work, Aku no Hana (the anime specifically.) I was interested in what he had to say, in a style that I found very unique and expressive – interested in how this translated over into anime. Because, if anything, Inside Mari was a very personal experience for me – a brilliant, yet not necessarily positive one. And so, I wondered what effect Aku no Hana might have on me.
The first thing anyone will notice going into Aku no Hana is the animation itself. Usually in anime, a traditional animation process is used. In the last decade computer generated animation has become a staple, though only – for the most part – to complement the traditional styles, rather than to replace them. Traditional animation uses cells, in which multiple ‘cells’ are used to animate only certain parts of any one frame. Thus saving time and labour in re-drawing each and every frame from scratch (what was done in the beginning of animation)
Whilst Aku no Hana does use cells, its characters are animated using another method of animation known as Rotoscoping. Rotoscoping is a technique in which scenes are filmed firstly in live-action (the setting in this phase doesn’t really matter.) Then, frame-by-frame, animation is traced over the actors – it can be used more widely, though, it is not in Aku no Hana.
Rotoscope animation has a distinct flair, and to be honest, I’ve never seen it in anime before – no doubt due to the amount of work and resources it takes. (let me know if you know of any others, I’d love to check them out.) Aku no Hana’s director Hiroshi Nagahama (well-known for Mushishi) was at first against the idea of directing the anime adaption, as he felt it would translate much better to a live-action series. Though, he then came to pitch the idea of using rotoscoping – taking the more realistic approach to character animations, which he thought would complement the natural, true-to-life tonality of the manga.
I have to agree with him – in face of all the criticism. The show is not necessarily meant to look overtly aesthetically pleasing, though, I find that the backgrounds often do. For the most part, the value of this show does not lay in its visual appearance. Feel slightly uneasy watching the Rotoscope animation? Good, because that’s the very idea – the exact effect Nagahama was trying to achieve. Not just because it gives the characters a 3rd dimension, but because of the overall feeling it imparts on the show, and how it contributes the anxious and uneasy atmosphere that was desired.
Music and Soundtrack
Hideyuki Fukasawa who served as the shows composer, created a masterpiece in the formation of atmosphere in Aku no Hana.
Music’s prime goal in film/media is to complement the emotion on-screen, and help convey the themes and implications of a given setting – to give a suggestion of how the audience might feel in response to what is on-screen.
In Aku no Hana, the music is somewhat subtle… and yet, in a certain sense, obstructive and disjointed – though, not at all in a negative way, but a purposeful one that adds to the almost surreal tone of the show. We’re put on edge by it, made unsure of the characters and their intentions. The ‘creepiness’ running throughout it represents the inner workings of their minds, the ways in which each thought comes about – for better or worse.
Aku no Hana is dark, it is in places, utterly bleak. The music reflects this, creating a sense of apprehension and even dread. And, this is among the reasons why Aku no Hana is so immersive, why it is so active from a spectatorship standpoint. I find it hard to imagine it any other way, how the music could have tonally been any more fitting that what it already is. The ending-credits theme is the very example of this. It isn’t pleasant to listen to. The melody is all over the place. And again, the effect that this has is not on the surface, it’s a subconscious one. One telling us that not everything might be okay. That not everything exists in its best possible form.
I have fallen in love with Aku no Hana’s characters. Not because they are particularly anything special, but because they are so real; filled with such life-like human emotion. This is a statement that cannot be said all too often in anime. Koi Kaze, Welcome to the N.H.K. are the only ones that come to mind instantly. And, true-to-life characters are something I treasure, no matter their identities and motivations. This is across all mediums. I think it’s the one of the most integral aspects that makes for good narrative.
Aku no Hana shines here. Kasuga, the main character is directly relatable. Okay… he has passions and… you could say perversions that are not all that usual. Though, ones that are not all that unusual either. We all have thoughts and actions such as Kasuga’s – those that reside on the side of perversion. Those that deny this are… insincere. It’s the action of acting upon them where things might become problematic.
This connection to Kasuga and the other characters creates an atmosphere of relatability. We’re engaged within the narrative because we – at least in part – understand what drives the characters, what causes them anxiety and pain, what brings them pleasure. It is this that gives Aku no Hana its unique human touch, that so few other anime are able to achieve. Knowing the characters is the best possible way to experience any story. Otherwise, what are they?
I suppose this is a point where people might be divided, after all, who wants to watch ‘mundane normality’ play out on-screen, when they potentially live that life day in and day out. Though, you can take a different stance – gaining insight into yourself, your own workings, through the life of another; no matter how fictional. Because, this is ultimately the kind of effect Aku no Hana wants to have on its audience. And, is that not a facet of great media? Being able to recognise parts of oneself in something so distant? As we realise, in truth… we’re all far more similar than we would like to admit.
What do you think of the atmosphere in Aku no Hana? Did it impact you in any way?
And, as always, thanks for reading!