Aku no Hana critiquing criticism

Aku No Hana (Flowers of Evil) : Critiquing Criticism

For the past few days, I’ve been watching Flowers of Evil. A show that has been on my radar for quite a while now. It’s one of those shows that appeals to my inner-self; creating a kind of semantic lust that I cannot quite understand. And, after having watched it, it does not disappoint in any way whatsoever.

 

Personal Attraction

I often ponder to myself, what makes for a great piece of media? How can one person see and feel so much in something, when another cannot? Is it personal experiences that predetermine our liking for certain things? The way in which our emotional responses differ to certain outcomes and relationships in film/literature/animation? If so, how can any one piece of criticism be even remotely objective? In fact, can art be objective at its most basic level at all?

I find myself being inherently drawn to Flowers of Evil, and not just in its stylistic choices, but in the way it purposefully casts out stereotypes and creates a very unique identity for itself – free of the constraints that commercially succesful media often feels the need to adhere to. I’m endeared to this quality, how Flowers of Evil is not fearful of expressing what it is, and what it isn’t. It’s not apprehensive of being controversial, both in theme, and in style. After all, controversiality itself is something I find we’re all attracted to: the need to view things outside of the box, the need to escape the monotony of daily life and the endless, predictable media that saturates it.

 

Unsubstantiated Arguments

Even though I’d rather not, I feel obligated to talk a specific piece of writing which tickled my fancy in all the wrong ways; a Kotaku review on the show, written by a Richard Eisenbeis. A person who quite frankly manages to make a fool of himself.

The first problem I have, is with one of his negative points – ‘the characters being unlikable makes them ‘bad” (paraphrasing) Is pretty much the statement he makes. I have never understood this viewpoint. All people are not likable. In fact, in Flowers of Evil, I would argue that the characters being somewhat dull and ‘normal’ is inherent to its meaning and themes. Of course, if you compare them to the characters from the comedy/romance/harem anime that over-saturate the medium they are dull. But that is because, they are supposed to represent normal human beings. The very opposite of what is the norm in the aforementioned genres.

He talks about, how in a slice-of-life show, it’s imperative to be able to relate to, and empathise with the characters. And sure, I think this is true… though only to a certain degree. I argue that the characters in Aku no Hana, are directly relatable to a massive percentage of the world’s population: A boy/young adult infatuated with a girl who has never recognised his existence. He has thoughts that are not all that unusual, that despite their controversy and taboo nature – the majority of people will have thought at one point; even if they did not shamelessly express them like Kasuga does. A somewhat strange, and illusive person who sits at the back of the class. Peer-pressure. Finding where one belongs in a stage between adolescence and adulthood. Would someone please tell me how these aren’t universally relatable themes and ideations?

 

From Richard Eisenbeis’s review of Flowers of Evil

 

I’ll go straight in at the deep end and say, I think this is bad writing… or worse, uninvolved spectatorship. It’s a single exclamation without points to back it up. Sure, it’s a review, and naturally it’s highly subjective. And yet, is not the purpose of a review to inform others on the show, as to pose the question of whether they want to watch it? How are they supposed to make that decision if nothing is being… informed? Maybe it is just the way of Kotaku, maybe their writers do not pander to my personal tastes. Though, I’d like to think they employ people who are at least moderately competent.

From the outset, his review is horribly contrary:

 

“Accurately Conveys a Realistic World of Teenage Angst”

“None of them really have any redeeming virtues (the characters) which makes it next to impossible to care about them—much less empathize with them.”

 

So… the characters are portrayed in a ‘realistic light,’ and yet they are as dull as shit. Because, if you haven’t realised, that stands for 99% of people who you pass on the street. People are inherently boring. But, like I said previously, I cannot comprehend how that alone makes for bad narrative?

Have I gone… mental?

 

One of Aku no Hana’s most stand-out features is its soundtrack. What was he listening to? It sets the scene perfectly. The OP is great. The ED is creepy as hell – even creepier than AoT’s counterpart. It’s a masterclass from composer Hideyuki Fukasawa.

He exclaims, “Flowers of Evil rarely has any music at all.”  You what? If by that he means ‘lyrical’ music, then that would be true. Then again, how much anime is filled with such music… I can barely think of any from the top of my head.

Sure, music is a tool to convince the audience of feeling a certain way in any given scene. But it is just that. If you’re telling me you require an endless soundtrack/music as an instruction on a sure-fire way to feel in any moment, then… what does that say about that particular person as a spectator? Especially when consuming a show that requires active spectatorship, for one to be involved and invested in what is on-screen. The soundtrack should complement the atmosphere and emotions, not single-handedly create them.

 

Many Buttons Pressed

It’s just such a conceited, and thoughtless review. I can imagine Kotaku’s editor-in-chief, saying “Hey, you! Get out a review of Aku no Hana, and promptu!”

“Yeah, sure… no problem. Let me just watch it whilst I’m rifling through the most debauched genres of Hentai. It’s going to be shit anyway…”

Thus, we are left with… something or other that barely hints at anyone having watched the show to begin with. And, it’s not as though I’m personally attacking Richard Eisenbeis, that’s not true at all. Yet, I feel cheated knowing how many great writers and anime analysts there are out there, who barely have an audience at all; yet he is able to put out that to a viewership no doubt in the hundreds of thousands. It doesn’t feel…right. It’s a misjustice to the medium, and to all of the content creators who put such spirit, and such individual personality into what they create. There’s no passion there. All I sensed was a deadline… and apathy in having to write it in the first place.

Anyway… enough of that. There will be another piece on Aku no Hana coming shortly!

 

What do you peeps think?

And, as always, thanks for reading!

-Chris

 

(p.s. If Richard Eisenbeis happens upon this, it is in no way a personal judgement. Just a judgement on your personal review/opinion of Aku no Hana.)

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