When, with closed eyes, on a hot afternoon,
The scent of thine ardent breast I inhale,
Celestial vistas my spirit assail;
Caressed by the flames of an endless sun.
— “Exotic Perfume” by C. Baudelaire
The more that I write about anime and manga and what qualities I enjoy about individual titles, the more that I realize that I’m picky. I don’t like series that are too long, too short, have no romance, have too much action sequences, are too cute, or too macabre. I seem to have this prevailing Goldilocks mentality of everything needing to be “just right” for me to be satisfied with a work.
Having said that, it should be no surprise that The Flowers of Evil isn’t going to be included in the list of my favorites. The author of this series seems to be all about pushing the reader as far down the pit as he can go. Once you’ve gone beyond a certain point, there’s no going back.
The Perils of Reading French Poetry
Takao KASUGA is a middle school student with a penchant for reading obscure foreign literature, his favorite being The Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du Mal) by Baudelaire. Even as a young teenager, he’s stuck with the ennui of living in a small town. No one can understand him, nor could understand why and how literature and poetry have affected him and changed his life.
His only consolation in this existence is the lovely Nanako SAEKI, one of the prettier girls in his class. He considers her his “femme fatale” and his “muse.” One afternoon, finding himself alone in the classroom, he notices that one of the other students left their gym bag at the back of the room. He investigates and realizes that the bag and the uniform in it belong to Saeki’s. While a more well-meaning boy would have brought it to the office or school lost-and-found, Kasuga does the unthinkable: he takes the uniform home for himself.
And with that small act, Kasuga’s life decomposes into a complicated web of lies, secrets, and blackmail. Little does he realize that when he decided to hold on to Saeki’s uniform, his classmate Sawa NAKAMURA saw him take it. Using this knowledge of his secret crime, she enters into a contract with him where she won’t tell anyone what she knows, but in turn, she can take something precious from him.
What is Perversion?
I was really uncomfortable reading the first volume, and wasn’t even sure if I even wanted to read the second. Kasuga seems to be playing the middle school version of the “repressed smart guy.” He’s socially awkward, but believes that he’s smarter than the rest of the group, and it is this innate intelligence that separates him from the rest. He has lofty, romantic ideals and imagines himself succeeding only if the environment and society weren’t pushing him down. Yet in all this, he lacks self-confidence, choosing to assign blame to external factors rather than taking responsibility for his own failings.
The crux of Nakamura’s motivation for blackmailing Kasuga, that is, to “peel off all the skin he’s hiding behind,” reminds me of one of the concerns that I had with Kokoro Connect. I don’t like the underlying message in both these series that an individual needs to act on their basest desires in order to reveal their true selves. Maybe it’s my age showing, but I do not believe that I have to reveal my private self to the world in order to know myself. There are such concepts such as a public face and a private face, and having both doesn’t make you a phony; it actually means that you’re a normal functioning person.
Nakamura probably thinks that she’s doing Kasuga a favor by being the agent of his change. While Kasuga maybe does need someone to boost his confidence, the manner that she coerces him to act is so creepy and triggering that I almost quit the book then and there. Warning: disturbing panels behind the tag.
Call me oversensitive, but I really wasn’t expecting sexual assault in this manga. But hey, surprise, there it is.
It’s sad to think that such situations may not be too far-fetched from reality. I’m sure that bullying and assault isn’t restricted to the United States and Japan. I think I was just so taken aback at the graphic violence of the scene — and the end goal that it was trying to achieve. In this scene, Nakamura is forcing Kasuga to put on the uniform which he stole from Saeki so that he could realize the full extent of how much of a pervert he is. It’s, like, YES, we get that he’s a pervert already. How much more torture must he endure from you?
Katherine Dacey, in her review of the second volume, uses the phrase “emotional torture porn” to describe the events in this manga. Never has a turn of phrase been more apt.