The Power of Three: Flowers of Evil

While I was waiting for the Flowers of Evil manga to go on sale I picked up the anime to tide me over, and BOY, was I glad I did that!

First of all, it LOOKS unique. There was a bunch of fuss about the fact that it was rotoscoped, that is, the animation cels drawn from live action reference, but as an old animator who liked to play with tricks and techniques I like rotoscope, and I like the feel it created here. The characters all feel distant from their surroundings, and that seems just right.

As for the characters, well, I’m not fond of the old Eternal Triangle trope where there are two characters competing for the “hand” of a third. I mean, the Eternal Triangle works because it forces the story into two meta-plots, a comedy for the “winner” and a tragedy for the “loser,” and that creates tension throughout the story. It’s just … you know … been done. A thousand times. A million times. Zzzzzzzz……

So of course Flowers of Evil has an Eternal Triangle in it, and since it is what it is, it’s not a NORMAL Eternal Triangle. There’s nothing normal about Flowers of Evil! (At least, plot-wise.) It’s a seriously warped Eternal Triangle and it doesn’t work anything at all like your normal rom com (which it ain’t since there ain’t much rom and even less com here).

So, lemme see: You’ve got Kasuga, Nakamura, and Saeki. They’re all in the same class in high school. Kasuga is an arty kid who reads Baudelaire (the show is named after Baudelaire’s book of poetry) and Philip K. Dick. Saeki is really smart and really pretty, and in high school that’s a dangerous combination. And Nakamura … Well, if she was in The Breakfast Club she’d be the Basket Case, Ally Sheedy. She hates school, hates her teachers, and hates her classmates.

Good luck building an Eternal Triangle out of that mess.

No, wait, they did. Watch me now  … nothing up my sleeves …

Kasuga likes Saeki. Why wouldn’t he? She’s pretty and smart. Saeki, of course, doesn’t know he’s alive. He’s just a nerdy guy on the other side of the room. Why would she check him out?

Nakamura sees Kasuga reading his Baudelaire and decides he’s the one for her. He, of course, doesn’t know she’s alive. She’s the red-headed freak who sits in the back. Why would he check her out?

This is the weakest form of the Eternal Triangle, where geek girl A likes nice boy B, who likes pretty girl C. This gets into a lot of teen comedies, and usually ends up with A and B hooked up, by whatever means.

But this is Flowers of Evil. Let’s get some evil in here, stat!

On day after class, in a fit of temporary madness brought on by terminal horniness, Kasuga steals Saeki’s sweaty gym uniform. Yeah, kinky.

Oops, and Nakamura sees him.

This gives Nakamura leverage over Kasuga and she uses her leverage to make him do a number of perverted things (such as wear the uniform). This adds a dimension to the triangle, where Kasuga has feelings about Nakamura and they are not kind.

As time goes on some money comes up missing from the classroom. Everyone points at Nakamura, because, after all, she’s the outsider, and they blame her for everything, including Saeki’s stolen clothes.

Well, Kasuga knows Nakamura didn’t steal the clothes, so he gets up to defend her. Saeki sees that and thinks, “What a mensch!” So she notices Kasuga and likes him. She tells him so. He tells Nakamura. Nakamura leverages Kasuga into going out with Saeki.

Yeah, that’s whack. She MAKES the boy she likes go out with the girl he likes. Of course, she also makes him wear the stolen gym uniform, too, but still …

As Saeki and Kasuga date, Nakamura hangs with Saeki, and Saeki comes to like her.

So look where we are now:

>Saeki likes Kasuga and Nakamura. That works. Saeki is really a sort of third force between the other two. She’s the least developed as a character of the three.
>Kasuga likes Saeki. I think Nakamura scares the hell out of him at this point. Now that’s funky.
>Nakamura likes Kasuga, kinda, sorta, although liking isn’t really her thing. And we don’t really know how she feels about Saeki, except that she sees Saeki as a way of manipulating Kasuga. Yeah, that’s … okay, you can say it … evil.

Flowers-Of-Evil

From left: Saeki, Kasuga, Nakamura. The cops are driving them home.

This triangle is REALLY unstable, and it’s unstable because of the hold Nakamura has on Kasuga. He and Saeki could be happy together, but Nakamura can blow that up any time she pleases.

Since this is unstable and since the story has to end, there has to be a point where the tension resolves. Here it comes:

Nakamura orders Kasuga to take her away, over the mountains outside their little town and away. That’s what Kasuga represents to her: with his romantic bent (he reads Baudelaire, right?) he is her freedom from a place she sees as oppressive.

And as for Kasuga, well, Saeki is sweet and smart and pretty but Nakamura is fascinating. He doesn’t know what the hell makes her tick, but whatever it is, he likes it.

So off over the mountains they go.

Saeki chases them down. It’s a great scene, night time, rain crashing down, an undertone of sexual tension between Nakamura and Kasuga, Saeki frantic and uncomprehending.

Nakamura demands that Kasuga choose between herself and Saeki.

See that? Whatever comes out of this resolves the unstable three-way relationship.

And that’s what makes the show so great: If he takes Saeki, well, nice normal relationship, see ya Nakamura. And if he takes Nakamura, well, chills, thrills on the other side of the mountain, see ya Saeki. How do we avoid either of these obvious endings?

Dumbass Kasuga can’t decide.

That’s okay by Saeki; she loves him and will forgive him. But Nakamura loses her shit on him, curses him out, shoves his precious Baudelaire in his face, and heads back to town. Stealing his bike, no less.

In that instant Kasuga realizes that he’s effed up, and effed up good. Saeki is a safe girlfriend, normal and bland … and Nakamura is utterly fascinating. He chases after her, Saeki’s heart breaking in the rain as he leaves her behind.

And Nakamura’s not having any of that. She curses him out, tells him she hates him.

So now we’ve degenerated the triangle into

Kasuga loves Nakamura
Nakamura hates Kasuga

No tension there. Nah, none at all. (Yes, that was sarcasm.)

This leaves Saeki out in the cold, of course. Her story is tragedy: Girl meets boy, girl gets boy, girl loses boy. Kasuga and Saeki formally dump each other in the next episode. It’s doubly tragic because she still loves him, but alas, it will never be.

The Eternal Triangle is finished, but not the story. We still have to resolve the Kasuga/Nakamura tension, so he goes to her house. She’s not in, but he has the chance to read her journal.

Boom. It’s not just that Nakamura hates Kasuga … she hates everything: her parents (their divorce when she is five is at the root of this), the town, the townspeople, the teachers, the school.

Nakamura hates Nakamura. So it’s not possible for her to love anyone, not even Kasuga.

This is where the anime ends. Saeki loves Kasuga but can’t have him. Kasuga loves Nakamura but can’t have her. And Nakamura doesn’t love anyone, and can’t have anyone.

It’s the exact reversal of the usual Eternal Triangle. No one ends up happy. It’s ugly. It’s powerful.

It’s Flowers of Evil.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

2 thoughts on “The Power of Three: Flowers of Evil

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head with this analysis. Flowers of Evil is an amazing anime and it breaks my heart that it couldn’t find the success needed to finish the manga’s story. It’s such a bold subversion of so many anime tropes both narratively and technically.

    Liked by 1 person

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