Flower of Evil is one of those things that when I read a summary of the manga I said, “I got to get me some of that.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but to keep me from buying everything in sight I have a monthly spending limit. And the Flowers of Evil complete manga set was outside my budget, so I had the choice of buying it piecemeal or waiting for it to go on sale. I chose to wait. I’ve got it now, but it was a long three months.
In the meantime I picked up the anime. It was on sale.
Gol-DANG! What a ride!
Okay, if you know the story you know there are three main characters. One of them is normal, Nanako Saeki. She is very pretty, very smart, very pleasant. In any other series she’d be duller than ditchwater.
One of them is a trope, the Arty Kid, Takao Kasuga. You know the kid, the one who reads poetry (The series is named after a book by the French poet Charles Baudelaire) and science fiction, and probably William S. Burroughs and Nietsche and Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries (they all seem to go together).
And the third one is Sawa Nakamura, and she is Something Else. As we saw in Welcome to the NHK, where Tatsuhiro is the central focus but Misaki is the driving force, the protagonist, in Flowers of Evil Kasuga is the central focus but Nakamura is the driving force. She’s the protagonist. She makes it all happen.
Now, what goes on from here only applies to the anime version of Nakamura. Anime is shallower than text; to simplify the story down to thirteen episodes the director made a simplified form of the character. I’ll talk about the book version of Nakamura some other time. Today it’s anime.
Normally when I take a character apart there are a couple simple frameworks to use. I can go Aristotelian: Mind, Body, Soul, or Looks, Brains, Personality, if you prefer. I can go Jungian: heroes are Physical, Tricksters, or Wise Old Men.
None of that works for Nakamura. Instead, we have to start with one simple fact: She’s a trope, too, but a much more interesting one than “The Arty Kid.” She’s the Rebel Without a Cause.
In the famous biker movie The Wild One Mildred, the local girl, asks Johnny (Marlon Brando) “What are you rebelling against?”
Johnny: “What have you got?”
BOOM. That’s our Nakamura.
She’s what they called a Basket Case in The Breakfast Club: She hates school, and calls the teachers shitbugs. She hands in her exams blank, doesn’t even bother to try and answer the questions. Is she smart or dumb? Who can tell?
She hates her school. She ain’t real fond of the rest of the town, either.
She condemns Kasuga as a “pervert,” and when she befriends Saeki, everyone watching knows it’s not because she likes her. So what’s Nakamura’s deal?
What makes Nakamura interesting is that until we understand her motivations, her behavior seems to be arbitrary, manipulative, and capricious. In a word, she seems “evil.”
Yeah, maybe she’s the flower of evil in Flowers of Evil.
But there are depths there, and that is what makes her a great character.
First, she’s the quintessential outsider. It’s obvious in every scene: everyone else has black hair and perfect eyesight. Nakamura is a redhead who wears glasses. It goes deeper than that, of course: when there’s a theft in class everyone suspects her, since she’s the outsider, the one who would violate the unwritten rules of going to school.
Second, she’s fascinated … I think that’s the best word … with Kasuga. When she looks at him reading his poetry she sees a kindred spirit, someone who is an outsider as well, someone too deep and intellectual to be just another member of the crowd.
I think when she looks at Kasuga, she sees a savior, someone who can rescue her, who can “Get her away from all this.” This takes physical form in the series, when she demands he take her on his bike and over the mountain outside of town. The mountain is symbolic of her freedom, and he is the key to it.
Alas, he fails her, grows too weary to continue before they are across the mountain. He’s not her savior, and she turns on him, rejecting him, calling him a pervert.
It seems so arbitrary. One of the underlying tensions in the series is a simple question: Is Nakamura genuinely evil? Is the only explanation of her behavior that she’s a “bad girl”?
If the answer is yes, then the series is a waste of time. Like demons, who can do anything because they’re, you know, demons, characters whose only existence is to be evil can do anything because they’re, you know, evil.
So you hope it’s no.
So what is her major malfunction?
The key to understanding Nakamura comes in the last episode, in which she barely appears.
Note that this is a scene that only appears in the anime. The director needed it to finish the story.
Okay, back to the story: Kagura has fallen terribly in love with her even though she has told him she hates him. He goes to her home, meets her father, learns about her past, that her parents divorced when she was five. He reads her dairy.
Nakamura doesn’t just hate her parents, her school, her town, and Kasuga.
She hates herself. She blames herself for her parents’ divorce, which she believes is the cause of everything else she hates in the world. If she created all the things she hates, it follows as the night the day that she is obliged to hate herself.
That’s it, right? If she hates herself, how can she love Kasuga? How can she love anything?
The only thing she loves is the beautiful future that awaits her outside of the town on the other side of the mountain. She’ll be away from the town she hates, the school she hates, the parents she hates. It will be a beautiful new shining life for her where she won’t be the person she hates.
She thinks Kasuga will give it to her. When he can’t, he’s just part of everything else she hates.
I think she’s a brilliant character. Her self-loathing repulses her, and so she looks for something better. She believes Kasuga is the key to her freedom, to a world that is bright and shining for her, but because she hates herself she believes he would never help her just to help her. She thinks she has to force him to help her, and so she is manipulative and cruel. She is the force behind Flowers of Evil, and it’s because she IS the Evil in the title … not because she genuinely is, but because she believes she is.
How beautiful. How horrible.
Sawa Nakamura is the sharp edge on the knife that carved Asuka Langley Soryu. Asuka is fractured, diminished, because she doesn’t know how to love, and so she can’t love herself. That’s how the Angels break her down.
But Nakamura not only does not know how to love, she darned well knows how to hate. And she hates herself.
What a great character.
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.