How to Build a Story: The Flowers of Evil (Part I)

The Flowers of Evil - Complete, 1 by Shuzo Oshimi: 9781945054716 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
Sawa Nakamura her own self

I waited until the complete The Flowers of Evil manga set went on sale before picking it up. I won’t say that was a mistake; it’s been around for years and isn’t going anywhere. But I got it, and it was one of those things, like A Silent Voice, that I simply could not put down.

So I didn’t. Why should I have? I’ve been on WFH since March. If you’ve got the time, read it.

MAN! What a ride!

I don’t see the need to write an actual review, since that’s not what I do, but it’s a heckuva story, brutal and dark, that yanks emotional chains HARD.

No, what I do is look at writing and (rarely) animation. And since I’m only looking at the manga here, you get to see what I saw as a writer as I read The Flowers of Evil.

First of all I saw four main characters. There’s:
Kasuga, an arty boy who reads books like Baudelaire’s collection of poems, The Flowers of Evil
Saeki, a good girl who gets top grades, has a tutor, studies piano. Oh, and she’s beautiful and popular
Nakamura, a basket case who hates school and hates their home town, and is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve run into in manga and anime since Makoto Kusanagi, and
Tokiwa, who emerges in the middle of the story and about whom I will have more to say later.

You know what else I saw? A fundamental five act structure, inverted, that glues two meta-plots together end to end.

Brother, did that sound technical? I mean it is. But I’m looking at the story as a writer, and that’s what the writer in me sees.

Okay, five act structure: the story is broken into five major parts each of which focuses on a different stage of Kasuga’s life. He isn’t really the protagonist in that he doesn’t drive the action except at two key points, but the story revolves around him: he is the character at the center of the story, and for the most part, with the exceptions of some sideplots, the story focuses on him.

Okay, ready? The beginning of the story puts the first meta-plot into action. Der. It better. That’s it’s job.

Act I: The Love Triangle
Kasuga, Saeki, and Nakamura are classmates in junior high. They live in a crappy, dead-end town, and, in different ways, they each feel trapped and want out, want out BAD.

The setting and feel reminded me A LOT of The Last Picture Show, Larry McMurtry’s book and the movie Peter Bogdonovich made from it. It has that same feel: kids living in a dying town who see nothing in their futures.

Back to Flowers of Evil: In their class, Kasuga has noticed Saeki, since she’s cute, popular, and the top student in the class. In their craphole school she shines like the proverbial diamond in a goat’s ass.

And Nakamura has noticed Kasuga. She’s bored off her ass and she sees him reading his Baudelaire and thinks he might actually be, you know, interesting.

It starts out like the beginning of a teen rom com. How many times have you seen it, right? Geek girl wants nerd boy who wants hot girl? Of course you’ve seen it.

I have written about this before, since I wrote about the anime and the anime is constructed only around Act I, but for REASONS (and they are truly perverted) the three of them end up in an Eternal Triangle where Saeki and Nakamura both love Kasuga in their own ways and he has to choose between them.

He chooses Nakamura. End of Act I.

Now, it’s not quite that simple. Before they can be together Nakamura requires proof of his devotion, and he supplies it by pulling off a cruel and perverted prank: while their class is at gym he steals all the girls’ panties. Well, he doesn’t steal Nakamura’s since she doesn’t go to gym, and he doesn’t steal Saeki’s because he wants to show Nakamura he’s finished with her. But this act of perversion/anarchy/wanton cruelty (you choose per your tastes) proves his devotion to Nakamura.

Like I said, end of Act I.

Act II: The Kasuga and Nakamura Show

Of course, Nakamura is a demanding mistress, but Kasuga basically worships the ground she walks on. He builds a shack out in a secluded area where he displays the stolen panties, and he and Nakamura meet there to plot ways of achieving her goal of breaking up their crappy town. (It is implied that they are also getting it on out there. Remember: middle school students.) Kasuga writes a whole set of plots for Nakamura’s approval.

At this point, he’s not just her boyfriend, he’s basically her dog. There’s no question left that Nakamura is the dominant member of the couple, and Kasuga will do anything to please her. How anything is “anything”? Read on!

They devise a plan to desecrate the town’s local festival by transforming the stolen panties into works of depraved art and hanging them around. Okay, it’s a plan. All the school girls will be humiliated and the entire town will be shamed. If you want out of the stinking place, as Nakamura and Kasuga do, it’s a good plan.

Oops. Saeki is still in love with Kasuga. She finds the shack, forces Kasuga to take her virginity, and then tells Nakamura, hoping to have Nakamura kick him to the curb (and back to her).

Not our girl Nakamura, nope. She says, “So what?”

Saeki loses it and burns down the shack, an act of arson that gets her arrested and destroys the panties and the panties plan. With the police closing in and the panties plan up in smoke, Nakamura and Kasuga come up with the biggest fuck you of all: They will kill themselves.

During the festival they climb up on a float and right there they douse themselves with gasoline and hold up a lighter. The lovers are ready to go out together in a literal blaze of glory.

Except that Nakamura kicks Kasuga off the float. “No, I’m doing this alone,” she says, holding up the lighter. But her father tackles her, preventing her death.

Nakamura has destroyed the bond between them in an act of epic betrayal. They vowed to die together, Kasuga was ready to do it, and at the last second she changed the deal. His world is shattered. End of Act II.

See what they did there? Those two acts are linked by a single meta-plot, the Tragedy. In this case, it’s literal tragedy as defined by the form: Boy (Kasuga) meets Girl (Nakamura); Boy gets Girl, Boy loses Girl.

And it kicks like a mule because he doesn’t just lose Nakamura, he loses Nakamura because she betrays him. He’s given up everything for her and at the moment of truth she kicks him in the balls (metaphorically).

Kasuga hits rock bottom. Where can he go from there? Well, wait until next week and see!

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.

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