So after the post-episode buzz wore off, I started going back and taking a second look into the anime adaptation of Aku no Hana and trying to frame my mind around what I was seeing. Sure, it is different, it is not the same faces and feel as the manga, but does that matter? Would it stand on its own merit? Well, let’s spend a little while finding out.
What makes adaptations of anything, from light novel to manga, manga to anime, or whatever to whatever, is re-interpreting the author’s intentions into a new medium. Some authors get through this by joining the crew of the adaptation and overseeing, or directly participating in the project to keep it close to their ideals. Others simply sign off onto it. A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin is heavily involved in the television adaptation of his work, Game of Thrones, and is listed as an Executive Producer. In many respects, I tend to see some similarities between the two works, even though they are based in different universes and themes.
Martin is an author who writes in extensive detail, almost to the point where you simply have to stop because it’s boring. Rather than simply describe a man in the forest, he describes the forest to the man in almost a page-length of words. But the level of detail he brings to his world made the television adaptation come to life in a way that no one else could. Rather than read the full description of the place the character is in, you see those details in the backdrop on the screen. It isn’t just the television show producers guessing or interpreting what you’re seeing, they’re showing you what the author wanted you to see. Not to mention, neither the book nor the show wastes any time showing you blood, violence, sexuality, and cruelty when depicting the world.
Aku no Hana may not be set in medieval times, contain dragons and swords, or anything of that sort, but it portrays a different kind of humanity. Here you have a small town that has nothing special about it, normal people, going to school, going to work, shopping, playing, and so on. Inside that world are three characters who feel differently about that world. One simply plods along and immerses himself in books, another simply slides through life with no regard for others, and the last is the “prodigy”, she does her work, gets good grades, and is everyone others expect of her. The way they all interact in the story and how it just devolves into the complete mess that is the manga, is nothing short of amazing, even if it is greatly disturbing. So when it comes to adapting that into an anime, where do you go with that? How do you capture the details of the manga in a visual form that gives manga fans what they want, while attracting new fans to the manga through the show, just in the way Game of Thrones attracted new readers to the books?
What offset almost everyone, myself included, was the faces. There was no question of the backgrounds, the details, the city itself. ZEXCS was pretty good about re-creating the atmosphere that the manga placed the world in, but the characters within, they seemed out of place, both visually and audibly. There was frequent mention of rotoscoping, and I admit I had to look it up too. I’m still not sure how it fits into the style, but my guess is that much in the same way SHAFT intentionally manipulates the backgrounds of their shows to achieve different artistic effects and feels to the mood of the show, the animators here are intentionally animating the characters to be very “blocky” and slowed-down framerate-wise. You see the characters moving and constantly moving their heads either from side-to-side, or slightly back-and-forth in each scene, rather than stay stationary for more than a tenth of a second. In the scene where Kasuga’s friend takes his book, and he is facing Kasuga with the book in hand, going frame-by-frame his head moves every two-to-three frames in any direction, and his facial features change with it almost each time, or every six frames or so. Compare this to another show, say Photo Kano from this season, and in most shots, the character’s head remains static for over thirty frames or more depending on the shot, with only mouths or other facial expressions changing to suit the scene. It essentially felt like a flip-book where each illustration on the pages were not copied from the last, creating a “jagged” effect. When you add the fact that their faces are also very minimized and not very large on the face, often disappearing in different angles as they move, it made for a rather cryptic viewing experience. The faces were the big sticking point for many though, when you consider the faces seen in the manga, and that of the anime. They aren’t even close. Not even by half.
A popular conception behind most people’s dislike for this format, or rather the criticism of those who dislike this format, is that we’re too used to the standard “moe” palette of design and animation style. Nazo no Kanojo X was a most recent example of a manga that was transferred almost entirely verbatim to television without very much of a noticeable difference. Some might argue that this essentially makes adapting an anime version of a manga pointless if all you’re going to do is mimic the story and visual style onto another medium; fans might as well just read the manga and skip the anime entirely. But as most of us know in America, most people don’t pay attention to the books until a show or movie is made from it. It signals an author’s “rise to prime time” and usually drives sales into the original source material from the adaptation. So it makes sense that Japan probably sees it the same way. Make an anime based on the books, and hope to capitalize on the success of both mediums. It doesn’t always work, and many times we see anime made of a series that hasn’t finished in print, and it either is forced to take creative liberties to fork away from the source, or abruptly end and often never restart. Certainly, the “moevolution” that started in earnest in 2006 and 2007 has kept up its hold over the anime industry today, but I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t have nearly the same hold as it used to, we’re simply conditioning ourselves to see any anime that doesn’t have a story or noticeable characters to be “moe” or to be “comedy”, “slice-of-life”, and so on. I know I’m certainly guilty of this, I often miss some of the best shows of each season because I am watching and reviewing the “filler” shows, the non-nonsense silly bits that comprise two-thirds of each season.
Don’t be mistaken though, Aku no Hana is not DEEP, it is not outside of any normal fan’s grasp. If you’re reading this and thinking you are a special flower or some cool hipster edgy shit, you are exactly what the author portrays Kasuga as and proceeds to tear down, violently I might add. That is what makes this series interesting to read, because like Martin and his books, where he kills your favorite characters off liberally so that you don’t become attached to them, Oshimi purposefully puts all of the characters in this series through the wringer and reminds you that you’re simply reading the author’s idea of these characters, their fucked up minds, and the fucked up world they live in and create for themselves. It’s a manga that is written for and appreciated by terrible people, dare I say even narcissistic people. Any normal person would take one look at this and run for the door. This is the manga that kids who loved Linkin Park back in the early 2000’s would have sat around reading while they listened to their CRAAAAWWWWWWLING IIIIIN MY SKIIIIIIIN~ and feeling sorry for themselves that they can’t fit into society and that everyone is a bunch of shit-suckers.
So in the end, I’ve found that even though I do not quite agree with the visual style presented, it’s an almost clever way of the author and producer challenging the standard model for adaptations, and even though it most certainly will be mocked and ridiculed, even by me, it’s a possible trainwreck I’m inclined to follow. Mostly because I am a terrible person. I also needed more reaction face material to link in social situations. Again, terrible person. We’ve gone over this. We’re done here.