October 21, 2014

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The Flowers of Evil


Written and drawn by Shuzo Oshimi
Published by Vertical Inc

It seems to be a pretty common consensus that middle school sucks. It’s a time in which a lot of things change, when you start to come in to who you are and figure out what you enjoy and start to get the vaguest inklings of what you want. It is before you know what is normal, and start to question if you are (even though you’re pretty sure you’re not and that funny feeling you get sometimes or all those stupid pimples make you a freak). Coming of age is a terrifying thing, no matter who you are, or where you’re from. The Flowers of Evil is a bildungsroman in the vein of Palahniuk, exploring self-imposed isolation as well as the societal boundaries of normal and perverse during an emotionally intense time in one’s life, and it does so in a way that is both intellectually and emotionally engaging.

A quiet middle school boy steals his crush’s gym clothes in a fit of emotion, but he is seen by Nakamura, the strange (and somewhat sadistic) girl from his class. She forces him to sign a contract guaranteeing their friendship, threatening to tell his secret should he ever break it. The story is ultimately about loneliness, that singular, sad person who is just a little too awkward, a little too different to make friends easily, and it is meaningful for this reason. Oshimi’s art is excellent – I never found myself confused as to who was who, nor was I ever unclear on what was happening in the story. In particular, I was blown away by his panel layouts. There were several times in the eleven volume series that I found myself simply fascinated by his creative usage of panels and page.

It is often difficult to force oneself to consider not only the circumstances, but personality of someone else. It’s hard to accept that another person’s reality is extremely different from our own, that what they see and what they think will never be exactly the same as what you see and think. Nakamura is a lonely girl, sad and strange. When she is presented with the possibility that she is not alone, that Kasuga is an individual who is unlike the rest of the placated shitbugs that surround her, and may be as different as she is, she takes full advantage of the chance (and him) to finally have a friend. She gets her hopes up, she thinks she may have found what she needed. What both she and Kasuga find, though, is not what either of them expect. It is this dive into the nature of solitude, feeling and filling that need to have someone else who is like you, as well as the reality/relatability of Nakamura’s character, that makes The Flowers of Evil such a powerful book.

This is not a manga for everyone. I, personally, loved it. But there are several elements that may turn some people off. The nature and point of the story, combined with the age of the characters as well as the implied (but never explicit) sexuality and perversion, may make this an uncomfortable read for some. However, I feel The Flowers of Evil tackles a topic that needs to be discussed, and does so in a way that is tasteful and engaging. If you can appreciate a coming of age story that actively discusses all of the weird stuff that happens at that time (in a rather Palahniuk-esque way), then The Flowers of Evil should be in your to-read stack now.