With a tag line of “Aren’t you a perv too?”, I knew I was going to have to check out The Flowers of Evil by Shuzo Oshimi.
The story opens as middle school student Takao Kasuga receives an F on a math test. But he doesn’t even seem to notice because he’s too engrossed in surreptitiously reading Beaudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil. And the day goes downhill from there. In a moment of weakness, he finds and takes home the gym clothes belonging to sweet, pretty Nanako Saeki on whom he has a major crush. Unfortunately for Takao, there’s a witness to the theft: Nakamura, who has a huge chip on her shoulder and a sadistic streak.
As the saga unfolds, we see Takao struggling to decide whether to confess or cover up his misdeeds at the same time that he tries to win over the girl of his dreams, and avoid the blackmail attempts of Nakamura, his new ”BFF.”
The Flowers of Evil is probably one of the most true comics I have read. It takes place in that uncomfortable time in everyone’s age when their hormones are running wild. Everything is new, and different, and there is no way to tell if you are normal. You feel like a pervert because your body is reacting to the faintest of stimulation in a manner that makes you tingly and aroused in inexplicable and uncomfortable ways (not to mention at incredibly inconvenient times and locations!). No matter how many times your Health teacher told you it was part of growing up, everyone felt like they were the only one going through this at one time or another.
Not to mention it is an age when kids are prone to making impulsive and inappropriate decisions. While I may have never taken the gym clothes of a girl I was sweet on, there are several things I would like to erase from the record of my teenage self. So, I felt a great deal of sympathy for Takao. On the surface it may seem like a crazy and out of character (maybe even perverted) thing for him to do. But, placing myself back in my teenage brain (or observing the kids I teach on a regular basis) it does not seem that far removed from possibility.
What makes The Flowers of Evil so compelling is that, because I can empathize with the decision Takao made to steal the gym clothes, I can also feel his anxiety and frustration as he tries his best to undo the harm he has done. It isn’t that he is someone getting off on all of this. He made an impulsive mistake and would like to make things right. Unfortunately, his classmate, Nakamura, won’t let him.
Nakamura is a deliciously complicated character. It is difficult to determine her true motivations. Does she want to help Takao? Does she want to embarrass him? Or is she simply getting off on the power she exerts over him? She takes a book which could have easily been a mopey rumination on a bad decision and turns it in to a psychological torture chamber with Takao trapped in the middle.
The Flowers of Evil is all about the mind fuck. It is all about messing with a person’s head and seeing just how much they will squirm. It is uncomfortable to watch/read at times, but I just can’t make myself turn away. Does that make me a perv too?
The art by Shuzo Oshimi is clean and crisp. It is reminiscent of Jiro Taniguchi with small, innocent looking children who move through a beautifully illustrated world. Oshimi is smart to keep everything as realistic as possible. It would be too easy for a reader to find some little fault and pick this story apart as not being “realistic”. Oshimi even goes so far as to base many of the locations and people from his own personal history. That decision to keep the story as real as possible manes the book that much easier to believe. It keeps the reader focused on what is important and keeps them connected to the torrent of emotions.
The Flowers of Evil is one of the most frank and honest looks at one aspect of adolescent sexuality. It is the part where logic and reason fly out the window and your raging hormones make you do something stupid. The triangle formed by Takao, Nakamura, and Takao’s love interest, Nanako is one of the most intriguing I have read in some time.