Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 110

The Flowers Of Evil

by Shuzo Oshimi
Genre notes: twisted romance, bildungsroman
11 vols
ISBN: 1935654462 (Amazon)

The young teenage years are pretty much rough on everyone. Forget all the body weirdness—the growing boobs, getting hairy nuts, the changing voice, the blood, the acne. Forget all that awful, awkward business about having a body that’s transitioning from its sensible kid form into what will eventually come to be the slightly more stable form of the adult person. And forget the fact that with your new limbs and protrusions, your balance is completely off and even the way you used to walk has to be relearned and reapplied because you’re in a different chassis than you were, and because you haven’t quite caught up, you’re clumsy as a yak in an America shop. Forget all that because as traumatic as that can be and almost certainly is, it’s amateur hour when stood against the wall in a police line-up with the psychological and ideological shifts that govern that same period of our lives.

Or at least that govern the lives of people who are like me. And like the principal characters of Shuzo Oshimi’s Flowers of Evil. I don’t believe we’re special either. I suspect these shifts time their approach as arm-in-arm escorts of puberty, honoured guests to the marriage of the self-consciousness and self-awareness that mark our first steps toward adulthood.

Flowers Of Evil is dedicated “to all the boys and girls suffering the torment of puberty, and to all the boys and girls who have ever suffered the torments of puberty.”

Flowers of Evil begins a mix between twisted romcom and bildungsroman (as most bildungsroman are), but gradually shifts into something much deeper in scope while still being essentially about what it means to grow up. Kasuga finds himself struggling to adulthood on the social outskirts of acceptable junior-high society. He’s still well-within the fold, careful not to step too far out of line, but his adoration of literature (especially foreign literature) sets him apart from his classmates (even if that affection for literature is kind of a put-on). Behind him sits Sawa Nakamura, a girl with little regard to the manner of the world around her. She stares down teachers, calls them shit-bugs in front of the class, and delights in the possibility of what she sees as true perversion—not that amateur-hour sexual deviancy stuff, but the real deal: a twisting rejection of all that her society deems acceptable and normative. Kasuga falls under the misanthropic tutelage of Nakamura when she witnesses him nearly accidentally steal the gym clothes of Nanako Saeki, on whom he’s had a monster crush for over a year. Kasuga begins capitulating to Nakamura’s ludicrous demands under threat that his indiscretion will be revealed to Saeki. Buoyed by the strength he finds in the writings of Baudelaire, Kasuga follows the rabbit hole as far as he can, and soon enough Saeki herself is inevitably involved—forming a kind of insane love triangle. The whole thing is just bazonkers.

One of the essential elements of discussion throughout Flowers of Evil, from beginning to end, is the nature and necessity of perversion. Characters’ interaction with the perverse, whether to embrace it or to demur, is at the heart of their futures—whether they with be able to transverse the mountains walling their pubescent selves off from the broad wide and exotic world that seems to only exist in their dreams and visions. Without the drive to perversion, these kids will be trapped in their stultifying provincial lives. But taking on the mantle of pervert creates a window into a whole new world of opportunities. This is a lodestone given from the series’ beginning, but the nature of what exactly is perversion is a question that Oshimi elides until his finale.

Flowers Of Evil is a pretty rough book and if you want to get a better sense of whether its for you, check out my review of the first 5 volumes here: http://goodokbad.com/index.php/reviews/flowers_of_evil_vols_1_5_review

If you have read it already (or are not spoiler averse), check out my review of the whole series - in which I explain the story's meaning and ending and why it all actually worked really well: http://goodokbad.com/index.php/reviews/flowers_of_evil_complete_series_review

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Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:

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