Aku no Hana – Episode 3

Welp, time to feel a little bit worse about our fundamental human nature, I guess.

Aku no Hana can make twenty-three minutes seem like an awfully long, uncomfortable time. Can you imagine watching this show straight through? Hell, can you imagine owning the DVDs, and then just casually suggesting you and some friends sit down for a little anime? This show is a dangerous commodity.

But also a great one. That first episode rode perfectly on creeping tension and atmosphere, and the second one dragged us uncomfortably far into Our Hero’s tortured, claustrophobic, adolescent mind. Now he’s formed some kind of hellish contract with Nakamura, and has possibly ruined his social life and chances with his Muse regardless. Kasuga now lives in a nightmare realm of fear and shame, his last threads of dignity held in the grasp of an inscrutable demon-girl. Why this isn’t the breakout romcom of the season, I’ll never know.

Episode 3

0:30 – Maybe they do break with the tone of everything else, but I fucking love Kasuga’s wild-man screams. They’re obviously funny, but I think they also kind of point to the inherent disconnect between his florid, romanticized inner monologue and the actual world he’s living in and experiences he’s living through. You can frame your problems as the last cries of a tortured soul all you want, but you’re still just a kid wailing because people are gonna make fun of you

0:54 – Also probably good to leave the humor at the beginning, so it doesn’t break the tone elsewhere – I think the intro does something pretty similar. So far, the tone has been maintained so well that I hadn’t really considered the show might be thinking on a level above that tone and that world, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for it

4:30 – Couple things. First, the background art for this show continues to be spectacular. Beautiful in a tired, semi-decrepit kind of way – much like the rotoscoping, it’s just realistic enough to outline all the faults and ugliness of the real world to a level approaching the grotesque. Second, now I’m a bit more confident the show is playing with the protagonist’s perception of his conflicts – the disconnect between his panic and all the oblivious people around him seems to be directly indicating the distance between his mental state and the real world

6:10 – Nakamura’s actress has a fantastic “inspecting a strange and mildly interesting insect” default expression

6:52 – Still loving how the show uses that tower shot of the school as a kind of chapter title page

7:02 – Here’s a great example of what they’ve done with the backgrounds – virtually every element of this building has been reproduced perfectly, but then painted over with what looks almost like a watercolor speckling of mud. Like the whole world’s been neglected and has started to decay

12:00 – Goddamn, he was so close! But now it’s easier to fall in with her enabling influence – easier for him to believe his interior world really has some relation to the real world, that he is something truly different from everyone else.

Now he be fucked

13:38 – Why worry if they see, Kasuga? You’re better than them. You’re different

I was worried the writing wouldn’t be good enough, but so far this show’s thematic darkness is doing pretty well to hold up to the incredible aesthetics

16:21 – Ugh, this is brutal. They each want such fucked up forms of affirmation from the other. This show

And Done

I really love that trick with the ED over the fading final scene, and I think it’s a good example of the very distinct and difficult line the show walks regarding drama versus melodrama. While the tone virtually always absolutely supportive of Kasuga’s interior world, the show seems aware he’s living in a very personal, heightened reality, and that the actual reality is a quite different place. Not sinking entirely into his world while still respecting it and making you empathize uncomfortably with it is a ridiculous tough balance to strike, and I don’t think it’s always perfect, but I think it’s still doing an incredibly good job. Plus, all the visuals, the music, the voice acting, the non-voice acting… everything else remains stellar. The only question left is whether this story is worthy of all this meticulous artistic prep work – sure, it’s already an incredibly strong tone piece, but I’m excited to find out what this story really has to say

-edit- I didn’t comment on it at the time, but since finishing this episode, I’ve kept mulling over that multi-second frozen pause around 19:40. What effect is that supposed to create? Calling it animator laziness is lazy criticism – this show’s direction is too purposeful for that, and even if they wanted to cut corners, they could easily do it in less obvious ways, or just frame the shot differently. So what’s the actual intent of that frozen shot? I’m still unsure