From Aku no Hana to Les Fleurs du mal

By -

To begin, let me declare that this is not a review of the manga or the anime series of Aku no Hana. What I’m going to try is to jot down essential intersections between the actual book of poems Les Fleurs du mal by the French poet Charles Baudelaire and the series by Shuzo Oshimi.

The connection with literature

The significance of the actual book of poems and the author is always overshadowed by the other dominating aspects throughout the series that are more engaging for the audience in general and this I say not to demean the adaptation but in an attempt to highlight the deserving along with the rest.

As the possible reasons that I comprehend straying people from actually looking up at the source influence of the manga, Les Fleurs du mal, is probably because of it being a part of the ‘literature’ side of the piece which ironically is uninteresting for most, even though it is the very root influence for Shuzo Oshimi in the series. People are just reluctant to delve into that ‘side’ or rather if I say that they are content with being elated from the manga or the anime only, hence the overshadowing of the book that Kasuga keeps close to him.

Now I should say this beforehand that I have a tendency to beat around the bush and may vomit a lot of scattering repetitions but I’m not an art evangelist. By writing this article, I’m not seeking to convert people into art enthusiasts. I’m merely trying to engage and inform by throwing some light on the dark side.

Aku no Hana’s characters

Aku no Hana really is an odd ball of a series, unlike the conventional style of plot and character-driven anime. Though if you’re a veteran with everything ‘manga’ then probably the plot isn’t fundamentally original in its complete glory as you’ll see that the protagonist is someone who has had counterparts sketched previously in other significant series such as Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Shinji in terms of personality, who has been a subject of ridicule for being toyed around over the internet for a debatable period of time.

Though Kasuga might have been a character in the same shoes, Nakamura was always around to slap him to his senses, so that kind of compensated for him from being ridiculed for inabilities that he might have exerted.

Discomforting pleasures

Moving on to the main course, I’m sure everyone who has watched the show or read the manga has had a tendency, even if the slightest and the very tingly little, to have felt disgusted by the character of Kasuga subconsciously because given the situation what he did, the events he stirred up, morally weren’t correct for you – the person reading it or for that matter of fact watching it.

Because put in a situation like that you would’ve never attempted to do something like that — it’s forbidden, tabooed. But Kasuga did it, so you should be disgusted, you should stop reading it, you should not watch it further. But why do you still watch/read it?

You want to know what happens further, there’s another sub-conscience working that has clouded your disgust, you are thrilled to read on further, and so more the plot progresses, a brooding sense of exaltation hovers over us as it gets even more twisted with the protagonists Kasuga and Nakamura usurping some social disturbances and attempting in forbidden acts and further attempts to watch the ball roll till the end thrills us, waiting for a supposed catharsis even though a part of our sub-conscience is disgusted.

Hypocrites, are we? Debatable, surely on the grounds of hyperbole, but one cannot question the obvious sub-conscience that drove us through the series, which is filled with a sort of discomfort.

Oshimi uses this very discomfort as his device to attach us throughout the series. This kind of attachment or, rhetorically speaking, a discomforting pleasure, can be related with examples of other mediums, like gore in horror movies are definitely not a pleasure to the eyes of a commoner, but still, considerable audiences find a sort of contorted pleasure in that blood-spilling horror.

When fetishes and dark secrets are spilled

Similar is the question with ‘fetishes’ that all people have, consciously or subconsciously, but try to cast it to the oblivious side of themselves, often forcibly hiding it.

Kasuga fears that his perverted nature is now out in the naked for Nakamura has seen him, his fear at this point is a genuine one which any common person would’ve felt if he/she stepped into his shoes.

We all fear the moment our darkest secrets are spilled in the light, and we live our days in horror crippled from the light, a true fact. Baudelaire’s ideals that constituted Les Fleur Du Mal is all about confronting that horror and basking in the naked glory unabashed. Kasuga is obsessed with the book but yet is like any other common man, living in fear every day, hiding his perverted secrets. He claims to be unique from all the people around him for embracing Baudelaire yet is reluctant to walk around with his darkest secrets in the bare daylight.

This is a hypocrisy on Kasuga’s part, and thus comes in the role of Nakamura, who is not influenced by Baudelaire but yet is tainted by the ideals and moves around unabashedly manifesting her darkest self in the light that forbids. Abusing the teacher right in his face in a classroom, not blown away or put down by the social decorum or norms she shouts her heart out, she does not feel reluctant and does not hide her thoughts in front of the teacher nor any other time, she goes on about her own with her own whims until she comes across Kasuga.

“Nakamura … bullies [Kasuga] and blackmails him not because of his perversion but because she is enraged by Kasuga’s nature of hiding that perversion.”

Nakamura is disgusted by Kasuga and toys around with him, bullying and blackmailing him not because of his perversion but because she is enraged by Kasuga’s nature of hiding that perversion. Her character kind of acts like a direct catalyst of the book Les Fleurs du mal and educating Kasuga throughout to slowly embrace the freedom unabashedly. To embrace the freedom in breaking convention and taboos, the notion of decadence which is brimming throughout the book by Baudelaire.

Passionate poetry and its inspirational pillars

English translation by Richard Howard, published by David R. Godine; First edition, second printing edition (October 1, 1985).

The book shuns conforming to social decency, following the path of an unabashed explosion of eroticism. Baudelaire was writing his poems at a time when taboos were strict in France and public indecencies were forbidden. Themes of carnal desire and comprehending the life beyond were forbidden and scandalous, but he still wrote his book revolving around touching all those themes. He also touched the theme of forbidden love like lesbianism, corruption of innocence and Satanism but he was never religious nor an active Satanist.

His book spread like wildfire across the country, claimed by critics as “masterpieces of passion, art and poetry.” Because he was putting out something that was denied light of the day in society, it was basically an act of rebellion and freedom of speech. There were other critics, however, that sided differently and did not take into liking what he was doing.

A growing agitation struck Baudelaire, he and his publisher were prosecuted under the regime of the Second Empire as an outrage aux bonnes mœurs (“an insult to public decency”). As a result, Baudelaire was fined 300 francs and 6 of his poems were banned till a very late release in 1949. These poems were “Lesbos,” “Femmes damnées (À la pâle clarté)” (or “Women Doomed (In the pale glimmer…)”), “Le Léthé” (or “Lethe”), “À celle qui est trop gaie” (or “To Her Who Is Too Gay”), “Les Bijoux” (or “The Jewels”), and “Les Métamorphoses du Vampire” (or “The Vampire’s Metamorphoses”).

Baudelaire did not have the most memorable events in his life. Even though he was an enthusiast in studies, he had to walk around compressing some of his outbursts. His father died at an early age when he was just a child, while his mother remarried the following year and thus the child found himself no longer the sole focus of his mother’s affection which left him with a trauma.

He stated in a letter to her that, “There was in my childhood a period of passionate love for you”. He decided to embark on a literary career which his family did not encourage, persuading him to study law instead. He was studying law when he started frequenting prostitute quarters and it turned into a habit which led him to face numerous debts and other problems. These intoxicated mental conflicts and revulsion to an eventual state of tranquility as born out of his memories later transmuted into the art as he sat to jot down Les Fleurs du mal.

He reacted to his boycotting in a letter to his mother, saying “You know that I have always considered that literature and the arts pursue an aim independent of morality. Beauty of conception and style is enough for me. But this book, whose title (Fleurs du mal) says everything, is clad, as you will see, in a cold and sinister beauty. It was created with rage and patience. Besides, the proof of its positive worth is in all the ill that they speak of it. The book enrages people. Moreover, since I was terrified myself of the horror that I should inspire, I cut out a third from the proofs. They deny me everything, the spirit of invention and even the knowledge of the French language. I don’t care a rap about all these imbeciles, and I know that this book, with its virtues and its faults, will make its way in the memory of the lettered public, beside the best poems of V. Hugo, Th. Gautier and even Byron.”

In conclusion

The poems are till date admired for the use of beautiful imagery of the sense of smell and of fragrances, which is used to evoke feelings of nostalgia and past intimacy and slowly the focus shifting into sexuality. Kasuga is one of the admirers but also one who had failed to embrace him further, he desired the intimacy and sexuality but denied expressing it. In the poem “Au lecteur” (“To the Reader”) that prefaces Les Fleurs du mal, Baudelaire accuses his readers of hypocrisy and of being as guilty of sins and lies as the poet:

“…If rape or arson, poison or the knife

Has wove no pleasing patterns in the stuff

Of this drab canvas we accept as life—

It is because we are not bold enough!”

Kasuga was guilty and pretty much with the above four lines came the manifestation of Nakamura’s character, who had discarded hiding from her desires to the public boldly and later led Kasuga to join her.

That’s about all and concludes my take on the connection between Les Fleurs du mal, though Shuzo Oshimi or the director of the anime has never revealed their side of the superposition on how they incorporated references from the poems to the series, but I pretty much hope that I have brushed by the references close enough, and thank you for bearing with me.

Rahul Ghosh

Rahul will be publishing intellectual opinion-based articles. His writing skills and knowledge in the Japan discipline are quite commendable and his content deserves much more exposure.