Aku no Hana 10

Once again so much happens at the level of words in this episode!

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Why does Nakamura want to go beyond the hill?  Remember that for Kasuga the beyond represents an escape from the here.  However, Nakamura thinks there’s some kind of creeping void beyond the hill, “something dark and terribly muddy/messy”.  The word “terribly” here is “shinu-hodo”, which literally, means “until death” in the sense of “so bad you will die.”  Kasuga immediately says that he thinks he understands what she’s going on about.  AND THEN HE PROCEEDS TO STATE A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SET OF CONCERNS.  He hates town, he needs to escape and seek refuge beyond the hill.  He’s always wanted to travel.

Nakamura’s response, her exasperation, is understandable.  Kasuga is totally clueless.  Once again, it’s not a question of travel from point A to point B.  It’s a matter of doing something about the situation, changing.  She tells him to keep pedaling forever, thus rendering all notion of destination and success as reaching a destination totally moot.  I actually think she expects that this “trip” will actually kill them, and that this is what she’s really after: death.  Why run face first into something you expect to be “so bad you will die”?

Sitting down so close to the other side of the hill, Kasuga looks as if he’s about to have a breakthrough.  Maybe being a pervert is not so bad after all, huh.  He thanks Nakamura for forcibly bringing him with her.  I love this scene because we can tell from Nakamura’s face that she’s actually touched by the words.  It’s a declaration of camaraderie, what she always wanted…

And Saeki-san barges in and ruins the whole thing.

Well, not quite.  The last couple of minutes before she shows up, the anime shows us rather subtly (well, not THAT subtly) that there is an important aspect of the Kasuga-Nakamura equation that is totally unbalanced, one that was threatening to destroy the whole thing even if Saeki never showed up: SEX.  Rained-on, wet-uniformed Nakamura makes young Kasuga extremely horny.  This is not just happenstance, but is part of the psychology of the kid.  Kasuga is transitioning from his old, Saeki-worshipping self to a new, Nakamura-worshipping self.  And this means that his teen libido is focusing on a new target.  The problem is, that as Nakamura’s reaction (rather, lack of reaction) tells us, she’s not into “it” like “that.”  It’s not that she’s blind to Kasuga’s stares (I give her much more credit than that, I mean, the boy can be read like a book, and not one as hard as Baudelaire’s) or that she actively dislikes the kid on a physical level.. Sex is simply not in her mind at that point.  And if Kasuga tried anything, he’d get slapped in the face or worse.  Viewed long-term for their relationship, it might be a blessing that Saeki came up just when she did.  Having sex in the rain along the side of the road might seem a bit wild to many of us common people, but Nakamura would likely think it utterly ordinary and disgusting.

Saeki’s speech immediately tells us that she’s off on another tangent, another set of concerns altogether.  If Kasuga is clueless, Saeki is triple clueless to the max.  She reckons that Kasuga has put her on a pedestal (which is true enough), and she finds this endlessly satisfying (which is fair enough) but now any action he takes that would belie that “truth” is reinterpreted by her as done because of her (I pushed you into a wall) and against her (why do you run to Nakamura?  <subtext: I know why, because you’re angry at me>), and therefore ultimately capable of being undone by her (tell me what your issue is and I’ll fix things).

Nakamura’s explanation, which predictably goes over Saeki’s head, is more than a matter of fact declaration.  She’s expressing some sort of possession over Kasuga here, and we can tell she’s not 100% sure that the boy will back him up on this (which is reasonable, considering in the end he doesn’t).  One of the things she does is repeat her claim that Kasuga sniffed Saeki’s gym clothes and rubbed with them etc.  I think it’s worth at least pointing out that even though Kasuga always refused this allegation (note that: we’re assuming Nakamura wasn’t peeping into his bedroom, so he knows the accusation is baseless, even if it happened to be true that he was doing these things; note also that: the anime has shown us plenty of scenes with him in the bedroom with the gym clothes, none of which show any of those actions, though absence of evidence is not evidence of absence) he completely “accepts” the accusation here.  Either he really and truly did those things, or possibly he has come to realize now, with a bit more of maturity, that he might as well have done them, that he, so to speak, masturbated to these clothes spiritually if not physically, and that that’s what matters and what Nakamura is driving at anyway.

Saeki’s response: delight, because of course in her own mind the only possible explanation is that he did all of those things for the greater glory of her.  Darn.

Saeki is obsessed with the notion that Nakamura knows a secret something, call it X, about Kasuga that she doesn’t.  I think she’s right.  But here’s the mistake: she thinks that Kasuga must have told Nakamura about X.  And this makes sense: how else could she know X about Kasuga if it’s a secret and he he didn’t tell her?  But the fact is he didn’t.  In fact, X is probably something that can’t be communicated in words at all.  Yet Nakamura found it out written on the kid’s face.  Saeki can’t see it, so she wants him to tell her, but how can he read what’s written on his face?!  He can’t.  This is more proof that there’s this huge gap between Nakamura and Saeki when it comes to their affinity (for lack of a better word) with Kasuga.  Another great piece of evidence is the book itself.  We learn that Saeki has read and reread the book trying to unlock it.  Nakamura took a look at the book once and the mere thought of leafing through it almost killed her of boredom.  It’s a Zen thing.  If you need to seek answers in the book, you’re not getting it and you never will.  If you don’t need to seek answers, then what’s the use of the book?  Toss it.

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In the ensuing tussle, we get confirmation of some important points: a) Saeki is nothing if not stubborn; we can tell as well as she that if Kasuga were to decisively reject her right now her whole psyche would collapse like a deck of cards and it’d take a long time to heal; b) Nakamura is vulnerable; she gives Kasuga a chance until the very last minute, which tells us she’s stubborn too though she hides it better; c) Kasuga is terribly confused.

Kasuga runs after Nakamura, literally reenacting Saeki’s nightmare scenario (why do you run after Nakamura?) and then claims he did it “involuntarily.”  His body just moved of its own accord.  Nakamura calls him “pathetic,” but let’s be real clear here, she’s not accusing him of being pathetic because he cannot control his own body.  This kind of instinctive, spur of the moment action is precisely what she values so much.  Hell, it’s the fact that she witnessed Kasuga doing such an “involuntary action” (to wit, stealing Saeki’s gym clothes) that led Nakamura to target him as a potential comrade.  No, what’s pathetic is that he takes this instinctive action, in her eyes a solid and positive action, and turns it into an excuse.  He’s not responsible because he did it on the spur of the moment, he tells Saeki.  Saying that is pathetic drivel, replies Nakamura.

But she still gives him another chance.  And now Kasuga gives his speech.  This speech is fantastic.  As stupid and pathetic as it may sound to Saeki, to Nakamura, and to us, it’s truly epic.  I bet you that tons of people watching this anime wished they could have said that speech, felt that speech, at such a young age as Kasuga does here (count me in that group).  I know that my interpretation of the speech and the feelings behind it will probably differ from many others’, but here it goes: the first thing that must be said is that Kasuga has everything ass-backwards.  Take the Flowers of Evil.  He admits he doesn’t actually get the book, and that the only reason he reads it is that he’s desperately trying to look different from the others by doing so, desperately trying to pretend he isn’t ordinary.  See the problem?  If you don’t, just step back and look at the scene again.  Kasuga is on the ground halfway up some kind of mountain on a rainy night.  A really cute girl that he’s had a crush for the longest time is begging him to stay with her.  An interesting and forceful girl (a dream-come-true if you’re into masochism, and come on, guys, who isn’t, right?) wants to elope with him.  He has a safe choice, and a dangerous choice, and he cannot take any as he wrestles with his soul.  Does this sound like an ordinary kid to you?  Nope.  This kid is pretty extraordinary alright, but he’s still too hung up on “things.”  If he can’t understand Baudelaire, then he’s just as ordinary as Saeki, right?  Wrong.  Because Saeki lacks that impulse to read the man in the first place, whereas Kasuga has it in spades.  Kasuga is making that great error that Nietzsche talked about (I guess the kid hasn’t gotten that far in his reading yet..) of mistaking the effect for the cause.  He thinks if he reads Baudelaire he will be different.  But the truth is that he reads Baudelaire because he’s different.  The book is an effect of his basic state, not its cause.  Therefore whether he understands Baudelaire or not is strictly speaking inconsequential.  Which is why someone like Nakamura can tear the book to shreds and not be committing any kind of crime against Kasuga’s intellectual/spiritual development.

On the contrary, Nakamura’s destruction of the book is a powerful symbol.  The book is a red herring.  It’s meaningless.  It could be in a foreign language for all anyone cared.  Move on, you idiot!!

Kasuga calls himself “empty,” and equates this emptiness with failure.  [When a person in a deeply Buddhistic society like Japan’s declares himself to be empty the statement demands attention, but I’ll pass over that.]  I think this “realization of emptiness” can be tied in to his relationship with the two girls.  Here stands Saeki, the girl he had on a pedestal, the girl who was his everything.  There stands Nakamura, the girl he has so powerfully fallen for that that his feet are literally running to her.  This transition from one to the other shouldn’t be so easy, a young person like Kasuga is bound to think.  Saeki was his absolute, and now she’s nothing.  Which means that Kasuga must be empty, there’s nothing inside of him stable enough to seek a relation with the Absolute (whatever that is, whether a girl or something else).  It’d be like converting from one religion to another one, and then having a day of clarity where the fundamentally nihilistic consequences of that conversion really come through (you were sure before, and yet your faith was shaken so much you changed to something else, but then, what guarantee exists you’re in the right place now??).  You stare at the abyss and the abyss stares back, etc.

Kasuga is utterly confused, so confused that he doesn’t realize two things: 1) Being empty is where Nakamura wants him to be; 2) Kasuga isn’t even empty, and that is his failure.  If we review the series so far, we will easily see that if the word “empty” applies naturally to someone, it is to none other than Nakamura.  The girl is constantly bored, she has no hobbies, does nothing, cares for nothing.  She’s like an idle machine most of the time.  But plug her in, her intensity rises and she’s capable of all sorts of things.  This intensity, this capacity for intensity, requires a certain amount of emptiness.  Only what is empty can be filled at the spur of the moment.  The fact is that Kasuga is still somewhat cluttered with stuff (books, images of girls) to really play up this intensity as masterfully as Nakamura.  And Kasuga is utterly blind to this truth of Nakamura’s self because he’s just set her up on a pedestal as he did with Saeki earlier.  Call this penchant for setting up angels and muses and idols a desire to fill up and plug up an emptiness that is not really there.  Mind you, Nakamura is also obsessed with plugging, but with a critical difference: she plugs herself in (maintaining her self, which is empty, a canvas, and thus her true self) while Kasuga plugs himself up (losing himself in his glorification, daydreams of Baudelaire and Saeki, which is to say, never being true to himself, the inauthentic fullness we call “being too full of oneself,” inauthentic because that fullness is always cobbled and stolen from junk that belongs to others.)

Still, as I said, this speech is a great step in the direction toward utter Zen goodness on Kasuga’s part…Nakamura’s tears notwithstanding.

I just noticed in this episode that the action takes place in Gunma Prefecture (it’s on the police car door at the end).  I’ve been to Gunma on holiday, and I must say the anime captures the scenery just right, and the place is truly ideal for this story.  I remember thinking it was a bit of paradise, but the sort of place I couldn’t stand living in for too long.  All of the hills do make one feel that one is..enclosed.  I’d be running for the hills too before long~

~ by Haloed Bane on June 9, 2013.

19 Responses to “Aku no Hana 10”

  1. Bravo!

    (This show is quite good at separating the wheat from the chaff as far as reviewers go.)

  2. That’s a great review. I particularly like how you delineated Kasuga’s attachments to Saeki and Nakamura according to Buddhist theories on emptiness and the Absolute. You’ve almost convinced me to watch this show, but I’m not a big fan of the slice of life genre.

    • Why don’t you just watch this episode? It’s a visual and aural treat, and there’s no need to commit to watching the whole thing to enjoy it. You can call it slice of life, but oh what a slice~

  3. This blog was almost as good as the episode itself. Great stuff AK.

    I never expected when this series started that it would be this good. Much less that only after 10 episodes I would be mentally screaming at the guy on the screen “Get on that bike! leave boring pretty girl behind and go and do a proper Thelma and Louise ending with mad Nakamura”

    • Thanks. I love having a show that makes me want to blog. That’s, like, the point of having a blog. Hopefully they’ll have a season 2 next year.

      During this episode I was totally in the same frame of mind. Run off, goddammit. I want to see what’s on the other side of the hill!!

      • A second season doesn’t seem likely, unless someone’s in the mood to burn a big pile of cash for the sake of art. The BD/DVD sales have been abysmal- it’s one of the worst selling shows of the season:

        Shingeki – 50,300 pts
        UtaPri – 21,079 pts
        Oreimo – 18,517 pts
        Railgun S – 11,035 pts
        Maou-sama – 6,931 pts
        Valvrave – 6,229 pts
        Gargantia – 5,984 pts
        Yahari – 4,887 pts
        Azazel-san – 4,679 pts
        Date A Live – 4,257 pts
        DEVIL SURVIVOR2 – 3,087 pts
        Dansai Bunri – 2,813 pts
        Majestic Prince – 2,449 pts
        Muromi-san – 2,318 pts
        Red Data Girl – 2,259 pts
        Hyakka – 1,879 pts
        Photokano – 1,874 pts
        Aiura – 1,013 pts
        Hayate – 851 pts
        Mushibugyo – 505 pts
        Aku no Hana – 385 pts
        HenNeko – 264 pts
        Zettai – 250 pts

        (this is a digest of the Amazon Stalker list; points do not map to sales, but they do provide a measure of relative performance).

        Looks like the rotoscoping really hurt it here. But there’s always the manga to fall back on.🙂

        • Wait, are all of these BD/DVD “units” priced roughly the same? If they are, it is truly abysmal. This is reaching OZMA levels, my god (I remember seeing OZMA 42nd on a popularity list of 42 anime for its season). If this means Shingeki is outperformimg Aku no Hana 130 to 1, then my sense of alienation from the current anime scene is complete. Thanks😉

          By the way, in my innocence I thought of maybe buying a DVD set of Aku no Hana the other day. I figured it’d be $100-$150 for the whole series. Wow, I guess it must have been decades since I bought, like, anything. They’re selling $50 for every two episodes?!

          • Well, like I said, points don’t map to sales, and shouldn’t be taken as an objective measure of cash made. Essentially: the stalker list tracks where a given product ranks on Amazon.jp’s preorder chart, and assigns points accordingly. The higher you are, and the longer you’re there, the more points you get.

            Shingeki has been highly ranked since it started, but shot right up to the top around episode five or so and has stayed there ever since, hence its massive score. Les fleurs du mal is at #2,646 and is rapidly falling.

            It’s a fairly safe bet that AnH’s take could happily disappear into one measly joint of Shingeki’s massive cash fist, and that it’s unlikely to cover its production costs. But it’s impossible to know for sure.

            (/a/ is of the opinion that anything less than 10k points is a flop. But /a/ is clinically insane.)

            And yes, Japanese anime releases are subject to an outrageous pricing scheme. The thought seems to be that, since the consumer base is so small, it is necessary to squeeze them as hard as possible to make ends meet. “Growing the market” does not appear to be in the playbook.

            • This is insane. $50 for 2 25-minute episodes effectively means $1 per minute of footage. If they were to sell a 2 hour feature film at this rate, it’d cost $160!!! And in the meantime hordes buy tons of AKwhatever CDs so they can shake the hands of the girls ad nauseam. My my my. I bet you Trapeze made peanuts too, huh. Which is why we’re not seeing a sequel. REDLINE apparently didn’t do that well either.

              This is getting apocalyptic. Do you know of any place that has the top-ranked anime (by sales, for example) per year? I’d like to see how my favorite anime each year stacks up against these kinds of lists.

  4. Wonderful analysis! *applause* There is only one thing, perhaps crucial to your analysis of Kasuga that I do not quite agree with. In my eyes, he is just as ordinary as he claims he is, and I give him credit for realizing it himself. Kasuga’s Fleurs du Mal was my War and Peace (Baudelaire was we were forced to read in school, and I thought the lesbian censored outtakes were more enticing than the main poems in the book), and more than anything else, I felt like he caught me and my 15-year-old self red-handed. I am sure quite a few teenagers have gone through the exact same change at that age. He desires to look mature when his reactions upon any relationship problem show his utter lack of experience and resolve. It can take years, perhaps decades, to realize that deep down you are just like everyone else, or at least that you want to be.

    With that said, I facepalmed many times when I realized that we are dealing with an open confrontation between two highly sexually desirable women pining for a douchebag. Unlike your usual harem anime, this one actually feels painfully realistic. (Painful for the girls, that is.)

    I also don’t understand how this show could ever be slice of life. A lot of drama is happening and characters are rapidly developing to a point of no return. If anything, I perceive this show as a melodrama and the exact opposite of a slice of life.

    • It’s a big disagreement😀 This is a tough, headache-inducing issue. Viewed one way, everyone is different, which means that, just as you say, everyone is just like everyone else (that is, there is no difference that is absolutely different in kind from the other differences) and since no subset of mankind is composed of people who are the same (the Japanese might like to believe they are, but they’re not), therefore there is no way that a subset of mankind can be set apart from the rest as being different, precisely because everyone is different.

      That said, do you think from what we’ve seen so far that Nakamura is just like everyone else, or at least that she wants to be?

      On the matter of the women desiring a douchebag, it makes me wonder what that says about the rest of the class!

      About slice of life, I think the previous commenter is trying to say this isn’t a robot show, scifi, fantasy or anything like that. At least, that’s how I took it.

      • I don’t think I ever said everyone is like everyone else – or the opposite of that, that’s just too extreme and ultimately a rather meaningless statement in my book. If anything, I’d say that being “different” is relative and Kasuga is just not as different as he really wished he was. Nakamura is the truly different one by any standard (probably), and she wants to be nothing, just like you said.
        Unlike Kasuga, Nakamura does not seem to desire to be anything else that she is; it’s just that the way she is does not mesh well with the rest of the world.

        The rest of the class may just be composed of guys who don’t stand out. Looking back, Kasuga is probably the type of guy who any teenage girl may get obsessed with for a short period of time, but when they get older, they’d rather go for the other “boring” guys in the class who are mentally stronger.

        • I see, I see. Since you said Kasuga was like everyone else, I took that to mean that everyone was like everyone else. Anyway my head hurts~

          I’m trying to remember if we had any guys like Kasuga in my class growing up. I can’t really think of any. We had a few people who’d be into wacky books and wackier notions (myself included) but we all were sociable enough and not nearly as isolated as Kasuga or Nakamura. Even the weirdest and “least normal” people in my school interacted freely with a decent number of other classmates. I think it’s partly cultural, Hispanic people are less prone to fencing themselves up for whatever reason maybe?

  5. I know you’re not active anymore, just wanted to say that this was an absolutely brilliant read. Thank you for not closing the blog

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