When you’re following an angel
Does it mean you have to throw your body off a building?
Somewhere they’re meeting on a pinhead
Calling you an angel, calling you the nicest things.
-She’s an Angel, They Might Be Giants
The Flowers of Evil, by Shuzo Oshimi, opens in textbook fashion: with a disgruntled male youth lamenting the rusted scenery of his town, the common idiocy of his classmates, and the routine of his middle-school life. Naturally, he considers himself intellectually superior to those he surrounds himself with, in spite of generally getting along with his classmates, and admires the paragon of his class, Nanako Saeki. In his admiration the boy, Takao Kasuga, quickly falls into the gaping, self-centered maw that plagues nearly all middle-school and high-school students.
This idea of how inwardly-focused one is, especially within the aforementioned age bracket, has been discussed here previously in a positive light. After all, who among us has never once let the warm lure of romance add sudden importance to the most minute of interactions? Flowers of Evil takes this idea and rudely crams it back down the reader’s throats. Gone is the rosy glow of romance leaving only the self-centered nature of such thoughts to fester.
At the center of this unpleasant stew is Kasuga, who finds himself stealing Saeki’s gym clothes, taking them home, and feeling incredibly guilty after the fact. Saeki is someone whom he refers to as an angel: pure, and well above everyone else.
“No! I’m not a pervert! Saeki! Will…would you please enter into a pure, platonic relationship with me!?”
-Takao Kasuga, The Flowers of Evil volume two
Kasuga, speaker of the incredibly romantic confession above, cannot consider the fact that sex is anything but an impure, immoral act. He yells that he is not a pervert when his mind wanders to thoughts of kissing Saeki on their first date, bidden by the seeds that Nakamura had sown earlier that day. Juxtaposed with the words above are his actions of stealing Saeki’s gym clothes, which Nakamura blackmails him into wearing on his first date with Saeki.
In high school, my gangly sex education teacher spent the first three minutes of our first class dancing to Salt ‘n Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex,” as the class tittered in amusement, disgust, and embarrassment on his behalf. After he was done, he asked the class if they could guess at why he liked the song so much. One of the more boisterous class members boldly suggested that it was because he was trying to look cool by singing what, at that time, was a very old song. The teacher laughed, shook his head, and said that he appreciated how the song challenged people to, at the very least, talk about sex.
Corny as it was, he had an excellent point, and one that The Flowers of Evil aims to tackle as well: the way that one speaks of sex and how our perception of it is affected. Or rather, how one’s inability to speak of sex affects the way that they perceive it.
“They all spit out pretty words but deep inside it’s sex, sex – shitty sex is what they want! Boring!”
-Sawa Nakamura, The Flowers of Evil volume two
Kasuga refuses to speak of sex, or talk about it. He will not let himself believe that Saeki would be interested in having sex at all because of the image of purity he has imposed upon her. To further this idea, he will not allow anyone else speak of Saeki in a sexual light, and takes a swipe at one of his classmates to defend her honor. When Nakamura suggests that Saeki wants to have sex with him, Kasuga covers his ears and tries to drown her out, later thinking to himself that Nakamura is lying. Someone as angelic and virginal as Saeki would never think such a dirty thought.
At its core, Flowers of Evil makes successive jabs at the idea that sex is bad and somehow dirties one who takes part, or even thinks of taking part, in the act. This is as much of an indictment of the perception we carry into adulthood as it is of our dreamy middle-school selves, who put people on a pedestal while despising themselves for desiring them at the same time.
Hand in hand with this idea is the way that the lie slowly festers inside of Kasuga, tainting his every interaction. It’s not the thoughts of sex that corrupt Kasuga, as he is wont to think, but his initial inability to come clean that builds into an immense burden. This culminates in an amazingly cathartic scene at the end of volume two that leaves the reader breathing out a sigh of relief that they may not have known they were holding, while also suggesting at how deeply repressed Kasuga had been.