Tag Archives: Paul Starr

The Flowers of Evil (vols. 5-7) by Shuzo Oshimi, translated by Paul Starr

Flowers of Evil 5-7

First, to catch up: click here for previous volumes (all of which, of course, you need to read for yourself). If these covers placed next to each other above are a bit jarring, I think I might have unintentionally, wrongly grouped the latest volumes together.

Let me explain … The full series has nine total installments, with each third getting a distinct look for their covers. While our conflicted young man, Takako Kasuga, is clearly the protagonist throughout, the object of his primary obsession shifts with each third. The ‘pure,’ simple, mostly black-and-white covers for volumes 1-3 reflect Kasuga’s obsession with the outwardly perfect Nanako Saeki who is so ‘good,’ she seems to have little depth. The deeply infused colors of volumes 4-6 echo the intensity of Kasuga’s growing dependence on the volatile, violent Sawa Nakamura. In volume 7, as seen above, Kasuga’s latest shift to a new schoolmate who reignites his love of literature, begets a whole new artsy watercolored look, surely reflecting the potential and promise of a new future.

Since that explanation revealed a few important narrative details, allow me to back up with just a few fillers …

As summer break quickly approaches in volume 5, Kasuga and Nakamura plot together in their hideout – decorated with a clothesline of stolen panties – to do “something that’ll wake up the people in this town all at once.” Jealousy drives Saeki to the hideout … where she confronts Kasuga with a shocking plan of her own. In volume 6, Kasuga must finally face not only his understandably frantic parents, but his school’s administration, as well. Still, all those adult eyes on him are not enough to attempt a dangerous final act with unstoppable Nakamura.

Volume 7 opens with a spectacular summer festival blow-out (so to speak), and quickly moves to a new grade and new school for longer-haired, reticent Kasuga. After being assaulted on a dark street one night, he aimlessly wanders into a used bookstore, where he recognizes a classmate holding a book in her hand … none other than Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil. His reaction is so severe, she warns, “Hey, you’re creeping me out! Just calm down!!” Trying to rein in his excitement, Kasuga’s bookish new relationship begins.

Readers with children beware: every nightmare associated with disgruntled adolescence gets magnified in these volumes. With friends so toxic, an environment so lax, and the adults so clueless, if manga like Flowers of Evil is any indication, contemporary youth face more challenges to reaching adulthood with their sanity and humanity intact that ever before. Read, be afraid, then use these stories as a primer for how-not-to-parent.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

The Flowers of Evil (vol. 4) by Shuzo Oshimi, translated by Paul Starr

Flowers of Evil 4Before you read further, you’ll need to click here to catch up on the first three volumes of this creepy,  obsessive, love-triangle-of sorts. While the three protagonists are tweenaged middle-schoolers, this is definitely not your kiddie manga: abusive language aside, the deviant psychological manipulations are shocking, perhaps even more so if you’re a parent. The phrase, ‘are kids really like this??’, remains on perpetual replay in the midst of turning the chilling pages.

In the month since their dark-and-rainy-night confrontation at the end of volume 3, the mismatched threesome has been living separated, isolated lives. Takako Kasuga is a “gloomy” loner, tip-toeing around his disappointed, worried parents. Sawa Nakamura remains the class pariah, violently rude and angry in equal measure to both adults and students alike. Nanako Saeki has found a new sidekick named Ai who seems to speak whatever Saeki is too shy or embarrassed to say.

During a middle-of-the-night revelation, Kasuga realizes that in spite of her outer softness, “Saeki can get by happily without a guy like me.” Nakamura, on the other hand, only projects a flinty, razor-sharp exterior because “she was hurt”; in spite of her ‘leave-me-alone’ shell, “she’s got it way harder than me.” He resolves that because she once believed in him – “in empty me” – he won’t leave her “all alone” ever again.

Ignoring the jeers and laughter of his peers, he reaches out to Nakamura, literally chasing her down the street to admit, “I’ve only ever thought of myself!” With a desperate scream, he promises, “I’ll do my best! I’ll do my best and become a true pervert! I won’t leave you all alone!!!”

A parent’s worst nightmares are just beginning … Vowing to find “the other side” this time, he sets out to prove his utter and complete devotion to her.

Just when you thought the fear was over – at least until the next volume – creator Shuzo Oshimi unexpectedly offers The Flowers of Evil “Locations Tour” at book’s end, which begins with “Kasuga’s way to school … It’s close to my old house.” The microscopically detailed drawings of familiar street scenes and building views, complete with chatty captions, ends with a jaunty “Thanks for reading!” The disconnect is jarring; you can feel the hairs on your head rising. Instantly, you’re in heightened alert mode as you recognize the lull is over, and even more brutal mind games are most certainly coming … countdown to volume 5 (April 9) starts now.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

The Flowers of Evil (vols. 1-3) by Shuzo Oshimi, translated by Paul Starr

October is National Bullying Prevention Month – do you know where your children are … and what they’re doing? Check out this newly translated series for how not to behave.

At Hikari City South Middle School, Takao Kasuga is bored and failing. He’d rather read French poet Charles Baudelaire (whose single collection, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), obviously inspired the manga title) than study for any math test. Meanwhile, Nanako Saeki, the embodiment of perfection for the love-lorn Kasuga, is again lauded for her highest score in the class, while class pariah Sawa Nakamura is singled out for her zero-score, to which she merely curses back at the teacher, rendering him helpless with apoplectic rage. The stage is set for a frightening, triangulated tragedy of teenage horrors.

In volume 1, Kasuga discovers Saeki’s gym clothes on the floor of their empty classroom and in a moment of worshipful, testosterone-filled weakness (the smell of her shampoo just does him in), he steals his beloved’s uniform. Nakamura, always looming, sees all … and she’s going to make sure Kasuga will suffer for his deviant theft. Once friendless, Nakamura has a victim to control. Once hopeless, Kasuga is shocked when Saeki not only notices him, but actually seems to admire him.

Volume 2 opens with Kasuga and Saeki out on their first date … with Kasuga forced to wear Saeki’s gym uniform under his clothes per Nakamura’s perverse threats of exposure. The young lovebirds share a few happy moments in an old bookstore as he opens up about his bookish devotions. He explains, not without irony, about ‘surrealism’ to a wide-eyed Saeki before he buys her her own copy of Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil. In spite of (… or should that be, because of?) Nakamura’s twisted machinations, Kasuga and Saeki’s new relationship surprisingly progresses.

Although she often doesn’t understand his strange behavior, Saeki’s attachment to Kasuga deepens in volume 3. Nakamura continues to use Kasuga’s guilt-crazed shame to further incite his excitable outbursts and desperate self-flagellation. The strange threesome become further embroiled in each others’ strange lives, culminating in a dark, outrageous confrontation in which Kasuga is literally stripped of all pretense and posturing.

Already a major hit in his native Japan, Shuzo Oshimi is a master of discomfiting manipulation himself. From panel to panel, his middle schoolers can instantly go from wide-eyed innocence to utterly creepy (with some of the most shockingly abusive vocabulary I’ve come across in books targeted for youthful readers). As the narrative grows ever more disturbing, Oshimi interrupts his chapters with unexpectedly chatty little reminiscences, random moments of inspiration, fluff-filled instances of books and films he’s read and watched. The repetitive juxtaposition of freaky to cutesy is instantly jarring, exponentially increasing the shudder-factor.

Halloween is fast approaching – forget zombies and werewolves … these middle-schoolers will surely scare you plenty. Be warned: just like that inevitable train-wreck, you won’t be able to turn away.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2012 (United States)


Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese