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Takao Kasuga is something of an oddity in his class. The young teen is socially awkward and feels cut off and isolated from his classmates. To help console himself he seeks refuge in the writings of Baudelaire, something he thinks most of his classmates are too immature and dumb to appreciate properly. Yet as bad as things may be for Takao, they’re about to get worse as he crosses paths with another class outcast, Nakamura. From Shizo Oshimi, comes The Flowers of Evil
I usually don’t go out for manga set in schools. It’s just too generic and is often accompanied by wistful memories of how fun it was or full of awkward romances. While The Flowers of Evil certainly has an awkward romance, it comes with a decidedly darker twist than your average school series. Young Kasuga is smitten by one of the girls in his class, and after making a rather ill thought out decision, he finds himself being black mailed by the enigmatic and intimidating Nakamura. Under her control Kasuga finds himself unwillingly exploring his sexuality. It’s a journey that’s both disturbing and blackly humorous, and more importantly, it all feels frighteningly real. While Kasuga’s reactions are sometimes over the top for humorous reasons it never detracts from the creepy situations Nakamura puts Kasuga in, nor does it take away from the unease and uncertainty that Kasuga grapples with as he attempts to come to terms with some of his own feelings towards the actions Nakamura places him in. The story has that uncomfortable, awkward, and nature of sexual exploration down pat, and Kasuga’s own internal conflict feels genuine.
Visually, Flowers of Evil is pretty solid. Shuzo Oshimi does a fantastic job at expressing emotions through the various characters’ facial expressions and eyes. Nearly all of the characters in this first volume look and feel unique, in both body and facial features. That might not sound like much, but in the world of American comics and manga it’s not uncommon to find artists using the same body shape, facial shape and more over and over and over again. Not so here. You have chubby characters, ugly characters, lovely characters, old, young and everything in between. The same holds true for their bodies as well. In addition to this he includes just enough detail in the backgrounds to help ground the story, but knows when to remove them for dramatic and emotional effect.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Flowers of Evil and it turned out to be a lovely surprise. It’s black humor and the nature of the story, a young boy being forced into sexual exploration, might not to be everyone’s liking, but so far it’s too mine. It handles the topic well, never turning into pornography and without feeling like it’s pandering to puerile interests. It’s a wonderful first volume that sucked me in and has me wanting to gobble up the rest in short order.
The Flowers of Evil, Vol. 1 is available from Vertical Inc.
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