#11 Adaptations of Evil

One of the things I enjoy the most about watching anime is that it can be enjoyed at any pace. When a show is simulcast on an online service like Crunchyroll, it remains archived and readily available for viewing at any time. Similarly, fansubbed shows that are acquired by torrents can be torrented and watched at a moment’s notice. This allows for anime fans to catch up on currently airing series rather quickly, and keep up with the rest of their peers, while others, who aren’t necessarily interested enough to keep up, can watch whenever they want.

For me, this sort of freedom allows me to enjoy the show on my own terms, picking up on random tidbits here and there, and forming my own opinion and like/dislike based on the experience itself, rather than the watercooler discussion that surrounds it during its simulcast run. It’s nearly impossible to truly experience the show in one’s own terms without being informed by others, and while I don’t necessarily allow myself to form my opinion based on what others think, it’s hard for me to not pay attention to things that people talk about, and as a result, I miss out on something that I personally enjoy that others don’t care to talk about.

For The Flowers of Evil, I originally watched the first episode the same day it aired, with a sort of anticipation that was difficult to explain. I never read the source material, but I did know of the mangaka’s storytelling style of incorporating quirky, yet intense characters into very heavy situations that create shock value. When the first episode was over, the only shock in the audience came mostly from the visual style rather than the story itself; “rotoscope” was the overly discussed and often misused and misinterpreted term of the month, temporarily replacing others like “satire” and “deconstruction.” The word I concerned myself with was “adaptation.”

Sometime after the episode aired, I had a very interesting conversation with Emily, one of many that we had before we started dating, about this show and the nature of adaptation. In an interview between mangaka Shuzo Oshimi and director Hiroshi Nagahama, the director talked about narrative vision, that Oshimi’s vision of the story was presented in his own way in the manga, and that any sort of straight adaptation that is taken from the manga itself (that is, adopting similar character designs and art styles) would be pointless. Adaptation, according to Oshimi, required insight into his original vision, and the ability to convey that vision and emotional impact through a different medium. Nagahama’s medium of choice was originally live action drama, which led to the decision of rotoscoping the story in its entirety.

This is the core concept behind adaptation, that an original artist’s idea is taken and reinvisioned to reflect another artist’s interpretation of that idea. In anime, one of the biggest problems of adaptations is that the anime often exists to as a promotional medium to sell the source material, and because of this, there’s often an expectation that adaptations stay as close to the source as possible. The sacredness of canon is fascinating to me, but also infuriates me, knowing that a director’s creativity is stifled. It’s the reason why I gravitate to anime-original works than simple adaptations, but because of what Nagahama showed in what he wanted to do with The Flowers of Evil, I felt like I owed it to myself to watch it all at once when the show ended.

It wasn’t until the end of October, with NaNoWriMo coming up (a “failed” endeavour this year, although only in certain respects), that I looked to finish the rest of the show, having only watched the first episode when it aired. I was months removed from discussion, and months removed from the anime blogosphere itself.  Still keeping in mind the concept of adaptation, and that wonderful conversation that I had with Emily, I thought about both auteur’s intent to leave an impact on people.

One of the wonderful benefits of watching a show in its entirety over the course of a single sitting is the ability to more clearly see the overall form and structure of the plot and the involvement of its characters. As a writer, I’ve always been mindful of structure, often planning out how a story will begin and end in my head before putting the proverbial pen to paper. What I saw with Flowers was a series of narrative tenets, reflective of Oshimi’s style: clumsy, awkward outcast characters put in heavy situations, resulting in the blossoming of unlikely relationships in the midst of those situations.

And there it was, the element of adaptation that I was looking for. Of course, I didn’t want to simply write The Flowers of Evil fanfiction, but rather I wanted to put my own spin on these tennets and write something for myself, putting in ideas that mattered to me. I loved two things about Flowers, the love triangle and the “pact” between Kasuga and Nakamura. I wanted to preserve those two elements and fill the rest with my own ideas. I ended up using different characters, and planned out different circumstances that led to the formation of the blackmail pact.

And thus, Unseen Horizon was born. Unseen Horizon is a story about a boy in high school who loves to write, but is ashamed to share his writing with other people because of what he loves to write: romance novels. He’s always scribbling in his notebook about romantic adventures between unlikely characters, and often uses people from real life as inspiration, namely, his crush, the most popular girl in class.

While working on a particularly racy novel involving this girl, he loses his notebook, which is discovered by another girl, the school librarian, a lonely girl whose experience with social interaction comes from those in the books she reads. She blackmails the boy into writing stories for her, threatening to show his crush his manuscript if he doesn’t follow her whims. They spend time together writing stories and discussing the nature of narrative and people, but his crush develops a crush in return, completing the twisted triangle.

I love the idea of a love triangle that exists between people who have their own personal demons that affect the way they communicate and interact with others, namely those in the same triangle. Oshimi carefully built up all three characters in relationship to each other, which reached a fascinating climax in the first arc of the story, which was adapted into the anime that I’ve come to enjoy for these particular elements, despite not necessarily loving it as a whole.

The Flowers of Evil, both in manga and animated format, made me realize an interesting thing about adaptation, that the best ideas come from the tightest restrictions. It forces creative types to think outside the box, but keeps them grounded and gives direction. It’s a creative approach that I’ve always subscribed to, and watching this show in its entirety reinforced that notion tenfold.

As for Unseen Horizon, it’s still a vision in my mind, as I ended up writing something else for NaNoWriMo. It will remain a vision in my mind, because it’s my own, albeit inspired by someone else’s, which is completely fine. That’s how adaptation is; it’s evil, and it’s fantastic because of it.


2 thoughts on “#11 Adaptations of Evil

  1. One of the greatest things I love about The Flowers of Evil adaptation is not only how it was an example what it means to be an adaptation (as you correctly state, taking one’s vision and modifying it to make it yours while keeping things thematically intact), but it’s also a two way street. Oshimi’s latest chapters strongly resemble the anime in many ways, most notably the setting and lack of dialogue in half the chapters. I like to think that this exemplifies how adaptations are not only necessary for vision, but helpful in both directions; they inspire the audience, but perhaps they inspire the creators as well, paving way for more creative ideas and executions.

    • One of the things I love the most about the interview I read (the translation of it, at least), is just how close the two creators are to each other, not personally, but rather professionally and artistically. Oshimi and Nagahama truly respect each other as auteurs, and as you said, bounce ideas off of each other to further develop and expand on their respective creativities. That’s the kind of relationship that you don’t normally see. In movies that adapt from novels, the original author essentially has very little to no dialogue in the creation of the film. The endeavour is more commercial than artistic, and a lot of the potential is lost. When I watched Sallinger’s documentary, he fumed at the prospect of turning Catcher into a film, mostly because he hated what they made of it. Granted, one wouldn’t question the literary integrity of Sallinger himself, and one would indeed side with him given the kinds of changes that they wanted to make to the film, as those changes were more from a marketability perspective than an actual creative one. That’s what bummed him out, and that’s what makes me value a relationship like that between Oshimi and Nagahama. If you have to ask, I totally ship it.

      Thanks a bunch for the comment, Natasha 🙂

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