It seems pretty clear that Fuji TV producer Kouji Yamamoto is aiming for two distinct demographics with NoitaminA’s return to a full schedule this season. I haven’t watched Galilei Donna as of yet, but based on the premiere of Samurai Flamenco I can say that I hope it doesn’t get boxed in like that. This is a show a lot of different sorts of fans can enjoy, if they give it a chance – which I worry may not happen based on some of the marginalizing it received before the premiere aired.
For me, NoitaminA has always been about one thing first and foremost – air good shows, demographic and genre be damned. And it’s usually done a pretty solid job meeting that goal. If they happen to be shows that wouldn’t be produced for any other timeslot so much the better, but I’ll leave it to others to decide if Samurai Flamenco is that sort of show. I just know it’s damn good, and very representative of NoitaminA in that it’s character-driven, beautifully written and clearly speaks from a different perspective than most anime these days.
We didn’t know too much about (or see much of) SF before it aired, mainly having its catchphrase – “To those “adults” who don’t want to become adults… Hero will never give up, never hide, never be defeated, never accept evil” – to go on. With original series the writer is obviously a crucial factor, and in this case it’s Kurata Hideyuki. He’s adapted several works (such as Kannagi) but his original material should be most instructive, and the most notable entries there are the Read or Die franchise and Kamichu!, two properties I consider well above average, especially the latter. The director is one of the best, Omori Takahiro, and the studio is Manglobe. They struck creative gold and commercial mud on NoitaminA with the brilliant Sarai-ya Goyou, and have a track record of producing offbeat, interesting shows that tank commercially.
So what of Samurai Flamenco? It’s definitely offbeat and interesting, and I doubt it will remind you of Kurata-sensei’s other originals or of Omori-sensei’s most famous series, Natsume Yuujinchou (though it might recall shows like Baccano or Durarara a bit). And it might just have a chance to do better commercially than Manglobe shows often do, if it catches the fancy of the market that made Tiger & Bunny a huge hit. There’s an obvious kinship here with the everyday lives of superheroes theme, but I suspect SF is going to be far less an overt homage to American superhero shows and far less fantastical. I also hope that it isn’t pigeonholed as a show strictly for fujoshi simply because the two main characters are good-looking guys – I hope anime fandom isn’t that shallow, but the recent commercial track record on that question is a mixed bag at best.
Those two main characters are 30-ish cop Gotou Hidenori (Sugita Tomokazu, perfectly cast and seemingly incapable of delivering a line without being funny) and 20-ish model Hazama Masayoshi (relative newcomer Masuda Toshiki, excellent at bringing Masayoshi’s offbeat idealism to life). Gotou is a pretty typical cop – he stands in front of the koban and probably spends more time giving directions than fighting crime, and seems pretty blase about the petty criminals he does encounter on the daily beat. Masayoshi-kun, by contrast, is pure innocence and idealism – a kid who’s chuunibyou never really went away. His 8th-grade career goal was “superhero” and while he realized the ones he saw on TV weren’t real, he hilariously figures there has to be a “workaround”. By pure chance this simple and unskilled kid falls into a modeling job right out of high school (what he lacks in common sense he makes up for in uncommon looks), and uses his connections to get a superhero costume made – “Samurai Flamenco“.
There’s a lot I loved about how this scenario was played out in the premiere, most obviously the chemistry between the sanguine Gotou and the slightly unhinged but gallant Masayoshi. They meet when the latter has just lost his first duel with a villain – in this case a salaryman so drunk he’d be lucky to punch a time clock, never mind a superhero – and he’s sitting nude in an alleyway, his costume torn (Gotou eventually sets it on fire with a cigarette). Their unlikely friendship is the heart of the episode, and Masayoshi’s eagerness at having someone to finally share his dream with is almost heartbreaking. He shows Gotou his favorite hero, Harikiri Sunshine (played by another Tomokazu comedy great, Tomokazu Seki) and makes him box curry ramen. Gotou takes this all in with a wry puzzlement, and the sense here is that he figures he’d better keep an eye on this weirdo or really bad things might happen to him. They do soon enough, and he calls on Gotou to bail him out – this time the danger being a roving gang of middle-schoolers (“I’m going to stop you flowers of evil before you bud!”).
Idealism vs. cynicism certainly figures to be a recurring theme here, and one suspects there’s another side to Gotou that he’s managed to shut away, one that meeting Masayoshi might re-awaken. The premiere is full of sharp comic moments, like Masayoshi’s hero moves with a TV remote, and the awkwardness when he shows up at Gotou’s koban to return his borrowed clothes (keep an eye on the other cop). Animation-wise it’s nothing special, but the character designs are fantastic and the backgrounds quite detailed (character design and animation direction is handled by Yamashita Yoshimitsu, who did yeoman work on Sarai-ya Goyou, Hyouge Mono and Sakamichi no Apollon among other shows). With writing this smart, characters this interesting and two cours to work with, Samurai Flamenco has enormous potential – I think this could be a show that goes very deep both in terms of character arcs and social observation. For this half at least, NoitaminA seems to be in very good hands.
ED: “Dating TIME” by Mineral Miracle Muse