First Impressions – Samurai Flamenco

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Welcome back to full-time work, NoitaminA.

OP: “Just one life” by SPYAIR

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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.

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ED: “Dating TIME” by Mineral Miracle Muse

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17 comments

  1. A

    I hope I don't come off as a smartass when I correct you sometimes- that's not my intention- but Gotou is 24 and Hazama is 19 according to the official site. Definitely a lot younger than they appear to be, but I guess that's anime for you.

    As for the show itself, I really enjoyed it. I can already see signs that it might end up being pretty underappreciated but I dug the budding bromance between the two main characters and the show has a kind of innocent charm to it. I'm not exactly sure where this is going, but I'll definitely keep watching.

  2. Well 19 is certainly "20-ish" so that doesn't seem at all off to my perception. I wouldn't have guessed Gotou as young as 24 but of that's what they say, whatever.

  3. l

    Haven't read your review/impressions yet. You had me with "Flamenco" in the title. Will watch over the weekend and post impressions.

  4. R

    I like it. I like the contrast and dynamics between Gotou and Masayoshi. I don't know if the show is trying to re-define heroism, to offer aspirations and encourage following your dreams, or to make social commentaries, but it does feel like it's forming its themes along with its story. Samurai Flamenco is one of my most anticipated shows — for mostly because of Omori Takahiro. The premiere isn't as flashy as some, but it's solid in my view.

    By the way, Enzo, have you come across any new updates for Pupa? Thanks.

  5. New preview, posted in the Fall Preview post. No date yet, but still says "Fall". I'm thinking likely full-length.

  6. R

    Thanks, Enzo.

  7. i

    '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' – they even more shallow than that.

    The anime fandom can go fuck itself though because this is a good, maybe great, show. I've always disliked Manglobe and Satelight but in one season they might turn me around. This is probably alongside Yowamushi Pedal as my favorite premiere and I think it'll stay that way until winter.

    When push comes to shove, I prefer fujoshi shows to otaku ones. I won't watch stuff like diabolik lovers just like I won't watch stuff like Freezing but in the more decent sides of the divide, I'd rather watch Samurai Flamenco than Non Non Biyori.

    The chemistry is already there and right at the end the start of the ideal vs reality battle begins as Goto tries to stop a jaywalker. Both seiyuu's do a great job in their roles (Sugita acting his age for once) and I thought of Masayoshi reminded me of another seiyuu though I can't put my finger on which. Story wise I know at least a little of what to expect assuming there isn't an actual mutation or cyborg lurking.

    SF really is proof of Noitamina's paradox. Late night weekday slot that only hardcore anime fans can watch. Problem is that Fuji are showing the kind of show 70% of them would not even consider and the other 30% are not a filthy rich population. I can see a lot of kids and adults watching SF, IF it were shown at a decent time and the same goes for many Noitamina shows. The block has usually had shows that are meant for a broad and general audience but shown to an incredibly skewed (and screwed) one. Till they figure that out, I expect SF to flop big time. Shame.

  8. K

    I laughed. That seems enough for me to watch this

  9. I laughed too, a lot.

  10. M

    I get a big "social commentary" vibe from this show. Early on, Goto talked about why they don't really do anything about petty crimes, and the reasoning was very "Japanese." He says they don't listen, so it's better to just ignore them to avoid causing a stir. Anyone who knows anything about the Japanese knows that avoiding conflict and ignoring relatively minor and/or isolated incidents in order to maintain a sense peace in the community is a very traditional thought for them to have.

    Ordinarily, you might just chalk Goto's words up to the fact that, well, the show's Japanese, so obviously you get Japanese ideas. But then Hazama says something I wasn't expecting him to say in his speech to the kids. He says that his actions -dressing up, confronting them, and in general being okay with causing a scene- are proof that he cares about them more than the people who turn a blind eye to their behavior.

    The fact that you have both traditional Japanese reasoning and this alternative reasoning juxtaposed like this makes me feel like it's very intentional, like it's challenging this notion that peace is achieved so long as most people don't see the problem. Really cool stuff.

    And that's why this was probably my favorite premiere of the season.

  11. Yes, that was a very notable moment indeed. I also noted that one kid stayed behind, staring at Hazama, when Gotou showed up. Obvious foreshadowy moment.

    I think challenging the established Japanese model of social order is something anime can be very good at when the right people are doing it, and I suspect we may have the right people in Kurata and Omori. Pair that with the instantly winning oddball friendship between Hazama and Gotou and I think we have a real winner here.

  12. Z

    Main character is a bit of an idealist. It was kind of annoying seeing how his ineptitude kept leading to the policeman needing to bail him out. So far a little underwhelming if you ask me.

  13. Z

    Samurai Flamenco pays more homage to Sentai shows than American superheroes.

  14. H

    This episode didn't make as much of an impact as I'd hoped it would considering the inspiring premise. Disappointing start considering the director involved. The execution was drab (visually too) and I wasn't that compelled by Hazama's clumsy idealist antics … but I'm holding out in hope episode 2 introduces more color to the mix. The ED sequence felt like it came from a different show lol.

  15. a

    I have to concur with Hangman, that was pretty underwhelming coming from the director of Baccano! The younger guy's idealism was a bit too much for me too; he's what, 19-20 years old? Ridiculous.

  16. T

    This was certainly one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen in quite a while…but not in a bad way, I liked it! I too hope it doesn't fall into the 'fujoshi' corner as honestly I would like to just see an actual friendship for pete's sake…

  17. I

    everyone can do whatever they want :v .. why don't you guys say anything about moe and mari??? because it is yuri right??? people more accepting yuri right? so unfair :v .. (not seeking for a fight but i hope you guys can understand us :v )

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