Samurai Flamenco is off to a very promising start as far as I’m concerned, though I confess I’m a little worried about whether Manglobe is headed for yet another commercial debacle. In the first place we have a show centered on a friendship between adult males (well, marginally adult on one side) which is hardly a recipe for success. But to be honest a lot of what I found funny about this episode especially I don’t think I would have appreciated nearly so much if I hadn’t had a chance to see the truth of Japan’s little absurdities, specifically garbage and umbrellas.
Let’s start with trash. When I moved into my apartment I received a packet from the agent (in Japan there’s almost always an agent involved, extracting anywhere from 1-3 months additional rent from the tenant) which at first I assumed was the telephone directory, before realizing it was actually the instructions for how to throw out the trash. There are more comically absurd aspects to trash disposal here than I care to relay – stuff like washing your trash before discarding it – and a truly bewildering list of items to be sorted and only thrown out on the proper day. And a big, big no-no – throwing your trash out the night before pickup, no matter how late. It doesn’t matter if you work a late shift and getting up at 7 AM to throw out your trash is a major inconvenience – you are not to throw it before you go to bed. And in fact, the agent warned me that one of the reasons the landlord was reluctant to rent to a gaijin was because we might screw up the trash procedures.
Then there’s umbrellas. One of the fundamental realities of Japan is that crime here means something different than in most places. There just isn’t much of it, period – even in Tokyo cops spend most of their time giving directions and registering bikes. There’s plenty about life here that puts people into a malaise, but crime isn’t it – as far as superheroes are concerned it really would pretty much come down to jaywalking, trash violations and stealing umbrellas. Umbrellas are indeed the most-stolen item here – for such an obsessively responsible and community-minded people, the Japanese are remarkably cavalier about stealing umbrellas. Many people refuse to pay more than ¥500 for one (you can get them for as little as ¥105) because it’s just assumed that it’ll quickly be taken by someone else. They’re almost treated as disposable items, and yes, when someone steals yours it’s expected that you’ll steal someone else’s.
I really appreciate the fact that Samurai Flamenco absolutely nails the tone with which to approach this, getting the absurdity just right but not going overboard in dismissing the issue. Yes, Hazama-kun is a pain-in-the-ass – but you know, stealing an umbrella is still wrong. This is a superhero (more specifically super-sentai) show in the modern Japanese context – the hero’s greatest enemy is apathy. A masked crime-fighter in Tokyo would have a damn hard time finding any murderers or even burglars, but no shortage of curiosity-seekers whipping out their eponymous camera phones to document his weirdness on Niconico. I can see where this might be going – with Samurai Flamenco capturing the imagination of a jaded public – but I’ll be surprised if the plot descends into the realm of pure fantasy at any point.
The friendship between Gotou and Hazama remains the center of the show, and a very good one. I strongly suspect Kurata and Omori are subtly mocking the irritating reaction certain viewers were sure to have to this series by having comic innuendo surround the main friendship – last week the other cop at the koban, and this time Hazama’s agent Ishihara Sumi (Nakahara Chie) and her reaction to finding another man in Hazama’s apartment. I immediately took a strong dislike to Ishihara, who treats the quite innocent Hazama rather badly and has him living in terror that she’ll find out he actually has interests outside modeling. I suspect that rather than being horrified to find out the truth about Hazama thanks to the viral umbrella video, she’ll seize on the marketing potential here.
The other important new face we met this week is Maya Mari, the leader of the girl group Mineral Miracle Muse (of the ED), with whom Hazama is appearing in a music video. She’s played by the great Tomatsu Haruka and immediately makes a big impact with the aforementioned “Onegai-SHIMASU!”, but I suspect her biggest impact is going to be as the second secret sentai among the cast. She overhears Hazama whispering the “Red Axe” theme to combat his nervousness during rehearsal, and immediately responds – it seems we have another closeted fighter for justice among the cast. She too, I suspect, will be a character profoundly impacted by that viral video.
The humor in Samurai Flamenco is definitely of the quirky variety – it’s not the sort of comedy that’s been in vogue in the medium for the last few years. This is observational and character-driven stuff, which only works if you’re in on the joke and you care about the characters – so far it’s all systems go on both counts for me, but I don’t know how many others will agree. I found the last sequence of the ep especially hilarious – culminating in the moment when Hazama caught up to the fiend who stole Gotou’s umbrella (actually his girlfriend’s) from the izakaya and after demanding it back proclaimed “Good! Now – let’s go find the thief who stole yours.” That was perfect – utterly ridiculous but exactly in-character. It’s that sort of moment that clues me in that Samurai Flamenco understands exactly what sort of show it wants to be, and it’s those kind of series that often end up being the really good ones.