Samurai Flamenco – 02

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I’ve lived here for a year now and that’s the first time I’ve heard “onegaishimasu” pronounced anything like that…

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.

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17 comments

  1. K

    "the hero's greatest enemy is
    apathy."
    thanks for blogging this underrated series!

  2. t

    finally, I can say in all sincerity that it's great show!
    ep 2 was very very good. we see the dynamic starts to take its place with the characters and story. the new girls are fitting so well to the situation. one is that funny strict manager, and the other one is the Red-Axe girl(best girl so far!)! each one so unique, yet "link" to our main hero so well.

    Goto opened up as well when his umberlla was stolen, yet I do find him as the one apathy guys, like that "apathy" you are talking as the main enemy, which is great concept with the connection to japan (umbrellas and trash procedure).
    the viral video was awesome and funny, it exposed us a bit about the show's propulsion.

  3. i

    There aren't any lols but there are a lot of good chuckles in Samurai Flamenco. Like when Hazama changed into his outfit and jumped onto his weird bike while Goto just hailed a cab without stopping him. I agree that Ishihara (no coincidence) is annoying, but I guess that when you invest in a face and nothing else you make sure there isn't any strange dirt thrown its way. I've heard that a lot of celebrities in Japan are just the cash cows of their agency companies.

    Manglobe is so heading for financial wasteland unless they appeal to fujoshi. In late night anime there is no general audience so companies will only have two options – appeal to fujoshi or to otaku and its clear the latter isn't going to happen in SF. I wish them luck if SF stays fun.

  4. A

    The bit at the beginning where he interrupts the old woman putting out her rubbish and says "I am not a suspicious character" just cracked me up. This second episode pretty much cemented this show into place for me as one to watch.

  5. H

    Hmm, after reading your post I'm starting to wonder if I'm not connecting with this show is because I'm not Japanese/have never lived in Japan and in some ways just don't "get" the culture Hazama is fighting. Perhaps I'd like it a bit more then, but I have to admit now I'm just more baffled why Japan does put their trash in bins or dumpsters and why people are so blase about stealing umbrellas (although the idea of an umbrella rack instead of having to drag yours all over the store/restaurant is appealing).

  6. Z

    I'm in the same boat but I do understand the culture the MC is fighting against. I just don't find that (in and of itself) an interesting premise to begin with.

  7. Z

    Or at least the way it is being done in this show.

  8. e

    Gong to watch this as soon as I'm home but in the meantime…
    '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.
    Enzo those trash rules are really similar to the ones enforced here you know – specific days for specific kinds of trash + washing or at least wiping the inside of bottles cans and plastic containers included. But we are allowed to leave the trash out the evening before pickup – especially in small towns :,). And while I can see how bothersome/overkill such minutia can be ( wherever and whenever possible those big house of flats trash bins differentiated according to garbage types are by far the most practical and comfortable to use in comparison) I'd rather be picky about recycling than ending up wasting the waste and thoughtlesssy crapping on our planet and on our future generations.
    *insert inhaled bubble scent from the soapbox here*

  9. You have no idea the extent to which Japan obsesses over garbage until you've lived it. It's not about not wanting to save the planet. I've seen it theorized quite seriously by academics that the Byzantine rules in existence today are a function of the preponderance of elderly in neighborhood government today attempting to complicate the lives of the young.

  10. e

    As I'm currently impossibilitated to take on such challenge I'll take your word on it :p and if you swap your neighorhood elderly with my politicians&bungabunga elderly entourage here I'm quite following those academics' theories… I need some optimism in a bottle right now.
    In any case keep making us proud as their friendly [garbage schedule managing] neighborhood gaijin ;D

  11. p

    Ok. Enzo I have been trying to avoid saying this, because other than this issue (which I might be imagining honestly…dunno xD) I think you are my favourite blogger and I almost always agree with your opinions. I hope I'm not overstepping or anything, and my respect for you has not gone down or anything, but I really feel like saying this.
    This isn't even about your negative viewpoint of fujoushi (I have to admit, sometimes it's justified because most fujoushi are in their teens and are…not so mature). Sure this is a show about friendship, but if this were a show about a guy and a girl, surely at some point, it wont be unusual for people to supposite a possible romantic relantionship/atmosphere regardless if the characters actually want it.
    So even if this show is about friendship, there is nothing wrong (or 'irritating') if people want to think otherwise. Wether they do so even after they have been proved wrong is their problem (and I presume that yes they will be just friends and nothing gay will happen), but thinking about possible relationships is not wrong or irritating, because there are gay men in real life (and they have such a low presence in any form of television medium, and when they are shown, its mostly stereotypes). There is nothing wrong with a few humorous asides about people suspicious of are they/aren't they? It would actually be a breath of fresh air if for some impossible outcome, a gay relationship between Gotou and Hazama does happen, but I'm not even going to bother thinking it will happen, cause I know it won't.
    I'm just really slightly saddened that you always seem to have a slightly negative outlook towards anything fujoushi or possible gay relationships.

  12. You couldn't possibly be more wrong, to be honest – but I can only assume you haven't read very many of my posts or you wouldn't even be making that claim.

    My issue is not with fujoshi or gay relationships – my issue is with people who insist on implying that any anime that shows male friendship or doesn't have a 90% female cast must automatically be a "gay" show aimed at fujoshi. The level of homophobia ajnd hypocrisy in anime fandom is so bad that the writer of this series felt he had to publicly plead before the show even started that people not marginalize it as a fujoshi show because it's about two guys.

    Read my posts on Free or Oregairu and I think you'll see that I have no problem whatsoever with either fujoshi series (even if most of them interest me no more as a viewer than otaku-pandering shows) or with gay relationships in anime. Again, my problem is with hypocrisy – for example viewers who wet themselves with glee over any hint of yuri but cry in outrage at even the suggestion of a male-male romantic relationship. I think it would be great if there were more gay relationships in anime, and gay male characters who weren't treated as a joke. But again, I feel as if I've said that so many times that there's no possible way you could have said what you did if you'd read much of what I've written over the last couple of years.

  13. m

    I have to agree with Enzo on this one, though I support your spirit for more tolerance. Already, a lot of male viewers have written off SF as another "gay" anime, which is a real pity, considering what a thought-provoking story it has. In fact, I find Enzo pretty progressive-minded. I recall how he once speculated that Satoshi from Hyouka might be gay and he was quite pleased by the prospect of a deeply fleshed out gay character, which is a rarity in anime (even if Satoshi ended up being sort of, vaguely paired with Mayaka).

  14. p

    Other than that, another good episode of 'Samurai Flamenco'. Hazama seems like a doofus and a push over and insanely lucky that he has good enough looks to be able to provide for himself that way. I'm still on the fence if I like him as a character. Gotou however seems extremely likeable :)

  15. R

    One year already! Congrats Enzo! I hope that you have enjoyed every moment of your life in Japan and are making ways to a promising future that is filled with possibilities and happiness.

    Sorry but please allow me to drill on this one-year milestone a bit. When you were announcing your move, I remember that I requested for photos, and you replied yes. You not only gave us photos — and most of the time photos that a tourist won't be able to capture — but also videos, and, most importantly, your Tokyo Diaries series — which I love reading and chewing on every post of it. You have not only kept this blog current, but cultivated an even more vibrant, diverse, and active community. Seriously, your readers (including me…teehee) are awesome, and I love all the quality and intellectual comments and dialogue. As busy as you're trying to build your life there, you have kept this place alive for us. Thanks, Enzo, and congrats again.

    Back on topic, I really like Samurai Flamenco — it's a very different show, and I love that it's about adults and the Japanese society. Hazama may be eccentric and exaggerating, but I love how the creators use him to poke fun on the social and mundane phenomena that the Japanese take for granted but actually look absurd to the outside world. I heard of the umbrella-stealing and the detailed sorting of garbage. Little did I know that you're not supposed to take your garbage out the night before. That's absolutely interesting but also reminds us how rigid the Japanese society can be at times. A society — like the one in Japan — that sticks to set procedures obviously can boost efficiency, but our world has evolved so much and so quickly that being efficient isn't enough — you need to be agile and creative to stay ahead. I sometimes wonder how the Japanese adapt. Being a Westerner, Enzo, this must have fascinated you.

    Character-wise, I quite like Gotou and the contrast and dynamics that he has with Hazama. As for the "onegaishimasu" girl, I'm yet to see who she is. I'm sure that she has an important role to play and hope that she's not another annoying anime trope. The manager is sure scary, and she doesn't set a good example of a career-minded female character — now, I miss Hiroko of Hataraki Man. I'm actually more curious about Gotou's girlfriend than any of the MMM girls, but it looks like my chance of knowing her is slim. Oh well, on to the next episode.

  16. Thanks. It's a strange and fascinating place to live, far from perfect but with much to recommend it. Even if they are obsessed with garbage.

  17. H

    I keep hearing Katrina & The Waves – Walking On Sunshine in this show.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPUmE-tne5U

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