Samurai Flamenco – 03

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There’s a rumor flying around that Manglobe is about to go broke, to which I can only ask: what’s taken so long?

Manglobe has a long and august history of producing fascinating and offbeat anime that absolutely crater commercially (not least in NoitaminA, where it did so with Sarai-ya Goyou).  I’ve frankly wondered how they’ve managed to stay in business this long with a track record that’s gotten so bad that they’ve even unofficially been deemed a curse for any series they produce.  I have no doubt that Samurai Flamenco is going to continue this sad tradition, but that doesn’t make me love it any less.

Simply put, I found this episode to be the best of any this season in term of pure, unadulterated fun.  It wasn’t deep or profound or visually stunning, but the entire show is infused with such tremendous wit and mischievousness that I find it impossible to resist.  Make no mistake, this series is extremely smart – there’s as much deft social commentary on contemporary Japan here as in any anime you’ll this year, most likely – but it never forgets that Hippocratic Oath of entertainment: “First, be entertaining”.

All those qualities surely apply to the casting of Kosugi Juurouta as Kaname Jouji.  Sure, Kosugi-san is a legendary seiyuu who’s been a staple of shounen and action anime for decades, and it’s always great to hear him – but the real genius comes in the fact that he voiced Legend in Tiger & Bunny.  That should tell you both that Samurai Flamenco is well aware of its place in the anime lexicon and what sort of series it intends to be.  Legend, of course, was the “first hero” in that series – the one who inspired Kotetsu to use his powers to save people, yet who ended up…   Well, I won’t spoil in case you haven’t seen T & B.

Back to SF, we have Kaname Jouji – a faded TV action star, the “Red Axe” that Hazama-kun (and Maya Mari too) looked up to.  Unlike Legend of course the only superpower Kaname has is his ego, and that’s fundamentally the difference between the two series.  If T & B was a clever spin on the American superhero mythology, Samurai Flamenco could hardly be more Japanese – both in the fact that its heroes are solidly in the super sentai orthodoxy and that it’s set in a cynical world of reduced expectations.  Kaname quite simply sees the Samurai Flamenco kerfuffle as something he can cash in on – a way to revive his faltering career and maybe cash in on the ¥1,000,000 yen reward Konno (Mikami Satoshi) has offered largely, one suspects, as a way to get under Ishihara’s skin.

Kaname/Red/Axe/Fake Flamenco’s entry into the series is a riot from the first instant and never lets up.  He makes his grand entrance on the “The Wow Show!“, where he’s staged his own revealing (and where both Hazama and Konno are guest panelists) and promptly punches the obnoxious host once he’s disposed of the stage enemies that have been prepared for him.  The old footage of “Red Axe” and Kaname’s films is no less hilarious, with “Six Million Dollar Man” slo-mo and sound effects and preposterous chase scenes in what looks like the American desert.  But there could be a darker side to him as well – he promises to give the reward to charity, but also talks about how Japan has declined because young people have lost touch with the old ways, and need to be taught the Bushido.  This is loaded talk in modern Japan, often the territory of right-wing extremists, and there have been ugly incidents with celebrities with similar views – most especially writer/actor/director Mishima Yukio, who staged a coup attempt in 1970 and, after it failed, committed seppuku along with one of his followers (who only did so after a gruesome botched attempt to decapitate his master’s corpse).

I’m not suggesting Samurai Flamenco is going anywhere near that level of seriousness here, but it is keenly aware of the history it’s playing off of.  This modern nation, with its declining birth rate and decades of economic stagnation, is fertile ground for the type of satire we’re seeing here – a place where apathy rules and superheroes are needed not to fight violent criminals, but national malaise.  The most interesting twist in the episode is that Hazama, confronted with the fact that the identity he created has been stolen by one of his own heroes, declines to let things slide – he (with a very gentle nudge from Gotou) chooses instead to issue a challenge to Kaname and confront him head-on.  Kaname reveals his twisted logic here – “I’m stronger than you and I’d make a better Samurai Flamenco, so you must therefore be evil.”  It’s only when Hazama refuses to back down and the threat of the truth coming out becomes real that Kaname changes gears – he sees a new marketing opportunity in making himself the master, and Hazama the apprentice.

Of course Hazama still needs to keep his identity a secret from Ishihara (a name not chosen by coincidence, surely) and that’s where Gotou comes in as part of a very clever ruse – and in the process we have what I suspect is a significant moment, as he gets a taste of what it feels like to don the tights and cape.  That ruse fails, however, to fool Maya Mari, who knows her superheroes and her Hazama too.  For that matter, of course anyone who looked closely at the viral video would never have believed the brawny Kaname was the same guy to begin with – but Samurai Flamenco is a series that’s intentionally playing up its own absurdity to great effect, so that seems very much in character.  The tagline in the series description is starting to reveal its meaning, and the first three eps have done a beautiful job setting up a situation that’s absolutely overflowing with possibilities both satiric and outright madcap.  Whatever direction it goes from here, Samurai Flamenco should be a blast to watch.

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  1. t

    totally agree with you.
    SF isn't sophisticated or has eyegasm animations, but the way everything is being set in so well.
    yes, the series is very clever. they are aware of super sentai/kamen rider and T&B. yet they aren't afraid to laugh about them or to use them as inspiration and/or references.

    I enjoy everything in SF – the humor, the bizarre fighting, the characters, the reflection upon reality and the story's development (I am glad that the viral video was not forgotten)..everything just merges so well that there is not chance not to have fun.
    I wanna watch more SF!!

    manglobe are about to go bankrupt?I knew they have problems..but I haven't imagine it will come to this.

  2. N

    I just hope they can long enough to do this show justice. Because between KLK #4 and SF #3, good writing and direction can let shows do so much with so little.

  3. i

    You have to be joking. I finally like a manglobe anime and they're shutting down?

    Yeah this episode was just pure fun eh? It seems to me that the greatest threat a hero would face today is not evil but the media. Slaves of the ratings, they are a far more carnivorous bunch than the sharks in a villain's lair. Thank god I stopped watching television years ago.

    Also I can't quite word what exactly I think SF might try and go for thematically. It's something like fighting apathy, to become heroes rather than gawk on YouTube and variety shows and to generally become better people. That said it is hugely entertaining as both a homage and a comedy. I didn't watch T&B but intended to when I finally get some free time but SF is really deluding me into thinking there is some time when there isn't.

  4. Hey, rumor is rumor – it might be a false alarm.

  5. n

    I really think Maya Mari is like Misa Misa (death note)…

  6. J

    I really like satire and this is definitely excellent writing. Quite an enjoyment.

  7. K

    Fantastic show. Really glad I decided to give this show a chance, since the previews do not do this show justice. I absolutely love Gotou's reaction to the duel between Flamencos, calling out the bullshit as it happens. It was hilarious to see him facepalm when the Flamencos are having a touching moment, and to see him guiltily enjoy cosplaying as Flamenco.

    I'm curious to see if there are any jokes contained within the FTV show credits that roll after the "show" ended.

  8. H

    "from Ishihara (a name not chosen by coincidence, surely)" Is there a pun to her name that I'm missing? Although I'll admit I was pretty amused how Hazama was able to keep his cool in front of her in the beginning of the episode considering how much he seems to fear her, plus I like that quite a few people on the show have noticed how similar they look.

  9. Ishihara was the Governor of Tokyo (and former novelist who loved to depict teenage girls being brutally raped) who pushed Bill 156 through.

  10. i

    You must be joking about the rape thing. Why on earth did people vote for someone who writes something like that? Over here that person would run out before the preliminaries for that kind of dirt.

    And he wanted to get rid of anime/manga for To Love-Ru? Probably just erasing the the competition before the goes back to writing porn as an outcast hermit I suppose.

  11. He's currently leading a national party of some prominence, so I don't think that hermit thing is happening anytime soon. Plus he's almost 80.

  12. S

    The fact that you say Manglobe might go under depresses me. I have always loved and continue to love their work. They bring some serious variety to the anime market with each weird series they do.

    I feel like what they need is a better marketing department, or marketing partners, but I'd be surprised if the recent TWGOK doesn't give them some commercial success.

    They were also the guys who made Samurai Champloo, a personal favorite of mine.

    I think Manglobe should have enough liquidity to be able to survive make a series like Samurai Flamenco.

    That said… Man, the absurdity of this series is really starting to grow on me. I feel like something like this is almost more possible in the modern day (especially in Japan) then people having powers, or some other fantasy element like that.

  13. I agree, this is almost feasible. Japan is a weird enough – and depressed enough – place for it to happen.

    As for Manglobe surviving Flamenco, remember it's not just Flamenco – practically every show they've done, including the really good ones like Sarai-ya Goyou and Mashifony, sold negligible amounts of discs. Hopefully they got some sort of kickback on the sales of the Mashifony VN at least.

  14. R

    Maglobe also made titles like Ergo Proxy and Samurai Champloo back in the day. Truly great shows. Severely under appreciated studio in Japan.

  15. H

    Going against the grain a bit, but I'm finding SF a flat experience. I think I get where the show is coming from, but the conceit already feels tired and the characters not that engaging. I probably like the cop character the best, but seems he'll be serving a rather passive role in the early stages.

    Anyway the show hasn't quite offered the 'pizazz' I'm used to from this director so I'm throwing in the towel unfortunately. Dropping shows like flies this week – can i haz Pupa?

  16. J

    Pupa is going to be shit anyway, do not rest your hope on it.

  17. R

    Best episode of the week! It totally had me in stitches, and it had a great introduction to a new character. Kaname Jouji is one hell of an opportunist. I love how he not only shatters the idea of heros into pieces but capitalizes it to max to stage his comeback to spotlight and fortune. Whoever wrote the script for this episode is awesome. Too bad for Isihara to miss out on monetizing this opportunity. I like this show a lot — easily my second favourite. It's so rare in anime to see this much of the daily lives in Japan — the umbrella-stealing, the garbage collection schedule, the variety show — and it feels so real and fun. Love it.

  18. k

    I think I've watched too much Gintama, because every time Gouto speaks I can imagine it would something Gintoki would say in a similar situation.

    Suffice to say I'm loving SF.

  19. Sugita has a hell of a lot of signature roles besides that one…

  20. k

    Yeah, but can you name any other role where he stared as one character for over 250+ episodes?

  21. Duration isn't the most important factor for everyone's tastes. I dare say most would point to another of his roles as his most famous, though it's not a show I care for much.

  22. M

    Yeah, Yuichi from Kanon (TV 2).

  23. e

    Enzo were you hinting at Kyon? AND he also voiced Joseph demsteelballs Joestar *grins*

  24. Take your pick, though Kyon is probably #1 for this generation of viewers.

  25. e

    I feel like the old lady I am… sign me up any day for vintage GAR boys bawling their eyes out over fallen comrades. It's like Homer, huzzah! 8D

  26. m

    i love gotou, he's such a riot! his slightly cynical observations remind me a little bit (a very little bit) of Watashi from Jinrui 😀

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