If you want a dramatic shift, Samurai Flamenco could be just the show you’re looking for. We went from last week’s unequalled (this season) explosion of pure fun to a sometimes pretty ugly and even shocking depiction of the dark side of vigilantism. And all through the courtesy of a character who’d already revealed herself to be a bit odd, but gave no indication of just how depraved she truly was. And really, one more odd character in this series hardly stood out to begin with.
What isn’t surprising is to have Tomatsu Haruka completely disappear into a character the way she does as Maya Mari. Tomatsu-san as much as any seiyuu of either gender is a true chameleon – there’s no one else who I have a harder time recognizing in any given role, and what’s really remarkable is that she never sounds as if she’s putting on a voice. She certainly brings Maya to life, but as vibrant a presence as Maya is she’s definitely taken Samurai Flamenco to a much darker place than it’s been before. I’m fairly confident Kurata Hideyuki intends to play out some serious social satire here (he already has) and I think I have a pretty good idea of where he’s headed with this character.
It’s fair to say Kurata hasn’t played his cards yet in terms of what his true point is going to be when all’s said and done. On the one hand Hazama-kun is a bit of a doofus, frankly, but he’s the one person in the cast we’ve seen with basically pure motives (Gotou strikes me as amply blessed with common decency, but also a disinterest in making trouble for himself – which I suppose makes his befriending Hazama a pretty selfless act). Jouji is a self-promoter at the very best, and quite probably a major hyprocrite if you ask me – he has no qualms about building Hazama’s confidence up and then turning him loose in the red-light district, breaking his promise to be there as backup because he “got a call from Hollywood”.
It’s that abandonment that leads to Samurai Flamenco being kidnapped while interrupting a car theft, and the reveal of just what a psychotic Maya Mari really is. She’s not just a hero otaku like Hazama (though she certainly is one, her choice being mahou shoujo) but a genuinely angry and violent woman – which is a problem as she’s also a much better fighter than Hazama, with better equipment. She’s also by all appearances a man-hater, the root causes of which I suspect we’re going to be hearing more of as the series progresses. She’s just plain violent in her “apprehension” of criminals, but it goes past just that – there’s an obvious rage towards the male gender that manifests itself in her signature ballbusting kicks.
That’s not the only busting Maya does in this episode – she also blackmails Hazama into making Samurai Flamenco Flamenco Girl’s incompetent sidekick under threat of revealing his identity (which he could just as easily have threatened to do to her, if he had the kintama to follow through). This is the ugly side of citizens taking the law into their own hands – it’s not a stretch to say Maya is going to kill someone sooner or later at the rate she’s going. This is vigilantism, plain and simple – the ugly unspoken truth of many superhero stories. Hazama is too cowed to stand up to her even if he knows what she’s doing had crossed the line from justice into plain thuggery – that is, until she turns her mahou taser on Gotou, who’s trying to talk some sense into the both of them. Hazama at least makes Maya apologize after the fact – which leads to the surprising and interesting development that she seems to fall hard for Gotou after she sees him in his uniform.
I really think what we’re seeing here is a commentary on just how morally adrift Kurata-san sees modern Japan as being, and for the moment at least it appears he’s taking the “everybody’s wrong” approach. Hazama is presumably speaking for the author when he defends Maya even as he admits her excesses, pointing out that she’s saved many women from assaults. Yet so is Gotou when he points out the inherent dangers to what these two nutjobs are doing. The issue is that society is hungry for something that seems heroic and exciting, and willing to embrace anything that can break through the malaise gripping it – but in the real world, vigilantism of any kind, be it super sentai or mahou shoujo, is going to lead to a bad end.
As for comedy, which has been one of the hallmarks of the series for the first three episodes, we did have some very good moments. I especially enjoyed Hazama’s “Go…Go…Gokigenyou!” reaction to spotting Gotou in the crowd, because that’s what I always say whenever I greet or part with a Japanese native in order to get a guaranteed laugh, and Hazama and Jouji’s “Shisho! Deshi!” exchanges score points for comic absurdity (I agree with Gotou, Jouji forgot Hazama’s name). I’ve been a bit worried about Gotou’s character, as he’s my favorite thus far but it’s seemed as if there might not be much for him to do as far as the plot itself is concerned. Maya’s crush certainly could change that, and then there’s the matter of the unseen girlfriend – the series of texts conspicuously inserted into the episode indicate there’s something more to that situation that’s hopefully going to be revealed soon. Something doesn’t add up there, and hasn’t from the moment Gotou first mentioned a girlfriend – I’m curious to see just what that’s all about.