While Samurai Flamenco has not yet equalled the exhilarating lunacy of the third episode, it remains one of the more energetic and fun series we’ve seen for a while. The mix of fantasy and reality here is quite interesting, and I think we’re seeing a serious attempt at serious social commentary using absurdity as the means of communication. That’s a method that’s been used many times in anime and elsewhere to great success, though it takes a considerable amount of dexterity to pull it off. So far I think the signs are good that SF can be one of the series that manage to do so.
Likewise, I think Samurenco has done a nice job in balancing the sweet with the sour, a generally upbeat atmosphere with an undercurrent of real sadness. There’s a school of thought that says well-adjusted people can’t succeed as standup comedians, and I think we see something of that in play here. Gotou is a lonely beat cop who at best has a girlfriend who never wants to see him (and it could be worse, much worse). Hazama is a semi-delusional hack actor and model who at best is unrealistically innocent and idealistic, Junji is an egomaniacal phony living off past glories. And Mari is at best unbalanced, and at worst a sadist and borderline psychotic. It’s not exactly the most well-adjusted cast in the world.
If you step back and take a look at the lives of these people, I think Samurai Flamenco could be a very depressing story. But it isn’t, because like great comedy usually does, it takes their struggles and dysfunction and has sport with it not in a mean-spirited way, but such that the message is that everybody has problems and it’s better to laugh at them than to cry about them. There’s a metaphor for modern Japan (which is the real main character, IMHO) here, with it’s state of drift and the unease lurking underneath the technologically dazzling and clinically safe exterior.
All that said, it’s definitely Mari who pushes the limits more than anyone. She’s really, really messed up – when she announces that she wants to change the routine of fighting evil because “I’m getting bored” you get a real sense of just how disconnected from reality (and Hazama’s fantasy version of it) she is. Mari is a dangerous person, far more so than anyone in the cast – I thought she’d finally crossed into outright baddie territory when she blew up Team Rocket, but for now it seems it was all still part of the game to her (though stage explosives can and do kill people when improperly used). She keeps raising the stakes, though, and sooner or later she’s going to do something terrible that can’t be undone and things will be far worse than simply the people she’s supposed to be protecting being as terrified of her as they are of their attackers.
Hazama’s fate took several interesting turns this week, starting with a gig on “Ensemble”, which is apparently directed by a hero-show veteran. Hazama is the classic high-maintenance talent here, wanting to talk about 20 year-old TV episodes, offering unwanted story ideas and entreaties to do his own stunts. He’s just as disconnected from reality as Mari is, but it manifests differently – largely, I think, because of the influence of his Grandfather. I see Hazama as basically a simple (not stupid, but simple) guy who’s easily led – and he’s living out the fantasy of his well-meaning Grandpa even before he receives the mysterious box containing the “real” Samurai Flamenco, and the story behind him. I was frankly surprised Mari was willing to let him off the hook so easily when he confronted her, but I was glad he stuck up for himself.
As for Gotou, he remains disappointingly remote from the main plot, though his relationship with the girlfriend continues to be teased in a big way. Something is rotten in Denmark, that’s for sure – we haven’t seen the whole picture. Gotou’s spur does get closer to the main line when he’s made part of a “Vigilante Task Force” set up by the police in an attempt to fool people into thinking they’re taking the Flamencogate crisis seriously. And his job got a lot harder with the reveal that after her split with Hazama, Mari (who’s still hopelessly in love with Gotou, seemingly) has brought her fellow Mineral Miracle Muse girls into her fantasy world, forming the “Flamenco Girls” mahou shoujo trio. I can’t see this possibly ending well, but if nothing else with three of them out there it’s going to make it far more likely that the Flamenco Girls will either be caught by the cops or exposed by the press.