I don’t use the term “inspired” all that often with anime because, well – there are very few times when it’s actually merited. But this episode (along with the third) of Samurai Flamenco is definitely one such occasion. This was anime comedy at its best – smart as a whip and delightfully silly at the right times, true to character and context and unbelievably inventive. Hideyuki Kurata and Omori Takahiro is obviously a combination that has great chemistry, but it’s worth remembering that this is the writer who came up with the likes of Kamichu and Read or Die – he has a very odd and quirky comic sensibility that sneaks up on you rather than beating you over the head.
One of the big questions surrounding Samumenco for me has been whether it’s going to follow the course teased by the last couple of episode and go dark – and if so, just how much. I’m as convinced as ever that Kurata sees this series as serious and unsparing social commentary, but it seems to me that he’s going to couch that in comedic terms for the most part. Quite honestly, Samumenco is at its best when it’s really funny, and this episode was really funny. There have been some very dark seeds planted with Mari, and the serially depressed state of Japanese society is the canvas on which he’s chosen to paint – but he’s doing so with absurdity for the most part, and Omori no doubts helps keep things balanced with his usual abundance of amity.
While there were some interesting developments with the main cast this week, a discussion of the episode can only begin with Harazuka Jun (the unmistakable Ohkawa Tooru). He’s Samruai Flamenco’s very own Q – and it fits so perfectly with the diminished expectations theme that underlies everything in this series. He works for “Monster Stationery”, a giant office supplies conglomerate – and he’s decided to create a line of goods specifically for Samurai Flamenco (“Each item is considered stationery, so using them is lawful.”). Stapler nunchaku, projectile erasers, “Samurai tape measure”, wall-climbing oven mitts. Why? This is one of those cases where the results are so great that you don’t even want to ask, but it seems to be because he (like so many in the cast) is a hero otaku – he just wants to see the fruits of his dreary labours used to fight evil.
Seeing Samurai Flamenco using office supplies to combat evildoers and jump off bridges is the very definition of “inspired” as far as I’m concerned – it’s pure comic genius. It’s just so un-self consciously silly and absurd – and so fitting both to the character and the theme of the show. And these products come in handy at once, too, as Konno’s new ¥10,000,000 reward (no, not nearly enough for a mansion) has half the city out to capture Samumenco and the local yakuza are out for revenge for his interference in their business. What stands out to me here – apart from the hilarity of the contents of the supply closet being used this way – is just how genuine Hazama really is. Say what you will about his naiveté, but the dude totally walks the walk – he’s fully committed to his ideals, no matter how overly innocent they may be. That even extends to saving the guy trying to capture him, at considerable risk to his own body. He may be a fool, but Hazama is honest – the last pure man left in Tokyo, anyway, an endangered species making himself more endangered every day. It was nice to see his spiritual generosity reciprocated for once, though it was the least the guy could do after his life had just been saved.
A very deliberate contrast is being set up, it seems to me, between Hazama and Mari. They truly are two sides to the coin – for all the Hazama is in this for the good of the deed itself, Mari is not only sadistic but it’s clear that this is a lark for her. Her little Freudian slip – “Time to blow off steam!” – could hardly be more damning (and less accidental on the part of Kurata). It seems that Mari isn’t necessarily in this for any deep personal revenge-themed reasons (though that’s still just a guess), but simply as a lark – which, it could be argued, is even more reprehensible. She’s roped her two bandmates into it simply to try and have more fun, going right down to teaching them how to rack their victims. Mari is very much the mirror opposite of Hazama, and even if the show doesn’t fully go dark I still expect her arc to be its darkest route. She’s messed-up, she’s giving heroism a bad name (in truth probably the most realistic one, vigilantism) and she’s going to make a serious mistake with serious consequences sooner or later.
As for Gotou, he’s still too much on the periphery of the story for me, but he has his share of great moments this week. The scene where Mari has him cosplay as a cop – absurd on so many levels – is truly hilarious. She voices the suspicions of the haters in the viewing audience, assuming that when Gotou says he’s spoken for that he’s talking about Hazama – a very funny self-aware moment, truly made by Sugita’s spit-take reaction (twice). But perhaps most interesting was the easily-missable line of dialogue Gotou slips in when describing his girlfriend (“The giant cat starting making cat-paw sushi. The hirame was delicious.”) – “She’s the best woman I could wish for.” Geh-heh – that line just screams “wording chosen quite deliberately” to me – something is very fishy with this girlfriend, and it isn’t cat-paw sushi.