Under normal circumstances you don’s start an episode post by talking about the end of the episode, obviously. But it seems to me that it would be pretty silly to even attempt to focus on anything else first when all anyone is going to be focused on is the last three minutes. Me included – and who could blame anyone for feeling that way? I’ve seen some hairpin turns in anime, but this one is going to rank up with the sharpest of them, for better or worse.
So which is it? I think the only thing I can possibly do is withhold judgment until we know more than we know now – which ain’t much. My initial reaction- well, let me preface that by saying my real initial reaction was that this was a cleverly disguised dream sequence, and either Hazama or Gotou was about to wake up and we’d all have a good laugh. That’s how much the ending of this episode seemed completely out of left field – and character – for Samurai Flamenco. I suppose it’s still possible that could be the case and we just won’t find out till next week, but that doesn’t seem real likely to me.
Once the credits rolled and the shock abated, my gut reaction is that I’m not a big fan of this dramatic change of tone and reality shift. I personally think there’s plenty in what Samumenco set up in the first six eps to carry the series for two cours – plenty of potential in the character arcs, plenty of space for the plot to grow and virtually endless possibilities for the series to comment on modern Japanese society. I liked the idea of a hero series where the enemy was apathy and diminished expectations, and everyone more or less obeyed the laws of physics. Needless to say, assuming what we witnessed isn’t a dream that’s pretty much out the window. But it really is too soon to judge – the writing has been so good with this series that I really need to see where they take this new development.
So let’s take stock. We have a situation where crime is way down all over Tokyo (in reality it doesn’t have that far to drop) to the point where heroes and cops alike are bored most of the time (the cops I see certainly seem to be in reality). Gotou’s task force is about to be disbanded, and Mari is so bored that she’s about to go out on tour just to try and find somewhere with more potential victims (I thought the scene where she was terribly disappointed when a woman wasn’t assaulted, but simply had her handkerchief returned by a shinsetsuna otoko was a brilliant portrayal of just how messed-up she is). Harazuka-san has joined the bachelor circle at Hazama’s apartment, and everyone gets loaded on a bottle of tequila Jouji brings back from his U.S. tour (I wish we’d seen that happening, actually).
The most interesting development of the episode before the nuclear option was deployed was the revelation that Hazama’s parents were, in fact, murdered – and that his hero-loving Grandpa had lied about it for Hazama’s entire life. Very clever, this, because a more cliched superhero plot twist you could hardly ask for, and that was the whole point. It’s more than just being meta, which every other anime and its uncle is doing these days – it’s the fact that Hazama was himself apathetic about the news. This is the ultimate identity crisis for a superhero – he’s handed the perfect setup on a silver platter, and he can’t bring himself to perform the role that’s expected. The scene where he reveals all this to Gotou is the best of the episode – especially when Gotou tells Hazama that he’s only human and a freak, not a hero, and “As a fellow human, I’m more inclined to trust freaks than heroes.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.
Then the bomb drops. It comes in the guise of a publicity stunt by the cops, a “Chief For a Day” event with Samurai Flamenco, where he joins the police on a drug bust and poses for pictures. I can’t even begin to say how surprising the next part was – the perp (trying to get to some pills which will presumably prevent what’s about to happen) turns into “Guillotine Gorilla” – quite literally a giant armored gorilla with a guillotine where it’s stomach should be – and starts howling and chopping cops’ heads off. His rampage is about to add Samumenco and Gotou to the casualty list when Gotou manages to blind him (with cocaine from the bust) and the two of them push the gorilla out the fourth-story window. After he picks himself off he declares “Viva Torture” – and the presumed top boss reveals himself in spectral form. It’s King Torture (Hayami Show), the “source of all evil”. And nothing will ever be the same.
A game-changer? Hell, yeah – if that’s what Kurata-sensei was after, he certainly pulled it off. And if he was going for the element of surprise, he could hardly have asked for a more surprising turn. But those things are actually easy to do in a vacuum – the hard part is to do them in a way that makes sense with the story you’re telling, and it’s too soon to know whether he’s managed that trick. It’s hard to go wrong with Hayami Show as a supervillain and this twist opens up a world of possibilities – they just seem like different possibilities than I thought this show had at the 18-minute mark of this episode. I’m still on-board, but it’s going to take a while for all this to sink in, that’s for sure.