To sum up my feelings about Samumenco, I can do no better than the words of Crazy-Eyez Killa.
OK, so if that was bad coke or some kind of dream sequence happening at the end of last week’s episode, this week gave no indication of it. If anything the weirdness factor was stepped up a couple of notches – I think it was just the absence of the shock value that made it less, well – shocking. I can officially state that at this point I’m totally confused, not just with where Samurai Flamenco is headed but with how I feel about the show in the first place.
Oddly enough I did rather enjoy this episode, largely because despite passing through some kind of wormhole it emerged on the other side with its comic sensibility intact. The parts that were supposed to be funny I still found funny, largely for the same reasons I did for the first six episodes and 18 minutes. But I can’t divorce myself from wondering just what the hell it’s trying to accomplish here. I thought I knew pretty much what Samumenco was really trying to be about – now I really have no idea.
Here’s where I land, for now. Either this show has jumped the shark in a way they’ll be talking about for generations to come, or it’s pulling off one of the most audacious meta-satirical gambits in anime history. There were things I saw in this episode that made me suspect – and I hope this isn’t merely wishful thinking – that we might be watching something brilliant play out. Namely, the way the whole King Torture thing seemed to be following the same route as the first six episodes of the series. A super-villain is a big deal and everyone – the authorities and the public alike – get all worked up about it. But after a while just like anything else, it becomes an accepted part of daily life and folks get bored with it. And that may just be the ultimate point that Kurata and Omori-sensei are trying to make about modern Japan.
Case in point – what kind of crimes are King Torture’s minions pulling off? They’re stealing fruit (which is already too damned expensive here) so as to inconvenience the public. They’re poisoning the water supply – with a chemical that makes people gossip too much. WTF kind of super-villainy is that? Indeed the only casualties this week were the villains themselves who, like Guillotine Gorilla, blew themselves up (is there a commentary about suicide bombers here?) as soon as they lost the upper hand in their battles with Samurai Flamenco and the girls. There is the matter of those cops from last week and that appears to be real, at least if any of this is – but as reigns of terror go this one is pretty terrible. And then there’s the villains themselves – Boiling Rhino, a rhinoceros beetle played by Fujiwara Keiji? “Delta Horse” (Kishio Daisuke) – the name itself had me in on the floor. Maybe this King Torture is just some douchebag (Konno is the most logical candidate among the cast we’ve met) who’s just as bored as everybody else, and is doing this strictly for shits and giggles.
All that’s not enough, of course – there’s some very weird stuff going on here, and if Samurai Flamenco is going to interest me nearly as much as it did when I thought it was a smart and timely social commentary, I do expect a decent explanation. Simply turning into a broad parody of the super-sentai genre out of the blue isn’t enough – that’s already a heavily-parodied subject, and in any event it would be nearly impossible to match what Mitsudomoe did with it for sheer comedic genius. It would be hard to point to a show that’s had a more dramatic shift in tone than this one, and I guess I’m just too cynical at this point to accept that at face value and enjoy the ride – there has to be a reason for that, or in my view it’s bad writing.
We still have the characters, of course, and if their arcs can survive this onslaught of lunacy there’s enough there to make things interesting – with Hazama-kun, it’s the sense that he’s losing his idealism as life both in and out of the costume gets easier for him. There’s the matter of Gotou’s mystery girlfriend (I’m not even going to try and guess, now that the reality switch has been switched off), who seems real enough to be sending him contextually appropriate texts. As for Mari, she’s “losing interest” – just as the Prime Minister and the public seem to be – now that there’s no body count and the enemies are mostly small-fry. I still want to see how all this fits together, but I only have so much slack I’m willing to cut any writer and director, even legendary guys like Kurata and Omori. They earned a lot of trust with the first six episodes, and the well hasn’t run dry yet – but I’m certainly a lot more dubious than I was two weeks ago.