Samurai Flamenco – 10

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Man, this series really is tripping balls…

I’ll just say up front, this conclusion – or whatever it is – to this arc (or whatever it is) really didn’t work for me.  I think I sort of understand where Kurata is going with it, but for me it’s a failed experiment.  Which is a real shame, because for about six episodes I think Samumenco was a very successful experiment – albeit artistically only, as it was sure to fail commercially.  Whether that’s going to change now that the show has completely reshaped itself from top to bottom I have no idea – I suspect not, because the people who buy Blu-rays will have dropped it quickly if they ever watched it in the first place, and this new direction isn’t exactly tailor-made to appeal to that group anyway.  I’m not accusing Kurata and Omori of selling-out – I think they’re doing what they’re doing for legitimate artistic reasons as they see them.  I just don’t think it’s working, but YMMV.

In effect, one of the things I think that’s happened is that Samurai Flamenco has transformed from a series that was primarily a social satire (and a rather brilliant one) to a series that’s primarily a parody/deconstruction of the Tokusatsu genre, with a light dose of social satire as a side dish.  If you’re a huge fan of Toku shows (or someone who really loathes them) I would think that would be a delightful turn, but for someone like me who lacks strong feelings about them one way or the other it leaves me pretty indifferent.  As straight parody I don’t find this as funny as the more satirical pre-plotquake episodes, and this parody has certainly been done better (Mitsudomoe, as I said last week).

What might still revive my personal interest in this series is if the first two “halves” (we’re actually 10 eps out of 22 through the series) are tied together in the second cour, and all of this super-sentai parody turns out to be servant to a larger purpose.  In a sense I feel as slogging through it to find out is like paying the toll to get across the bridge – Kurata and Omori have shown what they’re capable of (both in Samumenco and before) and I don’t want to miss out on what kind of puff-pastry of meta they may have in store.  And it’s not as if the last few episodes have been unwatchable – they’ve been fairly entertaining, though this one really felt leaden and depressing to me.  While not inspired this turn in the story has still delivered some fine comic moments, but I don’t think it worked very well as the grim and violent exercise it was this week.

I’m not going to pick apart the story for its irrationality, because that would obviously be very much beside the point (in fact, that irrationality largely is the point).  Just take all the silliness at face value – the question is, does it work?  For me, not really.  I don’t find King Torture either especially menacing or especially comedic, and his rationale for trying to take over the world – which I suspect was supposed to take us back into the realm of irony and social satire – just seemed lame to me.  All of the violence in the episode – finger-crushing, KT chopping off his own arm with a power saw – certainly had shock value, but with this much absurdity expecting any emotional impact from violence is a real stretch.

As for character, I don’t think we learned a whole lot about anybody.  Mari is who she is – she’s not a real hero and never was, so I’m not sure what was the intended impact of KT outing her as such.  Mari was always in this for the amusement and the sadism, and her behavior in captivity was neither exemplary nor especially reprehensible – she behaved about as I would have expected.  She did at least tell Moe to run, as she should have done, and as for Moe – did anyone expect her not to say she’d trade places with Mari?  She’s in love with Mari, which doesn’t make her any more committed to the hero game than Mari is, but at least being committed to Mari means she’s committed to something.  Were we supposed to have felt Mari was some kind of shining example of heroism, and been shocked by her downfall?

In fact, probably the most interesting moment in the episode came when Mizuki texted Gotou – because it made me think for a moment that she was the mystery girlfriend, though that doesn’t seem to have been the case judging by the email he got while trying to disable King Torture’s rocket.  There’s not much to say about either Samumenco or Gotou’s role in the episode, really – it was what it was, neither of them offering much in the way of surprises.  In fact the whole episode had an air of predictability to it that was quite dreary.  We know that several new characters are going to be introduced either next week or in the first ep of the second cour, and the ending of this ep makes it pretty obvious we’re in for a shift of some kind.  At this point what I really want is for Samurai Flamenco to get to the point – to show me why it’s done with it’s done, and what kind of show it intends to be in the Winter season.  For now, that’s most of my motivation to keep watching.  In Omori and Kurata I trust – but only to a point.

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ED2: “Namida Boshi” by Tomatsu Haruka

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  1. J

    I'm just watching this because the action is fun, and you have a bunch of characters who were previously living in a world with no superheroes now finding themselves in a world with superheroes. The reactions and how they adapt are quite enjoyable from a story standpoint, and I thought Mari's ouster and subsequent farce of a concert when she was all injured was quite a huge moment for her character.

    I'm a little sad that King Torture is gone, though. He was definitely a character that had very interesting thought patterns regarding to the current state of things.

  2. J

    And the most interesting tale of alice in wonderland, superhero redux, is that you also have people like Masayoshi, King Torture, and Harazuka who understand the physics of a 'superhero' world, so they have a field day with it while others can't figure things out.

  3. M

    I'm still holding onto the hope that Samumenco is primary a real-life styled show about the incongruity of heroes in real life, what you called social satire. It's quite possible that all this tokusatsu content so far is meant to reflect this thematic direction: the moment King Torture appeared back in episode 7, I predicted that he was going to be similar to Masayoshi in that both are just trying to live a hero's story in real life – and that proved true, even if it was depicted a little anticlimatically.

    But yes, what's going on so far does send confusing signals. There's a lot of content which is meant to be serious and impactful, even if it doesn't end up so. The torture scene as a way of revealing Torture's character, for instance, and, as I mentioned before, Torture's little otaku storeroom. Coupled with that is some seemingly random humour – "I've never stopped a rocket before!" – which seems to undermine the value of the serious scenes even further. The ending of this episode, Masayoshi and Torture's confrontation against the rocket countdown, was so ridiculous I laughed all through it even though tonally, as a confrontation between the hero and the villain, it was probably meant to be serious.

    Still, we can't forget that this series has been a comedy from episode one, and has been parodying the tokusatsu genre relentlessly. No matter how serious the content seems to get (aliens, anyone?), it'll probably play it for humour all the same. Even if it fails in its former genre-deconstructive thematic direction, at the very least it'll be fun to watch.

  4. J

    I think the fact that you are laughing is because to us outsiders, the bickering between the two factions of the tokusatsu fandom is hilarious. We recognised how immature those people are, and it worked to the show's message. They pretend to be the big guns in the world's conflict, yet in the grander scheme of things, they are nothing.

    In some way, they are quite chuuni.

  5. C

    Well kudos for having the commitment to make their vision, graphic torture and all. Honestly I'm not a fan of it and as a whole the last two episodes have been quite flat and off key.

    On the other hand…WE STILL DON'T KNOW ABOUT GOTO's GIRLFRIEND! I get this sinking feeling sometimes when I watch a show when I think the writers haven't actually thought of answers or don't intend for the audience to know everything. This can be both a good and bad thing though I don't get that feeling here at least and so the show hasn't lost me yet.

  6. K

    A bit too harsh I think Enzo. It doesn't raise to the level that all of us expected but damn it is entetaining. I must admit, I don't know where exactly they are going but somehow seing Mari being broken like this and actually care about it says something about he story.


  7. Entertaining either is or isn't – there's no analysis needed. You were, I mostly wasn't – it is what it is.

  8. R

    I think this series is meant to be tokusatsu show from the get-go. I mean, just look at the OP and promo poster ( ). It just the first 6 episodes made people fully expect it as parody/social satire/whatever, while it might be simply a red-herring (kinda like Madoka). In that case, 6 episodes of red-herring seems a bit stretch here, though it managed to established the silly & ridiculous nature of the show.

  9. J

    That's twice within the span of a couple weeks where I've seen Haruka Tomatsu do an idol character of questionable moral integrity that thinks she's invincible but who ultimately gets kidnapped and tortured by the bad guys. Only instead of showing resilience in the face of her fate and inevitably winning her captor over and securing her own freedom by showing him they have ideological similarities this one just kind of cracks under the pressure and is forced to have her erstwhile worshiping friend, who up until now hasn't done much aside from have some noticeably bad voice acting, bail her out. Then again it can be argued that Saki Rukinos selfish tough girl act is partly a show while Mari really is just a callow bitch at the end of the day.

  10. R

    Mmm… I'm not entirely with you on this one Enzo. I don't know where you saw such a prominent social satire in this show other than the first two episodes or so.

    To me, the focus of the show was about satirizing the genre. It was made specially clear during the early episodes when the fake Samumenco appeared. Those episodes involved way more sillyness than social critique, which I saw as a side dish. And also, the show has a subtitle under its name and it reads the lines that Samurai Flamenco said to King Torture, that the hero never gives up and whatever.

    So I believe this anime knows what it wants to be.

  11. l

    Failed experiment or not, I thoroughly enjoyed watching that annoying idol chick being put in her place.

  12. R

    "Failed experiment" and all, I find this episode as "fun" as episode 3.

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