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.
ED2: “Namida Boshi” by Tomatsu Haruka