Samurai Flamenco – 22 (Fin)

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First of all, we liked the choice of expanding on Goto’s grief and showing us how he came to message himself. Goto’s “long distance relationship” started out as something of a comedic element, but the more we’ve learned about the truth, the more tragic and compelling it became, especially when Sawada used it against him in what has to be the most emotionally charged deletion of a text message we can recall.

As Sawada predicted, erasing the last message Goto’s real girlfriend ever sent is like flipping a crazy switch. By the time Masayoshi arrives, all Goto wants to do is be free so he can kill Sawada. It’s all part of Sawada’s plan to sacrifice himself so Samurai Flamenco will have a traumatic past that will never leave him, turning him into a “dark hero” (a la Batman).

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Running in with nothing resembling a plan for victory, Masayoshi decides to fight crazy with crazy: refusing to put on the costume and stripping all his clothes off. This bizarre throws Sawada for such a loop he ends up dropping both the cuffs key and gun in Goto’s vicinity. With Sawada disarmed and thoroughly freaked out, now the still-naked Masayoshi has to convince Goto not to kill Sawada.

His method isn’t what we’d call elegant—he whips himself into a tantrum screaming “BAKA” over and over and oddly proposes to Goto—but the sheer ludicrousness of the situation snaps Goto out of his murderous rage. The idea that Masayoshi is so ignorant to the concept of love is a little silly, but in the end, his desperate improvisation wins the day. We’re glad no one was killed, but we still enjoyed Flamenco Diamond showing up to give Sawada a well-deserved beatdown for poisoning her friends.

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With Kaname recovered from his injuries, he opens up a new superhero museum which everyone attends, and we get some nice farewell moments with the Flamengers, Kanno and Ishihara (who have an awesome final exchange), and lastly, Goto and Masayoshi, who’s late for the opening. Goto receives a fresh text from his girlfriend (maybe she IS out there somewhere!), and Masayoshi runs after a litterbug.

7_very_goodRating: 7 (Very Good)
Average Rating: 8 (episodes 1-13), 7.111 (episodes 14-22), 7.636 (total)
MyAnimeList Score: 6.97

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Samurai Flamenco – 21

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As it turns out, Sawada Haiji is indeed a real person, but Masayoshi is no closer to finding him or predicting his next move, let alone defeating him. His first targets this week are Moe and Mizuki, who collapse on stage after drinking drugged coffee before their LIVE PEACE concert begins. In Mari’s defense, there wasn’t much she could do with Masayoshi’s warning. But the point is as clear as it was last week: none of his friends are safe.

The Flamengers aren’t that worse for wear (Sakura’s new hairstyle is excellent, as is the sniping between her and Joji’s wife) and Joji is conscious and on the mend, telling Masayoshi he saw the boy described and hear him mention Samumenco. Joji is not the most reliable witness, but later it’s confirmed when Haiji kidnaps Goto. Joji also tells him the ultimate weapon they have against evil is love. Only problem is, Masayoshi doesn’t know what that is.

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While the fact that Haiji is a real person coordinating all these attacks without leaving any witnesses or evidence strains credulity, but compared with some of the other outrageous things that have happened in previous arcs, it’s plausible enough, especially when we learn more about his story and realize just how hard he’s been working to become the ultimate villain.

Back to love, and what we thought was the best part of an episode full of meaty character moments: while he thinks about Joji’s words in the cab with Sumi, he remembers turning down a girl in school who liked him. When Sumi asks him what’s up, he does the exact same thing, totally oblivious to the fact Sumi could help him. Fortunately, Sumi takes him by the scruff and spells it out for him, as she must…in the nick of time, too, as Masayoshi had been considering taking his own life to end Haiji’s rampage.

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The show’s been very subtly ratcheting up the chemistry and romantic tension between Sumi and Masayoshi, and we love how she is the one to explain love in all its forms to him, as a very likable character who has been somewhat underutilized due to the show’s deep bench. We also like how she knew about him being Samumenco all along, but let it continue. But most of all, we like how she casually confesses her “technical” love for him. We still hold out hope this will go somewhere.

Really, the show has been about different kinds of love all along, starting with the love a hero must have for the people and ideals he protects, the brotherly love between Masayoshi and Goto, the unrequited love Mari has for Goto (or Moe for Mari), Sumi’s love for Masayoshi, the love that drives Goto to text his dead girlfriend, the love between a married mentor and his protege, and lots more. Then there’s the love that shook Haiji out of his apathetic existence, but twisted him into the final boss in the Samurai Flamenco saga.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Samurai Flamenco – 20

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A lot of weird stuff has been happening to Masayoshi of late, particularly in the mental/metaphysical departments. So while his latest enemy appears to be a real flesh-and-blood guy, and someone he briefly met once before and has a whole story, that doesn’t mean he’s…real. Nothing this week suggests he really is, which is why no one really believes him.

“Real” or not, Sawada Haiji is a refreshing change of pace from the usual loud, boisterous, theatrical foes Flamenco has fought and defeated in the past. He’s incredibly stealthy and precise; impossibly so, as there are never any witnesses or evidence of his involvement in anything that happens to Masayoshi or his friends. And we say “that happens” instead of “Sawada does”, because the truth is, it could all be a coincidental sequence of simultaneous mishaps.

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Only Masayoshi is connecting the dots, egged on by the first in-person appearance and subsequent phone calls. Sawada is more than just an obsessed stalker or enemy, he’s the enemy; a classic nemesis, with the exact opposite goals of Masayoshi, and will hit him anywhere and everywhere where it hurts, even playing around with the idea of killing Goto. It’s telling then that when Masayoshi visits Goto, both to ensure he’s alright and to seek advice, this time bad things happen it has nothing to do with Sawada.

When Goto doesn’t believe him, Masayoshi throws Goto’s dead girlfriend in his face…which is a bad move, and Goto throws him out of his house. Masayoshi ends up by a riverbank to try to make sense of what’s going on, but ends up swimming wildly after a mirage of Sawada, a pretty creepy experience that awakens him to the possibility that no one else can see this newest evil because it resides within him, and only he can defeat it.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Samurai Flamenco – 16

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Given the ample resources of the Prime Minister, he can shout his lies loudly and consistently enough that the public comes to believe them as truths. Masayoshi has hit rock bottom not because his career has been destroyed and he’s homeless, hungry, and filthy, but because he has almost lost hope. He feels a fool for allowing the government to manipulate him, and sees world around him as a hostile enemy.

Stuck in this downward spiral and unwilling to steal or ask anyone for help lest he hurt more people with his selfish actions and dreams, he ends up becoming the recipient of aid from a Good Samaritan in the form of a poor, nearly-blind chap living in a tent in the park. After Masayoshi regales him with the abridged version of his story, the man tells him his: he was in the same spot Masayoshi finds himself: angry for being fooled and devoid of hope for the world. When a thug started beating him, he was ready to give up and die. Then Samurai Flamenco saved him.

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All it took was one kind, decent, good act for the man to realize he was wrong about the world. He started to help people, and they helped him and others in return. His world became a better place, but only because he refused to give in to despair and cynicism. He returns the favor, facilitating Masayoshi’s escape from a patrolling cop. The encounter reminded Masayoshi that even heroes need saving from those psychological villains. So he finally pays Gotou a visit, and Gotou asks what took him so long.

This is the Gotou who took Mari in when she too became lost, but also allowed Mizuki and Moe to confront her when she’d spent enough time stewing in her own angst. We mercifully, finally see that confrontation, and it’s a heated one, with lots of thrown punches and scathing remarks that cut to the quick. Mari hates Moe’s face right now because it reminds her that she’s a coward; that Moe volunteered to die for her in order to show her up. Like Masayoshi, she feels the world has turned on her, and she just wants to curl up and die.

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The other two M’s don’t let that happen. Even after she rips them to shreds about how much they depend on her greatness (Mizuki doesn’t dispute this, but hates the pathetic creature Mari has become) and flees to the place where King Torture tortured her, where she vomits and lies in it. Moe and Mizuki find her, and Moe, wearing a bag on her head, convinces Mari to return to their world, which isn’t complete without her. It was a showdown we’d been waiting for, so kudos to the show for finally giving it to us. It didn’t disappoint.

We also appreciated the symmetry of Masayoshi and Mari, at the end of their ropes, seeking out and being sought out by their best friends, respectively, and that the entire episode was devoted to the characters and relationships that had been neglected of late. It was welcome reparation for all the From Beyond shit the show put us through. With wounds healed, friendships repaired, and faith restored in the inherent, indomitable goodness of the world that shines beneath even the most well-funded lies, everyone’s in good shape for the final six episodes.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Kaname Joji is in full Hannibal Lector prison regalia, which is hilarious. Looks like his wife (who doesn’t know Sakura’s a flamenger, btw) could play a more important role soon.
  • Even at rock bottom, Masayoshi ain’t stealing bread. Dude’s for real.
  • It may seem a little contrived, but we like how a past recipient of Samurai Flamenco’s herosim is the one to pull him out of the abyss. Blind or no, that guy wasn’t going to turn him in.
  • Moe’s crush on Mari earlier in the show was played for chuckles, but we like how it evolved into genuine, unswaying love, which proves crucial Mari out of the abyss.
  • We actually liked how Mari and Moe’s embrace turned into a makeout session…Moe earned the hell of out that! Mizuki’s reaction is also pretty priceless.
  • Alright, show of hands: who thought that bright glowing vomit Mari spewed out was going to turn into something evil? We thought so; the show’s pulled that crazy shit out of left field before. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Samurai Flamenco – 15

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Ah, now that’s better. For now, Masayoshi’s evil clone is just a red herring, and the From Beyond crisis is thankfully brought to a close with a somewhat clunky resolution: The Flamengers fly Flamen Robo into Mt. Fuji’s caldera and physcially beat the giant drill up until it breaks. All the From Beyond baddies disappear, Cloneayoshi kills himself with Masayoshi’s ray gun. The Flamengers get more awards, parades, and national praise, and then disband, their job done. With all this in the first half, one would expect a cooling-off period in which Masayoshi checks in with the characters who had been marginalized throughout the last arc. One would be wrong.

As stupid as Torture was, and as even stupider as From Beyond was, the show has thankfully not dwelled on them any longer than they needed to (though we had a problem with them dwelling on them at all). So it wastes no time introducing Masayoshi’s latest foe, and what do you know: It’s The Government. Nothing unites the people quite like a common threat, and the government furnished that threat in From Beyond. The Flamengers and other heroes were conscripted to be the hero of the public, but grew too popular. With control of the mass media, it was a simple matter to find and apprehend them all, and throw Masayoshi & Co. under the bus by proclaiming they were terrorists who orchestrated From Beyond to throw Japan into chaos and grab power.

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Before the cops get to Masayoshi, he’s lucky enough to be found by Mister Justice first, a hulking, boisterous American counterpart to Kaname, who has also been made persona non grata by the government that betrayed him. While the show hardly needed another blowhard beefsteak superhero, Mister Justice is a hoot to watch, whether he’s humming The Star-Spangled Banner to “calm” Hazama in his conspicuous star-spangled semi, or beating up an entire SWAT team; scolding them for not eating enough oatmeal and red meat. And he genuinely seems to want to help Masayoshi, successfully covering his escape.

Masayoshi now suddenly finds himself an enemy of the state, with a very famous face and even more famous disguise. But he’s not alone: Sumi, Kanno, Harazuka, and Gotou remain free (for now), as does MMM (though judging from Mari’s body language MMM might be over); all could help him in various ways. The first step would seem to be freeing the other four Flamengers from custody. But after the way Aoshima gets destroyed by Prime Minister Okuzaki, that probably won’t be easy. But then nothing is when you’re fighting on the side of right.

7_very_goodRating: 7 (Very Good)

Samurai Flamenco – 14

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Perhaps it would be better to get down to brass tacks: we can tolerate the wacky direction Samurai Flamenco has gone in (to a point), but we don’t have to like it. By giving over most of its running time to completely implausible and often tacky situations while the smaller, more intimate, more human realism takes a back seat; that just feels backwards to us. We miss the old Samumenco, dicing with petty crooks and litterers. Yes, the show has been taken to dizzying heights and depths of lunacy and adventure, but, well…let’s hear it from Dr. Ian Malcolm, shall we?

I’ll tell you the problem with the power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it…

We think that applies especially at this point in the series, because Samurai Flamenco no longer strikes us as a smart, savvy satire of superhero shows; it is just another superhero show, full stop. There has been less and less ironic subtext, and more and more going through the bland, unsatisfying motions, ostensibly recycled from the superhero trope repository. Back to you, Doc:

…Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

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Replace “scientists” with producers. Here we have an enormous, potentially Japan-shattering “all-out attack” by the 65,000-odd members of From Beyond, and the execution was sorely lacking in every way. The bad guys were pathetically lame; the superheroes who showed up with Kaname (surprise! Ugh.) weren’t much better; and there just wasn’t any artistry or creativity in any of the action. The show clearly didn’t have the budget for these things. Someone should have stopped and thought about whether they should have done them at all.

Throughout the big battle, we were far more interested in watching Maya’s forced reunion with the other two-thirds of Mineral Miracle Muse. But the show isn’t interested in the same things we are; not in this episode, at least. The final twist is that From Beyond’s last man standing is Masayoshi’s doppelganger, which is so random and out of left field we’re not sure what, if any, reaction we got aside from a figurative shrug of apathy. This episode was way too much WTF and not enough TLC.

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Rating: 4
 (Fair)

Samurai Flamenco – 13

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As the enemies of From Beyond multiply exponentially (theoretically there could be more than 60,000 out there), a pall is gradually cast over Masayoshi’s life, and the realities of the situation and how the powers that be have chosen to react to it, conspire with the weight of his exponentially expanding responsibilities to wear down his spirit, to the point that he’s vomiting in a TV studio men’s room just before appearing on the air.

One could say that vomit, and the awful physical and emotional stress that led to it, is an expression of his inability to accept evil. As soon as the Prime Minister decides to hold off on warning the public about the From Beyond attack, we knew something wasn’t right. When the order came down that a select few politicians and VIPs were going to be quietly evactuated first, no logical explanation like the need to maintain the chain of command could change the fact that Masayoshi and the other Flamengers were being made to go along with something that went against their personal ethics. They were protecting the wealthy and powerful, and keeping the innocent masses in the dark.

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Asked to choose five people to evacuate along with the VIPs, Masayoshi heads first to Goto, but he just as likely could have gone there to seek his friend’s counsel once more. Instead, he discovers that Mari’s there, and realizes there are more than five people he wants to save. Far from the world of grotesque villains and Megazords, Goto remains unapologetically, placidly normal: a cop who is happy to deal with petty criminals, shelter the occasional traumatized runaway idol, and text his long-distance girlfriend. He savors every day he doesn’t have to ram an ICBM with a Pink Hummer. Beyond moral support, there’s little he can do for Masayoshi, especially when Masayoshi won’t tell him what’s happening.

But his silence doesn’t last long. The last straw is when Kaname once again promises to help and then vanishes the next morning, even going so far as to throw out the handkercheif Sakura gave him with “I trust you” embroidered on it. We can’t call this an act of cowardice yet, as this could well be yet another test for Masayoshi: the beginning of the ultimate test. With Kaname gone, he’s the Deputy Commander of the Flamengers, in charge of Japan’s defense against From Beyond. His fellow Flamengers support him without question. He wastes no time asserting his authority by warning the general public, a decision that wasn’t just about sticking to his principles, but was necessary to preserve his very sanity.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

Samurai Flamenco – 12

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The more time separated us from the eleventh episode of Samurai Flamenco, the less we liked it in retrospect, and the more we worried about whether we’d even recognize the show when it returned from holiday hiatus. After all, it did kinda jump the shark back there, even if it did so with a wink and a nudge, making the sudden appearence of a murderous guillotine-gorilla seem like a tame development by comparison.

This episode slowly but surely allayed our fears and restored our faith in the future of the show, by putting the new Flamengers out of the cartoons (partially, at least) and back down to earth. Part of that earth we missed was Gotou, whom Masayoshi checks in on in a great little scene that takes us back to the early episodes when they used to just goof off. Gotou quickly picks up that Masayoshi’s having trouble keeping the Flamengers in line and tells him to stay strong, but doesn’t bail him out by joining as Flamen Yellow.

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He takes a similar approach to Mari, letting her to hide in his closet to think about things, but rejecting her advances. In both cases, Gotou’s always there to help his friends, but also knows when to leave it to them to help themselves, as Mari and Masayoshi must. Speaking of friends, by allowing a measure of democracy in the strategy and tactics of their battle against From Beyond, Masayoshi is gradually gaining the respect of his Flamenger teammates, to the point they’re hanging at his pad eating curry rice, which is what friends do.

The episode kept us in real world while maintaining the crazy From Beyond plot by framing it all through the lens of a TV documentary. The Flamengers aren’t just heroes, after all, they’re celebrities (which is probably why Sumi is okay with it). It’s a tidy mini-arc in which we learn more about them as they overcome adversity. The villains are emphatically ridiculous-looking and the action is clumsy, but it works. When the dust clears, MMM34 (a grotesque parody of AKB) are on ice, and the giant robots are put away, the mutual respect and comeraderie between the Flamengers feels well-earned.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Samurai Flamenco – 11

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Right after Samumenco defeats King Torture and reveals his identity as Hazama Masayoshi, a strange, massive coral-like object rises out of Tokyo Bay,calling themselves “From Beyond” Kaname Joji spirits Hazama off to a secret Samurai base where he’s recruited a team of “Flamengers” to deal with the threat. When the other four Flamengers end up killed by Deadly Toxic Poison, a From Beyond member who infiltrated the base, Kaname calls upon four other Flamen Red candidates. Hazama takes the leadership role, and the five Flamengers defeat Poison in typical Super Sentai fashion.

Samurai Flamenco is a show that has grown more and more ridiculous with each major arc, culminating in this newest one, which shakes everything up. MMM is nowhere to be found, and instead of what we thought would be the main conflict of the episode—the real-world fallout from Hazama revealing his identity—we get, well, something else entirely, which was wholly and utterly absurd from start to finish. But that was our mistake: thinking we had any clue in hell where the show would take us next. The Torture arc felt like a warm-up, a way to acclimate us to the crazy before presenting us with a bigger, louder, more meta brand of crazy.

The final act of the episode played out in a manner very familiar to anyone who ever watched Power Rangers or the like, which we did on occasion. When hand-to-hand combat with Ridiculously-Themed Villain fails, both foe and heroes grow to monumental scale and duke it out there. While that ending was pretty much rote, the real fun was in the outlandishly implausible journey to get to that point, in which Joji reveals that he’s been busy all those times he flaked out on Hazama, and Hazama gets a crew of four young peers to work with, all of whom share his thirst for justice. Plus, in the very very end it went all the way back to Hazama’s original problem: dealing with his manager.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Not only did Joji’s giant tiltrotor look completely incapable of flight, it was also pretty useless, as a normal helicopter could have sufficed.
  • The reality seems to be that Joji is a real hero with the PM’s ear, and serious national resources committed to his enterprise, which seems to be a little disorganized and impulsive.
  • Someone at From Beyond needs to tell the video guy that he’s not David Lynch; get the message out clearly and concisely, and ditch the feeble attempts at…er…auteurism.
  • Making all the Flamengers red and making them sort it out…that’s just the kind of creative twist on a very old genre that keeps things fresh and entertaining.
  • As ambitious, audacious, fun, and action-packed as the episode was, the producers’ eyes were bigger than their budget; as a result, the animation was a bit rough in places.