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)

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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 – 08

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King Torture orders the surrender of the government and the enslavement of the people, but the police rather than the JSDF are trusted with dealing with it. As Harazuka continually upgrades his gear, Flamenco and the Girls dispatch one monster after another without casualties, save the monsters themselves who self-destruct after defeat. Both Masayoshi and MMM’s careers start to skyrocket, though Mari is starting to get bored with fighting Flamenco’s leftovers, while Goto’s girlfriend warns him she’s scared of the new look in Masayoshi’s eyes.

We were caught off guard last week by the show’s sudden decision to introduce unrealistic monsters into the story without it being a dream or illusion, and were a little dubious of the execution, but after this week, we’ve come to like the suddenness. Being a superhero, Masayoshi focuses on defeating evil and protecting the people, so we don’t delve much into Torture’s origins or motives, which is good. They’re just the next level of baddies for Samumenco and the Samurai Girls to tangle with. We like how they’ve joined forces once again out of necessity for more muscle, but the same problems with their last teaming-up are still there: Mari doesn’t want to share the spotlight. This episode did a good job taking us by the hand and confidently guiding us smoothly through its new “monster milieu”, efficiently chronicling how things have gradually reached a new normalcy.

Torture’s declaration of war led the government to declare a state of emergency, but as the police and heroes polish off the monsters, the threat level is incrementally ratcheted, until they’re considering not even meeting about it every week. That could prove premature: because we know so little of King Torture, he’s basically capable of anything. Speaking of which, Masayoshi is feeling very invincible at the moment, fueled by Sumi’s encouragement, Jouji’s praise, and Harazuka’s gadgets. But his intention to barrel forward and take full advantage of this auspicious time in his life, while admirable, could also lead to his downfall. Things seem to be working out almost too well for him, too fast. The only ones who see are Goto and his girlfriend. The show is wisely keeping the new monster threat’s effect on the characters as important as (if not more so than) the threat itself.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Samurai Flamenco – 07

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With attacks and petty crime down to almost nothing, Samurai Flamenco has earned the trust of the city and the Samurai Girls have no more villains to punish. To Sumi’s delight Masayoshi refocuses on his day job, but when he finds a newspaper clipping in his grandfather’s package confirming his parents were murdered, and doesn’t feel the impulse to do anything about it, he wavers.

While discussing it with Goto, the two witness a mobster beating an old man, and Masayoshi wraps him in tape. Masayoshi accepts the police department’s offer to make him Chief for the day, and he oversees a drug bust, but one suspect takes a pill and transforms into a murdrous “Guillotine Gorilla.” Masayoshi and Goto push him out the window, and he self-destructs. A strange figure calling himself “King Torture” appears to challenge Masayoshi.

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We figured with four heroes out there fighting crime every night (with extreme prejudice, in the case of Mari’s Samurai Girls), eventually the amount of crime to fight would dwindle to nothing. Some people are happy about the lull, like the sensible, grounded Goto and Sumi. Mari is bored to the point of near-neurosis. And without even realizing it, Masayoshi is sleeping, modelling and acting better, earning him ever more opportunities. Sumi’s seeing to it his rise is swift yet sustainable. Then Masayoshi keeps digging in grandpa’s Flamenco files, finds something shocking, becomes conflicted, and then re-dedicates himself to opposing evil after a very nice heart-to-heart with Goto (whose point is that Masayoshi’s a freak, but he trusts freaks more than heroes).

And then something even more shocking happens: evil finds him. And it finds him the most bizarre, random form possible: a giant armored gorilla with a guillotine built into its mid-section. For the first time in the series, something truly supernatural happens, and people die horribly. This gorilla and “King Torture” are so abruptly thrust upon us, it’s hard to know how to react. We always knew the show had the potential to depart from reality, we just weren’t expecting it so soon, and so damn strange. We’re not sure it wouldn’t have been ballsier for the show to continue abstaining from such fantastical elements, but we’ll keep an open mind.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Kaname Jouji may be a self-involved flake, but his gift of a cow skull and tequila from America showed that he does actually care about his “student.”
  • It’s also great how all the guys are hanging at Masayoshi’s place all the time now. It’s almost like a club.
  • Konno calls Sumi to say he won’t be calling her anymore, because he’s bored. Something tells us he’s about to get un-bored…which means he’ll be calling Sumi again.
  • “Destroy…Not to Destroy…” Mari isn’t even trying to maintain a facade of sanity anymore, is she? If nothing else, this King Torture business will require her firm boot of justice.
  • Masayoshi took all that carnage pretty damn well…you’d think he’d have at least retched at that beheading.

Samurai Flamenco – 02

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The police get several complaints about a man in a red costume harassing them. Goto warns Hazama to give his act a rest. Ishihara gets Hazama an extra role in the idol group Mineral Miracle Muse’s music video. He hums the Red Axe theme in order to stay calm, and MMM’s center Maya Mari notices. After meeting Hazama for dinner, Goto finds that his umbrella (belonging to his girlfriend) is missing. Hazama races after the man who stole it, and video of his peaceful confrontation goes viral.

At first, Hazama’s nightime “superheroism” is portrayed as nothing more than antics and petty scolding, which people are taking the wrong way. They’re so comfortable with the insignificant crimes they commit, that his unusual appearance and extreme moral stance lead them to report him to the cops as a deranged freak. It’s a hard, thankless job, but you get the feeling Hazama feels he’s making more of a difference sitting in the rain waiting for people to put out their garbage to early than he is appearing in music videos as a pretty man-prop.

Like the heroes he adores, he has Life Event That Set Him On This Path, which he reveals when Goto tells him the petty crimes he bothers people about will never end, but are simply a part of society. Goto is right, but only 90-99% of the time. Hazama fights for that 1% of cases where stealing someone else’s umbrella leads to the owner catching a cold…or the umbrella belongs to the owner’s long-distance girlfriend; not only Goto’s responsibility, but a valued reminder of her. That rare occurrence of anything other than the minor inconvenience of a stolen umbrella – that’s everything to Kazama.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • We finally meet MMM…thankfully they’re not your usual idol group that is all smiles and rainbows on camera but complete bitches and tormentors to their underlings in real life. They’re actually quite pleasant.
  • Hazama “singing” the Red Axe theme over the idol song…that was ingenious. Not that MMM is bad; we maintain that the ED is very nice. Catchy; but not annoyingly so.
  • It’s also pretty cool when Hazama unknowingly attracts the attention of a fellow Red Axe fanatic, who just happens to be the idol he worked with. Something tells us he’ll be asked to worth with MMM again.
  • That chase was awesome, but we’re somewhat doubtful Hazama could keep pace with a monorail on a bike in the rain while obeying all red lights.
  • Hazama identifying his superhero persona on a tv quiz show…brilliant.