Samurai Flamenco – 17

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Since bottoming out with the From Beyond battle, Samurai Flamenco has been clawing its way back to respectability at a pretty good clip. Last week the crucial bonds between friends were reaffirmed, and much like the Railgun, Masayoshi only becomes more powerful and capable when she’s surrounded by friends supporting her. After what happened to Flamen Blue last week, going up against Prime Minister Okuzaki wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.

But first, he had to get to the Diet, where the PM was putting the finishing touches on his campaign for 100% Approval. Goto was never in doubt as to whether Masayoshi was really a terrorist mastermind (he knows Masayoshi is too stupid to trick anyone), while Jun is happy for another chance to see his special stationary in action. His getaway car is a first-gen Toyota Harrier, AKA Lexus RX300. So he went for reliability and comfort, not speed.

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Konno’s also on Masayoshi’s side, and even Mister Justice shows up to clear their path to the Diet, while the reborn Flamenco Girls and Goto make sure no one disturbs Masayoshi’s chat with Okuzaki. Of course, Okuzaki has no intention of chatting, cutting the audio feed but keeping the cameras rolling as he dons his battle armor, which is fittingly powered by his constantly refreshing public approval ratings.

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His heart’s in the right place—he wants only to protect Japan—but he doesn’t respect the people and is willing to lie to them to increase his power.This is where Konno takes up the mantle of unlikely hero. Okuzaki may be invulnerable to physical attacks, but he’s extremely susceptible to the effects of the truth, which is shown to the world when Konno live-streams his megalomaniacal ranting to the nation (having probably snuck in when the Girls arrived). Okuzaki’s ratings plummet, and with them his strength, and it’s Bye-bye, Mr. Prime Minister. All thanks to Konno—and smartphones.

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It’s a satisfying, creative victory that gave everyone something to do, and it was Samurai Flamenco ridiculousness at its best. But it wouldn’t be Flamenco if the victory celebration lasted more than a few moments. Turns out Okuzaki was the country’s last best hope against the REAL foe: Mister Justice! Well, not really Mister Justice (no American bad guys here!) it was just a disguise for…Alien Flamenco! And just like that, the show expands its conflict all the way out into space. Never a dull moment for our hero and his integral support circle.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

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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 – 10

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King Torture lures Samurai Flamenco to his lair by holding Mari and Moe hostage. He’s disgusted by Mari’s attitude, but frees Moe when she says she’ll take Mari’s place. When Samurai Flamenco arrives, King Torture tells him how they’re alike, before attacking with a chainsaw arm. Samurai Flamenco counterattacks with his new weapons. Mizuki calls Goto, who bursts into the lair with Mari’s pink Hummer, deflecting Torture’s harpoon.

King Torture ends up impaled on a life-size action figure, but isn’t harmed, and he activates a rocket launch sequence that will bring about the creation of a giant monster version of himself. Goto launches the Hummer at the rocket to knock it over before it launches, while Samurai Flamenco tears out King Torture’s life core, defeating him for good. Moe and Mizuki carry the wounded Mari to the concert stage, where she sings solo.

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When this show sets out to make a final battle episode, it does not mess around. Pretty much every trope in the book is employed with a panache and self-awareness that we’ve come to expect. We learn King Torture grew up watching hero TV shows like Masayoshi, but rather than become inspired to be like them, what he got from them was that the heroes never win; it’s wiser—not to mention more entertaining—to be evil.

But this episode wasn’t just a send-up. Whether it was Moe offering her life to save Mari, Goto saving Masayoshi and killing the rocket, Mari taking the stage, or Masayoshi removing his mask and revealing his identity, the boss battle was a vehicle for everyone to step up and prove their mettle. For all of King Torture’s gum-flapping, in the end he was all alone, while Masayoshi had allies and friends who helped him win the day.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • If King Torture’s dressing-down of Mari wasn’t enough to get her to reexamine her life, witnessing Moe’s heroism was. She’s very lucky Moe didn’t suffer more than a crushed pinky.
  • We only see the foot of Jun’s savior. Was that Kaname?
  • Nothing about King Torture makes any goddamn sense, and  that’s why he’s so awesome. For instance: right after he talks about the lovely mausoleum he built for his fallen comrades, he needlessly blasts through the wall, trashing the place. 
  • Goto getting a text from his girlfriend while he’s driving a pink Hummer through a corridor towards a bio-rocket that’s about to launch: the show in a nutshell, really!
  • Next week we’ll be halfway through this excellent show. We figure it will be a relatively calm affair after all the action this week, but who knows.

Samurai Flamenco – 09

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Three months into Samumenco’s battle against Torture, the public becomes bored with it, as does Mari, who contacts Konno for an interview where she calls out King Torture himself. Goto warns her to be careful, but she doesn’t listen, and when Masayoshi snaps at him for being late to the scene of a battle to clean up, Goto washes his hands of the whole situation. Konno is kidnapped and tortured by King Torture, and agrees to give up Mari in exchange for being “entertained.” King Torture calls Masayoshi on Mari’s phone, telling him she’s her prisoner, and to meet him for a final battle. When Samumenco’s way is barred by Torture grunts, Harazuka arrives with new weapons and holds them off, allowing Samumenco to proceed to the boss.

It’s a well-known fact that too much of just about anything initially exciting will eventually grow boring, and the interest of its initial admirers will peter out. Time marches on, and with it, new stories, incidents, disasters, scandals, or trends. Even Samumenco’s war against real, freakish, ferocious monsters isn’t immune. The fact is, as long as somebody takes care of them—a duty that falls exclusively to Samumenco once Mari loses interest—the public learns that they don’t really have to care anymore. Samumenco has become just another cop; it’s assumed he’ll deal with the bad guys, and if they keep being dealt with in the same formulaic way, there’s no reason to continue paying attention. Mari, meanwhile, had already half-checked out of the whole enterprise once King Torture named Samumenco, not her, as his nemesis.

And who can blame the King? Masayoshi believes being a hero is his birthright and duty; a end unto itself. Mari has no such lofty aspirations. She fights to keep herself entertained, and when she’s no longer entertained, she ups the stakes. If King Torture is pure evil, pure good is his true foe, and that’s Masayoshi, not Mari. Mari’s impulse proves to be a serious error on her part, since she has no earthly idea what she’s dealing with (Harazuka implies Torture may not be earthly at all). And when all’s said and done, Konno decides to sacrifice Mari, that he might be furthr entertained rather than die an honorable but boring death. The more Harazuka reveals about what Torture is, the more Masayoshi—and we—recoil. The invincible glint in Masayoshi’s eyes in the beginning of the episode fades into doubt. Before he can talk about saving the world, he has to do it, starting with saving Mari.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Talk about a turnaround; Masayoshi now has more presence on a TV show poster(and attention at the presser) than MMM.
  • For one brief moment, Mari looks hurt when Masayoshi yells at her.
  • Goto’s great in this episode. He’s basically sick of being a doorstop (and occasional uniform model) and is fed up with all the whining. Masayoshi’s success, and the subsequent inflation of he ego has definitely been a blow to their friendship.
  • Wouldn’t it be grand if Masayoshi swoops in and save Mari, and she’s actually grateful to him, and even develops feelings for him? Yeah, we know…we’re thinking too far ahead
  • Very sneaky of the episode to portray Konno’s call to Sumi as another tease at first; turns out he thought he was going to die and his proposal was dead serious.
  • Kudos to the show for giving the Torture grunts a voice and some time in the spotlight to tell Samumenco that they’re perfectly content and willing to quickly set aside their lives in the service of evil, weak though they may be.
  • We had a feeling Mizuki and Moe were going to swoop in to aid Masayoshi, but Harazuka did just fine. A badass geezer, he.

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 – 06

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Masayoshi meets with Harazuka Jun from the R&D department of Monsters Stationary, who provides him with an arsenal of weapons that are technically office supplies and thus legal. Mari invites Hidenori to her apartment and tries to seduce him, without success. Konno puts out a 10 million yen reward for Samumenco’s capture, and Masayoshi uses all of his new toys to elude them. One determined salaryman pursues him up a wall and falls, but Masayoshi saves him; and in return he gives up the chase.

Now that he’s superheroing alone again, Samumenco has his freedom and his dignity, but as the price of his bounty goes up, the threats to his person become greater. You know what that means: It’s Batman Time. Enter Masayoshi’s Lucius Fox: the ninth and final main cast member, Harazuka, and the ridiculous notion that his arsenal consists of pens, staplers, and tape measures. We have to admit, his pursuers look a little slow and hapless at times, but we’ll chalk it up to Menco’s training that he’s able to make them look as bad as they do while trying to grab him. Most importantly, he’s no longer dependent on Samurai Girl to bail him out.

As for Mari, she’s successfully wrangled her fellow idols into joining her crusade—Mizuki because she’s a good, loyal friend, and Moe, because she’s in love with her. Still, it’s clear she still has a specific itch no amount of Moe-kissing or gonad-stomping can scratch: she wants Hidenori to “arrest” her, and comes on strong and a little nuts in their meeting. Nothing doing; the good constable only has eyes for his girlfriend, whom we’ve never laid eyes on (and probably never will, as a running gag). With all the fame and power Mari enjoys, she can’t have the one thing she truly wants. But it’s not as if she’s going to give up…

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Samurai Flamenco – 05

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Hazama is fooled by a group trying to collect the reward for revealing his identity, but he’s saved by Mari, who once again uses excessive force. When Sumi gets him an acting gig, Hazama tells Mari he won’t be joining her on evenings forthe time being. An angry Mari goes solo and her terrifying brawls lead to the police setting up a Vigilante Counseling Unit to reassure the public.

Hazama is frustrated on the set of the superhero show, but he returns home to find a package scheduled to be sent to him on his twentieth birthday. In it is a letter where his late grandfather passes the legacy of Samurai Flamenco on to him. Energized, he bails out Flamenco Girl once more, but then they split up. Mari coerces Mizuki and Moe to join her, forming the “Flamenco Girls.”

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Last week seemed to be pointing to a reigning in of Flamenco Girl’s reign of terror, but that wasn’t the case this week, as she’s as merciless as ever. Her idoling job has become secondary to her nightly vigilantism, and she derives almost too much pleasure from kicking her defeated foes when they’re down. Suffice it to say, her philosophy doesn’t jibe with Hazama’s more idealized brand of justice, and they both conclude that because of that, they can’t keep working together, or they’ll eventually become enemies.

That brings us to why Hazama is a superhero in the first place. When his parents died, his grandfather created the Samurai Flamenco cheer up and inspire him. Even when Mari’s antics and the jadedness of the hero tv set have brough Hazama as low as he’s ever been, his grandfather’s well-timed posthumous package is just the kick in the pants he needs to keep going, while ditching the oppression of Mari. No more sidekicking or baiting; he’s going to make grandpa proud. We’ll see if he can stick to that!

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Kaname Joji ditches Hazama once more; but he does get Hazama thinking about how Samurai Flamenco was born.
  • More trouble in paradise: Goto’s girlfriend rebukes him for cancelling on her – and talking about Hazama too much. Will Mari ever confront Goto about her feelings? Will we ever see his girlfriend?
  • Did Sumi simply get that superhero acting job for Hazama because of the auspicious slot, or because she’s picking up on his love for that kinda stuff? Maybe a little of both…
  • There was something kinda melancholy about Mari alone in her too-brightly-lit apartment, rolling around with her cop-pillow.
  • Mari had to train her ass off to become Flamenco Girl, so when we first saw Mizuki and Moe flanking her, we wondered: will she be toughening them up as well, or just using them like she used Hazama?