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)

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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.