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 – 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 – 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.

Tari Tari – 09

Wakana decides to ask Sawa’s mother if she knew anything about how her mom wrote songs. Konatsu decides the club will put on a musical drama for the White Festival, but it will require a lot of money to produce it. At the Western shopping district association meeting, Shiho proposes they boost business by using “local superheroes” in costumes to bust moves and hand out flyers. She conscipts Sawa and the other club members for this purpose, and Wien gets serious about it. So serious, Tanaka asks why. All of Wien’s letters to his friend in Austria – who shared his love of the “Gambaraijers” – were sent back to him, but he still yearns to be a hero, and this is his shot. The club catches the Vice Principal when she’s distracted and troubled, and she grants them permission to work an after-school job to raise funds.

As soon as Shiho brought up superheroes at the shopowners’ meeting, we knew it was just a matter of time before the Choir and Sometimes Badminton club were being given Power Ranger costumes. We won’t waste time asking silly questions like “Why is Wien so obsessed with the simplistic idealism of the Power Rangers well into his high school years when he should be into girls?” or “Why does Wien have a seven-year-old pen pal?” Suffice it to say, this is his time to shine. He’s going to whip the club into world-saving shape so they can earn that 30,000 yen. Which brings us to another obvious possibility: that the musical drama the club will perform follow the same Power Ranger theme. Why not?

They already have the costumes, so they can spend more money on sets and props. We’ll see. The only snag may be Wakana, who is mired in a songwriter’s block that’s far worse than not having an idea for a song – she’s not even sure what a song is or what it is to write one, as she’s never done so. Her dad isn’t any help, but Shiho tells her to try to ask the mean ol’ Vice Principal, who as it turns out co-wrote that song with her mom. There’s a great moment when her cat lands on the piano, and the tune her paws play isn’t that bad for something totally random. Perhaps a superhero song is a good place to start: full of big, bold ideas and pure, unadulterated emotion.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)