BEM – 01 – It’s All Elemental

Across the bridge from a gleaming “Upper City” lies a “Lower City” where crime and corruption are rampant…and a water monster is preying on humans, drowning them in his aqueous body on the spot. That’s where idealistic rookie cop Sonia Summers is headed, partially for the challenge.

When she stops her Range Rover to chase down a purse-snatcher, a mysterious man in a wide-brimmed fedora saves her from getting run over before vanishing into the night. But he can’t stop her car from getting stolen.

Turns out the police are corrupt too, taking kickbacks from organized crime to look the other way. This is something Sonia “the girl scout” is extremely not okay with. Little does she know cops on the take are the least of her problems, as the serial drownings mount.

The man with the fedora (and string tie and skull cane) confronts the monster, who is growing increasingly murder-happy. It mentions that it was once human but has shed that humanity and now couldn’t be happier.

The man, the titular Bem, is also not quite human despite his appearance, and after electricuting the water monster and forcing it to flee, he meets with his two compatriots, Bela and Belo. Belo says Bela values humans too highly, while Bela says Belo values them to low.

Bem seems to be the man in the middle of a group that’s also in the middle of the struggle between monsters and humans. Bem believes (and the other two follow along) that if they save enough humans, they can become full-fledged humans.

The episode culminates in a final battle between Bem, who transforms into his true, beastial youkai form, and the water monster, who keeps resolving into a joker-like form. Sonia is there to witness, and three of her fellow cops are sliced to death in the crossfire. Once Bem defeats the monster, Sonia is so frightened of him, both in youkai and human form, that she empties her sidearm into his chest.

The bullets bounce off and he’s fine, but the message is clear: getting a human, even one as virtuous as Sonia, to trust him and his kind is not going to be easy. And yet still, he won’t stop trying, just as Sonia won’t stop turning down kickbacks. No doubt they’ll cross paths and Bem will try again to reach out (but not with his beast claws).

Bem is a sleek, elegant supernatural noir, supported by some excellent “camera”work and night lighting, a very tight soundtrack by MICHIRU and SOIL&”PIMP”SESSIONS, and character design by Range Murata (joining Cop Craft as the second show this season with his designs).

With a mysterious lady (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya) in a board room in one of those gleaming towers in Upper City apparently after Bem, it looks like monsters roaming the mean streets and befriending Sonia aren’t all he needs to worry about. Definitely worth a watch, even with another cop show in a gritty city airing this season.

P.S.: This is the second remake of the series Youkai Ningen Bem, which first aired in Fall 1968(!) and was remade for the first time in 2006. I’ve never seen either of those, so I’m coming at this with a clean slate.

Triage X – 01 (First Impressions)

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Black Label, a secret group of vigilante surgeons, some of whom may still actually be high school students, fight back to remove evil from the body of their City. With guns, cool motorcycles, and bulletproof helmets.

But their coolest dude appears to be living on the edge, not following the rules. Little do they know, he’s talking to the childhood ghost of his dead friend.

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Also, his body is made from parts of that dead friend’s body, from when they were both blown up by terrorists who bombed a medical conference…

Triage X is a stupid, exposition-you-to-death, juvenile show pumped full of boy toys and boobs to look at. Except it’s heavily censored.

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You may like Triage X: if you enjoy the secret lives of high school students with big breasts who fight crime after school. If wait for the BluRay, you’ll even get to see a fair amount of those boobs too.

It’s not drawn badly but it has a 90s feel to it that reminds me of BurnUP and other ‘extreme’ cop and robbers shows. For better or worse, the vehicle and weapon design got plenty of attention.

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You may want to skip Triage X: if high school angst, love triangles, and having plot and characters endlessly expositioned at you isn’t your cup of tea.

Most likely, you’ve seen something similar before. Worse, so much is thrown at you in the first episode that I found no ability to empathize with any of the characters specifically. I didn’t even realize one of the high school girls wasn’t part of Black Label at first.

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Honestly, I don’t see any reason to follow this show. It isn’t terrible-looking, but the censorship ruins it’s base-appeal, and the so-evil-it-hurts villains are as over-designed as they are dull. Dull dull dull.

bleagh…

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Rolling Girls – 06

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RG wraps up another arc with its zany blend of over-the-top, stylized action and painfully bland soft J-rock, and the titular Girls manage to go the extra mile for their latest warring factions, but like the Always Comima mission, for all its glitz, the show has simply lacked the same magic as that episode two battle between Maccha Green and Shigyo Kuniko.

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There are lots of reasons for this. Unlike Nozomi during Himeko’s dad’s hospital bed speech, I was never all that emotionally invested either in the father-daughter conflict or the Aichi-Mie one. The whole reason the two countries combined was flimsy, so it never made much sense why they had to find some kind of middle ground, especially considering how different their cultures were. While it’s kind of sad, why not live and let live? The show’s only answer is “because we said so.”

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When Nozomi decides simply taking the stone and moving on isn’t an option, they try to build their own shachihoko, which inspires Himeko to get back into it, during which time she remembers that despite the pressure to succeed or surpass her dad, she still loves simply doing it for its own sake.

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On the track, Dandy, who turns out to be a former racing legend, inspires Tomoki to get back into the race, whereupon he beats his vice-captain fair-and-square, who retaliates by blowing up Tomoki’s bike with missiles. But Tomoki gets that feeling back, the feeling he’d lost after all those easy wins.

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Rolling Girls exhibits its signature elaborate disregard for physics and load weights, and while the animation is appropriately fast and furious during the race, it simply didn’t get my blood pumping as much as Macha/Shigyo duel; though your mileage may vary.

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In the end, the shachihokos get to the top of Nagoya Castle in the most ridiculous way possible, pedaled up a disintegrating ramp on a disintegrating bicycle powered by Tomoki’s shonen will. Father and daughter make automotive and food-based mods to the shachihoko that mostly satisfy everyone, Aichi and Mie alike.

But even this moment of triumph feels a bit too neat and tidy, with time, space, and gravity being warped so much the participants in the story are lost in the chaos. Perhaps I’m just running out of gas with this particular show. There’s plenty to look at, most of it exceedingly pretty…but this week left me pretty cold.

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Rolling Girls – 05

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The Rolling Girls’ next mission comes from a letter asking for help bringing peace to “Mie-Aichi”, also known as “Aichi-Mie”, a new country made up of those two very different prefectures united around the fact that both claim to be the birthplace of a certain kind of regional food, but both former prefectures have vigilante groups that constantly battle each other, while all the public roads double as racing circuits.

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In the midst of such a large conflict is Uotora Himeko, prodigal daughter of Aichi’s master carpenter, the one repsonsible for the city’s famous “shachihoko” fish sculptures, guardian gods that protect the roofs of buildings from fire.

Himeko is back after getting bored with playing around on the road, just when every shachihoko in town explodes. The Mie Motors vigilantes are suspected, and while there isn’t proof, the Aichi tenmusus want to duel them on the circuit to determine who rules the country once and for all.

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The Tenmusus’ captain, a tough dandy and cafe owner, tries to keep the peace, but the young pups are getting restless, and he has to rely on his absurd brute strength to keep the Mie Motors’ vice-captain at bay (in a running gag the vice-captain is constantly revving his engine, so you can never clearly hear what he’s saying). Negotiating peace seems like a tall order for Nozomi & Co.

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The Old Aichi townsfolk, however, are more concerned with getting all the shachihoko repaired. The only problem is, Himeko’s stubborn dad claims he’s lost all feeling in his arm and is thus no longer able to create. This puts the onus on the long-estranged daughter to do the work. When she was a little girl, she wanted nothing more than to follow in her father’s footsteps, but girls grow up and the paths they want to take change.

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It’s a tough spot for Himeko, made worse when she learns her dad’s arm is actually fine, and that he was faking it to make her take on the responsibility. She pays him back with words harsh enough that he slaps her, an action he instantly regrets but only pushes her away further.

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Meanwhile, the Rolling Girls have determined that Suzuka Tomoki, the captain of Mie Motors, reigning circuit champion, and only “Bike Taxi” in town, sent them the letter asking for help, in Himeko’s name (the fact he called the country Mie-Aichi instead of Aichi-Mie gave it away).

But when he zooms by to drop off a fare, the girls don’t have a change to catch his attention before it’s taken away by his loose-cannon vice captain, itching for a battle. Tomoki won’t allow one, but when a squad of Tenmusus arrives, they clash with vice-captain’s squad anyway.

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In all of this, Tomoki and Himeko both seem to be caught up in things far bigger than they are. But these two share a past, and perhaps they share a future in restoring peace to their joint country.

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After all, Tomoki seems to have the equivalent of a moonlight stone, and while shachihoko sculptures are merely symbols of peace, symbols are powerful things. Himeko may be rusty, but she and Tomoki may be the ones who help cooler heads prevail over hot ones. But first…dinner!

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Rolling Girls – 04

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Being plopped in the middle of a whole new setting with an entirely different political system and set of customs was as overwhelming for me as it was for the Rolling Girls last week, which at times threatened to rival Gundam-G levels of Proper Noun Onslaught (PNO). The crucial difference being I eventually understood Rolling Girls.

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Turns out Thunderroad’s second-in-command Noriko wasn’t taking the girls to be executed, but breaking them out, and letting them crash at her lovely house, where Yukina had actually been before when she had longer hair, glasses, and cuter clothes.

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The fact remains, they’re only safe for now; if and when they’re caught, they will be tortured and if found guilty, they’ll end up in the cut, where butlers and maids serve around the clock without rest. It’s a cosplay cafe HELL, and when the reality of their potential fate starts to weigh on them, tempers flare.

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Nozomi prefers to stay and clear Chiaya’s name; Ai thinks that’s foolhardy. Their spat is interrupted by Chiaya, who feels bad that this is all happening because its her stone that ended up lost. In other words, the group hits its first rough spot where nobody is in agreement what to do.

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Of course, we the audience know that’s all moot, particularly when Thunderoad decides to only sell Momiyama one stone: hers, not Chiaya’s. She races to Noriko’s to deliver it back to its owner, but trips on one of the city’s ubiquitous Roombas, and the stone slips of of her hand, off a balcony, and into the dense city night.

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Nozomi, meanwhile, calls home to tell her mom she’s alright, and not hanging out with any boys. The call is both practical and touching, then interrupted by Noriko’s mom insisting on re-spraying Nozomi’s bike, which she really doesn’t want.

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The girls then settle in for the night in the room Noriko gave them, having their first sleepover as a group…

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…then inexplicably change back into their street clothes to receive Thunderroad. They either thought it would be disrespectful to be in their jammies/underwear, or assumed she was coming to arrest them…or the animators messed up! Either way, Noriko and the girls alike are surprised to find Thunder apologizing to them for suspecting them…and for losing Chiaya’s stone.

She also points out what I thought had been obvious: the stones give their owners superhuman strength, speed, and stamina.

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A city-wide search of all Roomba’s progresses, but then a report comes in that one such Roomba has been rigged with a bomb that’s going to go off in five minutes. The people who sent it out—disgruntled Comima security guards—didn’t know it had a bomb until they read the note it came with…after launching it. Oops.

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No biggie; the heart stone eventually pops up, and even though Nozomi doesn’t notice it, Thunder’s crow Garm does, and flies it to her so she can power-up in-transit. The Roomba grows limbs and starts evading her, eventually landing cruelly in the afro of her beloved Rickshaw statue.

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Rick assures her it’s okay, as he was never a character to put his life above others, and Thunder brings her sword down on the Roomba, detonating it in a brilliant explosion. In the end, Thunder did the right thing…except for selling her own stone, which was supposed to be her first step towards retirement.

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Noriko, the Girl’s gracious host this whole episode, then confesses to being Dynamite Bombers; a group she invented out of thin air in order to give Thunder a reason not to retire, so much had she enjoyed serving with her. Thunder agrees not to retire, but installs Noriko as the new captain, preferring to serve as an ordinary solider so her delusions and greed don’t overcome her again.

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Chiaya, exercising the very opposite of greed, is impressed enough by Noriko’s gesture, and grateful for her hospitality, that she gives her stone to her. They’ll find other stones on their travels, and right now Noriko needs it more than her (though the Dynamite Bombers don’t exist, so I don’t know who her other enemies are).

After a call to her mom, the president (who wants her Home This Instant but is in no position to be making demands, considering she seemed to be more interested in the stones than her daughter to that point), Chiaya rejoins the others on their trip across Japan, substituting for Maccha Green, and they all realize they like the same band Ai happened to be humming.

While singing “It’s a nice day” over and over again makes for a lame ending theme, the closing montage of their adventures in Hakone and Fuji add some nice texture.

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Rolling Girls – 03

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Rolling Girls episode two was going to be a tough act to follow, and not even a visit to the towering “Always Comima” in Tokyo (which looks like a massive Big Sight) can keep the show from coming back down to earth.

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That being said, it was still a charmer, with the hastily-assembled titular rolling girls off on their first adventure with no time wasted. It’s funny watching Nozomi gradually come to realize that she may have fallen in with a bunch of weirdos. Ai, Yukina, and Chiaya’s very different styles and quirks keep the ride interesting.

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They arrive at a Tokyo on high alert after the Moonlight Stone (which they call a “Drom Beserker”) belonging to their local vigilante group’s Best, Thunderoad, comes up missing and assumed stolen by the Knights of the Twin Towers’ rival group, Dynamite Bombers.

The painted, washed out city vistas look pretty, but they lack the visual oomph that a fully-rendered bustling cityscape would provide. But then, perhaps our “yokel” girls from Tokorozawa are so overwhelmed by their surroundings they’re filtering out most visual information.

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When they show Chiaya’s stone to two passersby, they trip their “security charms” and have the girls arrested. They’re brought before Thunderoad and her pet crow, who Ai immediately challenges to a fight (the girl, not the crow) and is promptly defeated by a devastating forehead-flicking.

Still, Nozomi manages to smooth things over to the point Thunder gives them till sundown to find her stone, and she’ll give theirs back. She may have a future as a peacebroker after all.

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Back home, Nozomi’s parents worry about their daughter’s first big trip abroad, but all they can do is hope she’ll be okay and come back safe. That’s all Masami can to do, since without her stone and in the shape she’s in, she wouldn’t be able to help Nozomi.

As the girls comb Tokyo in vain for the stone (leading to Nozomi inexplicably vomiting), we cut to the Tokorozawa capital, where the president seems to be hoarding the damn things. We also learn that Masami may be “beyond recovery”,  and Chiaya is the president’s daughter, which explains how she got her hands on a stone and is looking for more of them.

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We also learn that Thunderoad wants her berserker back so she can sell it to one of President Misono’s buyers, so she can buy a life-size rickshaw figure, presumably to sit in and laugh. In a country of cosplayers and collectors with very exacting tastes, such a specific goal makes sense.

Even when she finds the berserker she lost (the crow hid it in the rickshaw boy’s afro), she still has to part with both her’s and Chiaya’s, since she accidentally overbid on the damn rickshaw, and must now pay double!

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When the Dynamite Bombers attacked, Thunderoad originally asked the buyer to delay the transaction, but she ultimately had to choose between being the Best who protects the city and fulfilling her rickshaw figure dream.

She picks the dream, not only giving up her stone but Chiaya’s as well, in a clever reversal of the “do the right thing” trope. Here I thought Nozomi would use that stone to kick ass. Now it will join the others President Misono has gathered, to be used as currency to pay for undisclosed “peacebroker activities”. It’s a very fishy business.

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Rolling Girls – 02

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Alright, I’m calling it: Rolling Girls’s second episode is the Best Episode of the Winter so far; beating Saekano – 01 by a hair. So it’s fitting that it’s called “The Center of the World”, because that’s where it felt like I was for nearly twenty-five minutes.

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It was, quite simply, The Complete Package: an addictive blend of Kill la Kill’s hypercaffinated, escalating battles and back-stories; One Off’s motorcycles and attractive character design; Zvezda’s ‘Power of Youth’ element; and finally, Amagi Brilliant Park’s eclectic collection of lovable characters, punchy dialogue, and a story that’s equal parts Swiss watch and Rube Goldberg machine.

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All of those shows I listed that remind me of this had their flaws, but RG manages to avoid most or all of them. Frankly, if there were any, they’d bee quickly lost in dizzying yet controlled pace of the action. Things seem on the edge of flying completely off the rails, like the roller coaster of non-combatant hostages.

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But rather than do that, RG rearranges the coaster’s track and keeps the ride going. Considering just how much was thrown at my eyes and ears, it’s a wonder I can tease out a simple synopsis, but that’s the beauty of controlled, well-organized chaos.

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So here goes: Nozomi learns Maccha Green is Masami, and Masami created the persona so Nozomi wouldn’t risk her life trying to save her like she did in the past.

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Only this week Nozomi and Shigyo end up dueling so fiercely, they end up taking each other right out of the peacebrokering game for two months. But while the battles get more and more intense and ridiculous as the episode progreses, they also gain more and more thematic resonance.

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The shit that goes on is simply unreal, but nothing comes out of left field, even what seem to be the most absurd occurances. Masami’s secret weapon is the Ramen Vomit Stream (from their eating contest earlier) that comes up after Shigyo beats her up, and a man wearing a croccodile mask gets accidentally punched. How do you confuse that face for Nozomis?!

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Particularly impressive is when Masami gets some shots in on Shigyo, it seems to conjure up long-lost memories for Shigyo, about how she once idolized and trained to become a superhero she learned was a fraud when he appeared in a magazine unmasked. The amount of visual information is stunning, and while it sure looks like a mess in these many many screencaps, it just wasn’t.

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The show also making use of every cubic inch of the space the two are fighting in, with the Giant Maccha Robot (which was only a giant inflatable dummy, but still fooled Shigyo last week), springs a leak when a big bird tries to steal octopus balls from smaller birds perched on it.

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Masami seems to have more pure dumb luck on her side, both with the vomit and with the blimp crash landing right where Shigyo stands. Masami’s toughness is also on full display, as she’s able to shield Nozomi from the blimp in the nick of time, despite having just taken a crushing blow from Shigyo.

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Getting back to that full use of 3D space, when the duel reaches the level in which all the non-combatants on both sides are simply blown away by the sheer force of the Bests’ attacks, we get to see it from Nozomi’s POV.

But as we said, the battle eventually does end—off-camera, ironically—with the two combatants laid up in the hospital for a couple months. As Masami can’t protect her in there, Nozomi figures it’s time to protect her, and decides to be a peacebroker-for-hire in her place.

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From the way her cool dad convinces her mom to agree to it, to Nozomi mounting her super-cool motorcycle in super-cool light and then hurting her leg on the starter, this progression from battle to Nozomi’s next move is as heartwarming as it is hilarious.

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I thought, then, that the next few episodes would be spent gathering the other three members of the titular Rolling Girls. Nope! She gathers them all up (both intentionally and by chance) in the final minute of the episode, as she’s riding out of town! After a maximalist battle, a minimalist team-build. I loved it. rg215

And these weren’t random people, either: Nozomi and Yukina had already bonded (and gone through hell together) and Yukina simply likes the idea of going for a ride, Hibiki Ai was the enemy Rest who was kicked out and needs a ride, and Misono Chiaya was a customer at Nozomi’s fam’s restaruant. So off they go, to settle disputes and hunt for the rare Moonlight Stones that give Bests their powers. I for one am PUMPED.

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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)

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?