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Samurai Flamenco (Episodes 12-16)

So to recap first the show was “Kick Ass”, then it seemed to turn into Kamen Rider meets Sailor Moon, then it was Power Rangers / Super Sentai and now, it’s like some weird version of Batman: The Dark Knight. Buried underneath all of that are some really interesting story lines and character interactions. The whole thing is enough to make you just want to find the show’s head writer, shake him, and yell “WHAT IS GOING ON HERE”. At this point the Flamengers have succeeded in defeating the Four Kings from From Beyond, but it turns out that they are just the tip of a 65,000+ monster iceberg. In no time at all, the Flamengers face an all out attack from From Beyond, which they fend off after sacrificing their giant Flamen Robo. Celebration for saving Japan is short lived as the Japanese government turns on the Flamengers. Officers arrest everyone except for Hazama, who flees with the help of an American superhero named “Mister Justice” or something along those lines. Justice tells Hazama that the government used From Beyond and the Flamengers to unify the nation and to raise their approval. With that goal met, the government has blamed the Flamengers for the whole ordeal and are now using them as scapegoats for the entire incident.

The more I watch the more I think I’m understanding what I’m feeling/thinking about this show. The whole show seems like it’s really two different shows with a bunch of small, very rushed story arcs. The one show is the campy Saturday morning super-hero show that we see pretty much whenever someone is wearing a super-hero outfit. The other show is the realistic/gritty superhero genre deconstruction that we see when the characters are just themselves. Both aspects of the show have their merits, although I’d say the later is what has the ability to set the show apart, but both aspects are muddled greatly by the speed with which the show jumps between the two and with the overlap between the two styles. At a certain point I start to get the feeling that there were several really well written short stories about Samurai Flamenco and when it came time to produce the anime, they decided to just try to mash one story on the end of another instead of worrying about a segue between the two.

So far the one exception to that has been the Flamenco Girl story line which has carried over from the King Torture story to this new Rogue Hero story (although it does feel like it could’ve also existed completely outside of both of these stories if necessary). While Hazama is on the run Mari (flamenco girl) is finally confronted by the other two members of MMM about her downward spiral since being kidnapped. There’s yelling and punching and Mari expresses her anger at Moe for basically being better than her and revealing her cowardice in the face of death. Moe continues to make things worse by just trying to make Mari happy and Mizuki steps in to stop Moe from being put down. A while later, Mari heads back to the abandoned Torture base, where she’s overcome and vomits. Moe and Mizuki soon find her and the three make up and then make-out because….well, BECAUSE:

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I have to say that Mari has turned out to be a really interesting character. There’s so many facets to her that we just get to see the tip of: her uniform fetish, her desire for action/adrenaline, her sexual liberty/manipulation, her seeming desire to defend women first, why she seems to feel the need to attack men’s balls. These are all things that fit certain archetypes and I believe the point is that we’re supposed to just understand that she embodies these different archetypes, but it would still be nice to see her character developed more. Unfortunately, the pacing of this show seems to not allow for that.

Another character that the show seems to be burying is Goto. Previously he Hazama’s best friend served as a kind of mentor and sounding board for the fledgling hero. He also facilitated a discourse for several of the moral, emotional and societal dilemmas that Hazama was facing as he chose to go down the hero’s path. With him taking a backseat to some of the larger than life situations Hazama is facing, it seems like we’re dealing less and less with some of those dilemmas. That is, until episode 16 where we have Hazama wandering the streets and debating why he even became a hero in the first place. In that instance the role Goto plays is kind of filled in by a random partially blind homeless man. Ironically, Hazama actually actively decides not to go see Goto in this situation, which makes the replacement feel even more direct. I understand a change of pace helps and Goto can’t be their go to every time, but the exchanges between he and Hazama had really been a high point of the early part of the show.

In the over-the top action department this string of episodes really took the cake. Not only do we get more weapons and more enemies for the Flamengers, but we get an entire all out war between From Beyond and an assembled army of TV superheros. The assertion here is that these heroes, like Red Axe had actually always been fighting for Japan while, at the same time, entertaining people on TV. As the show points out, if you were to assume that all TV heroes were real, Japan would have quite an army. When the fight comes to a head, Samurai Flamenco is confronted by a doppelganger calling himself “Beyond Flamenco”. This character is there simply to act as a foil to get Flamenco to state a reason for fighting. Immediately after that he’s shot and simply leaves a cryptic warning foreshadowing the government’s betrayal. Following this, the Flamengers jump into Mt. Fuji to stop a Japan-destroying-device from going off. Of course, what other way would you do that in this anime that Gurren Lagan style: WITH A DRILL!

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Again, this whole set of circumstances is so over the top and campy that it almost comes off as good in a bad way. There’s also a lot going on with the Flamengers team and their Captain, Kaname who is now being portrayed as a seasoned veteran soldier working with the Japanese government which is a big turn from the air-headed action star he was initially portrayed as. There’s a story line involving Hazama trying to get the team to come together as a unit, which gives us a little bit of insight into each of these 4 new characters. Again, this is unfortunately stifled because of how little time is given to the story since there’s so much going on. In the end Hazama’s new teammates only manage to get just enough development to classify them as more than one dimensional archetypes. Of course, given that constraint, it’s impressive that they managed to even pull that off.

The more and more I think about i, I’m starting to actually believe that this show is good. There are definitely parts of it that I wish had been done very differently, but no matter what the thing is entertaining and it definitely leaves lots of room for interpretation and individual thought.

p.s. What’s going on with the OPs? 3 different ones in the span of 16 episodes seems to be a bit of a high turnover.

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