A TL;DR Essay: The Disappointment of Samurai Flamenco

Very recently, Chu and I have watched and finished the anime, “Samurai Flamenco”. And needless to say, we were disappointed.

Here’s what the premise is of the anime, according to My Anime List:

Masayoshi Hazama:  a man who has become a super hero “by himself” with no superhuman powers or any sort of high-tech conversions, NONE!!

Hidenori Goto: a cop who found out the true identity of “the superhero” by a strange twist of fate and thus constantly gets in trouble thanks to Hazama, the super hero.

This is the story of the birth of a true hero featuring these two young men with a touch of comedy and serious drama, while they come face to face with hardships as they search for the true meaning of  becoming a hero of justice in this world!

Interesting premise, right? I know there’s a lot of Western movies and media that explores this idea and, in fact, get really gruesome results (especially the “Kick-Ass” movie series) but it does point out a lot of possible flaws in having vigilantes in the real world (even though, yes, there are actually people who are actively vigilantes in the real world). Now, I gotta admit, both Chu and I made a few mistakes regarding this anime that most likely led us to our collective disappointment: we thought Samurai Flamenco is the anime version of the “Kick Ass” movie series (though not as violet or gruesome) and a possible precursor to Tiger & Bunny.

Under the cut, there will be spoilers for the series including with my thoughts about the series in order to drive home my point and to explain certain events about, really, my own thoughts about the series.

When it first started, the anime presented itself as something extremely silly (the fact that Goto finds Hazama naked) but only to try to get serious when Hazama tells him, and tries to show him, that he’s a super hero. He showed every part of himself, literally stripping down all his layers to show Goto who he really was (telling him about his grandfather, showing off his super hero figure, watching super hero movies, even trying to convince Goto to fight alongside him), so that opening of Goto finding him naked was just a metaphor, right?

Yeah, of course it was. It’s not lost on shippers and it’s not lost on me. Anyway, it didn’t take long until shenanigans happen to where Samurai Flamenco started to gain notoriety for vigilante justice, even if it started by asking for Goto’s  (rather, his girlfriend’s) umbrella back from being casually taken.

And Hazama does have a good point: it’s important to worry about the little things because, after a while, those little things build up. Now it can be either good or bad but Hazama would rather work towards a better future.

The first few episodes were good and interesting and it gave a similar feel to Tiger & Bunny. The joke between us was that Samurai Flamenco was the precursor to Tiger & Bunny since that particular series takes place in the future and it’d be interesting to see how they would be able to start the trend of vigilante heroes and how the media (or at least Japanese media as the case may be) views and use the heroes. And then with Hazama being a model, at least an upcoming one, added yet another layer.

Soon, Samurai Flamenco appears on the television and people are asking for the secret identity and caused more problems for our main characters because I’m sure everyone wants that yen. Then the impostor shows up – a veteran super hero actor/action star who Hazama admired since he was a young man.

When Hazama as Samurai Flamenco confronted him and told him to stop posing as him, the other accepted and claimed this was part of a test. It’s kinda stupid but it’s easily forgivable because he became an important character for later and the actor becomes a mentor figure for Hazama (even if he never learned his name).

Even when Mari was introduced, it added another layer to this series – what about the other people who are doing the vigilante job? What is their reasoning to do this dangerous work?

While it’s very clear that Hazama was inspired by the hero shows (think Ultraman and Power Rangers) and would love nothing more than to emulate them, Mari seemed to do it for the glory of it all and the fact that she can hurt people under the guise of justice.

Granted, Mari is a very showy person and wants all the credit to go to her no matter what.  When she was revealed to be the lead singer of an idol group, I wasn’t very surprised. Mari is a very selfish person and she seemed to be the kind of person that would pathologically need to control everything that she can.

Not only that, she claims that Samurai Flamenco stole her name, Flamenco Girl, but eh, whatever. After watching the series, I’m questioning if that’s even true anymore because, as I mentioned before, she’s very selfish and seems to have a need to control everything.

Things actually turned a bit more interesting with the introduction of Mari/Flamenco Girl and when she and Hazama teamed up for a little bit only for Hazama to get his butt kicked constantly only for Mari to come in and save him.

It’s really interesting that in the glimpses of Mari’s civilian life, it’s shown that Mari is the writer and composer for the idol group which is amazing considering that a lot of the girl groups don’t get that sort of freedom. Not only that, it introduces us to her band mates, Moe and Mizuki, but I’ll get to them eventually.

It’s… I don’t know how to describe it between Hazama and Mari. It seemed they were rivals and she made it clear to him that they were going to have to butt heads eventually but in the end, it was kinda pointless for her to say that because they ended up working together except when Mari made the bad decisions during the King Torture act.

Soon, the Japanese police actually starts putting together a vigilante task force where Goto can keep an eye on both Mari and Hazama’s antics when they’re both in uniform. Eventually, we meet the scientist who creates the gadgets for Samurai Flamenco which is really creative because he works in a stationary company. I don’t exactly remember what caused them to do so, but soon people started to laud Samurai Flamenco and started to used him as a mascot of justice. In fact, the police were doing a drug bust and used him as a figure for their hard work but then…

The King Torture Arc.

Oh boy, the King Torture Arc. At first, we were really confused and were thrown in for a loop simply because the guy was trying to take his meds but the cops prevented and then he turned into a monster called “Guillotine Gorilla”. And it was, to say the very least, surprising.

I think this best describes our initial reaction.

I think this best describes our initial reaction.

“Alright,” we said to each other, “they were messing with some weird drugs. Okay. We can somewhat accept this.” And we continued on. After all, we love the Marvel movies and DC universe, this is something that goes on in those. We can deal with it.

Eventually, though, it seemed that the series now started to parody the sentai shows (Power Rangers) where there’s always a monster of the week and eventually, the people in the city started to get complacent even with the weekly battles that goes on now that always starts with a monster wrecking havoc. Samurai Flamenco would come and fight the monster with stationary gadgets that would get better and better.  Eventually, the monster would explode into a million pieces but thankfully, there were hardly any casualties. Then he’d report to Goto about the monster.

It’s understandable but eventually even the heroes become complacent with everything that’s going on, since at this point, Mari/Flamenco Diamond (instead of Girl) had recruited her band mates (read: forced) into becoming Flamenco Ruby and Flamenco Sapphire and had eventually gotten bored of the weekly fights

Then it’s revealed to show who the culprit was, a dude named King Torture and things started to get real. He was true to his name and bad things started to happen to people around Hazama and it got to a point where, even though she was told not to, Mari called him out for a battle with King Torture (even though King Torture wanted nothing to do with Mari).

Because of this, we get to honestly the best and rawest part of the series.

Mari and Moe gets kidnapped (I believe Mizuki didn’t want to go because she thought it was too dangerous, plus they had a concert coming up, and she was really right on the money) and, well, tortured in order to lure Samurai Flamenco to fight him and save the two girls. In the meantime, he called Mari out in her selfishness and told Mari that while she tells Moe to leave her alone and to save herself, she wasn’t wishing that at all. In fact, she was grateful that Moe said she’d take her place instead of leaving Mari to be tortured, or worse.

King Torture tortured her in front of Moe and even said that if Moe tells him to stop, he’ll let her go and he’ll keep Mari in there. However, if she didn’t say anything, he’ll let Mari go.

Moe didn’t tell him to stop and let him hurt her. After that, he pretty much rubbed it in Mari’s face that Moe is better suited as a leader than she is and that Moe actually gives a damn about Mari while Mari simply didn’t. He told her that she only became a vigilante was so she can stomp on men’s nuts and just beat people up for free with no consequence.

King Torture was true to his word and let them go. Mari resented Moe for the fact King Torture brought out the truth about Mari’s nature and Moe’s nature. And it crushes Moe to bits.

And here I am thinking that, “Oh wow. This series has nowhere else to go but up.”

Well…. I was wrong, but we’ll get to that.

Once the final battle concluded between King Torture and Hazama (and Goto, I suppose), that’s when the second twist is revealed: His mentor wasn’t just an actor! He’s actually Red Axe! Not only is he Red Axe, but he’s the leader of the Flamengens!! Around this time, Hazama publicly revealed himself as Samurai Flamenco. Everyone was surprised, of course, who would expect the biggest fanboy of Samurai Flamenco to be Samurai Flamenco?

Mostly because it was just so  unexpected, not really the fact it was a TWIST.

Mostly because it was just so unexpected, not really the fact it was a TWIST.

Now, Chu and I were really confused. Wasn’t this about a series about vigilante justice in a Japanese city? Wasn’t this a semi-serious look at what could happen if something like this were to come in? Where did all this sentai stuff comes from? It took both of us out right away from the semi-serious tone it started out earlier and after that, it left a really bad taste in our mouths.

It’s understandable that the writer of the show is known for this kind of thing, especially since he wrote R.O.D., but I feel that he was pushing his luck with this series. Now the tone is aliens, team work, Flamengens, and something allegedly deeper but it’s only as deep as the shallow end of the pool.

Honestly, if the writers wanted to create a parody of these sentai shows, then… make a show about that. Don’t randomly insert it when it’s not needed. And for a while, they threw out Goto, Mari (especially after they made it back to the concert and Mari revealed herself to be Flamenco Diamond) and shoved them to the side so we can focus now on this “plot twist” of rangers, mecha, and aliens.

Eh, and for a while, Chu and I wanted to believe that this was a dream or that Hazama must have gotten himself knocked out by King Torture and he was in a coma – he was merely imagining the Rangers aspect because, well, that’s what he wanted the absolutely most. In any different anime, that particular plot twist would be infuriating and just unnecessary but both of us really hoped that this was the case.

When it was made clear, though, that this was clearly not a dream or a wishful daydream, words escaped us. Honestly, when it got to reveal that the Japanese government was behind From Beyond (and, in essence, King Torture), things were just annoying. Stupid. Still, we both tried to hold optimism that this was a dream dammit, this cannot be actually happening. We were brought back to earth when the Alien Flamenco took Hazama and literally told him that it’s time to stop with the hero bullshit and decide what’s important to Hazama.

There was just no way we were going to take anything from this series seriously again.

There was just no way we were going to take anything from this series seriously again.

 

Oh, there were moments were we were really hopeful. There was a scene where Hazama turned 20 and received a box from his grandfather’s friend and he opened it. Later, Hazama opens it to find out that his grandfather was grooming him to become a super hero and that his parents didn’t die because of disease but because of an unsolved case of robbery overseas.

In the end, though, that led to nowhere. It was pointless, just like the incident with King Torture and the girls. When we find out that Mari was secretly living with Goto (because she was ashamed of what happened), Moe and Mizuki find her and tried to confront her but instead of Mari actually learning and growing as a character from the Moe incident (think before you act, don’t be selfish Jesus, etc), she’s rewarded for being a coward and never intended to not be selfish. She just never changed and it just… so… frustrating.

That should have been a hint for the end because by the time the ending arc comes around, it’s so hard to take anything seriously. Granted, it deals with something extremely serious – it’s revealed that when Goto was in high school, he had been with a girl. However, one day, she and the bus driver had disappeared mysteriously. No one knows what happened to them since and, in order for Goto to better deal with it, he took her umbrella and cell phone (the only items that were ever found of hers) and posed as his girlfriend so he can cope with it better.

There was the last villain for Hazama and he was a middle school student who had didn’t understand love but wanted to express his admiration for Samurai Flamenco by becoming a villain. Interesting concept but it was executed really badly. The boy posed as dead (his parents faked it for him apparently and they moved away to continue the ruse) so he could freely move around and harass those that Hazama held dear and even set a bomb in Hazama’s apartment.

If they had stuck to this kind of drama, and tone, in the first place, then this series would probably be more popular but because of how everything transpired beforehand, it’s just so…. ugh. There’s really no other words to describe how terrible that feeling is – after a series of disappointment, the things it actually does do right just feels really cheap. I really liked Goto’s characterization and Hazama’s as well. I really did.

The ending scene when Hazama got naked when Goto was threatening to kill the boy was obviously symbolizing their entire relationship (and it was really uncomfortable because of the kid there so I felt really conflicted as a shipper and a sane person) – they never hid anything from each other and was always completely naked with each other. He even asked Goto to marry him!  I later learned the writers never really expected Goto and Hazama to have that kind of relationship but, ugh, their chemistry was so good and well-written.

In the end, it was seriously pointless to even have that arc because, I get that something like that will take time for Goto to get over, but it didn’t seem anything changed for the characters. They didn’t seem to learn anything. They didn’t change into better people for it. Nothing mattered in the end because everyone got what they wanted and it was, really, the same thing as it always had been. The tone shifts were just annoying and just got really old really fast. I also learned that the writers honestly didn’t know where to go with Samurai Flamenco and it shows. It shows and it’s frustrating because the setting was so good and the beginning was really strong.

I wish this was the precursor to Tiger & Bunny because it had the right ideas and it, at first, had executed itself well. As I mentioned before, there were some particular moments where I thought the series was going to be more serious and understood its purpose other than parodying shows like that. And I think the Flamengen characters have gone completely to waste because they seemed like interesting characters and seemed to bring the show together, even with the sudden tone shifts.

It’s so disappointing, and I don’t think I could stress that enough. I really wish that if someone does decide to retackle the idea of being a vigilante in Japanese society pre-Tiger & Bunny, it would not be as disappointing like this. If they wanted to parody or pay homage to the genre in a silly way, don’t trick your audience into thinking it’s anything different.

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