Jaded police officer Hidenori Gotou has the misfortune of encountering Masayoshi Hazama, an up-and-coming model with the secret fantasy of becoming a superhero. Donning the alter-ego of "Samurai Flamenco" and engaging in ill-advised heroics straight out of a B-movie, Hazama usually gets beat up by his intended quarries instead of capturing them, but somehow, his optimistic spirit and conviction in the idea of justice remain firm, and even Gotou finds this admirable. The two form something of an unlikely friendship, while Hazama also somewhat reluctantly teams up with another model from his agency, Mari Maya, a bored high school graduate who takes glee in dressing as the flamboyant "Flamenco Girl" and stomping on the groins of molesters and other evildoers, but whose motivation stems more from a desire for fame than a pure sense of justice. And so the two of them, with Gotou in tow, begin a ramshackle crime-fighting spree; what starts as one man's ill-conceived vigilantism may, however, ultimately be just what the world needs.
Samurai Flamenco might very well be my "be careful what you wish for" anime. I've complained many times about anime series that suffer from either rushed pacing or forced and unsatisfying conclusions, and in the case of many manga and light novel adaptations, this often stems from the difficulty of compressing an expansive story into a mere thirteen or so episodes. Samurai Flamenco, however, has something of an inverse problem. It has 22 episodes, and perhaps 9 of those episodes felt substantial to me, with their enjoyable character chemistry and affectionately poking fun at superhero stories being outweighed by 13 or so episodes of ridiculous plot concoctions being taken far, far too seriously.
Even during its better portions, Samurai Flamenco is something of a difficult show to understand. It is, in part, an homage to the sentai genre, whose basic concept any fan of Powers Rangers can understand, and yet it is often unclear whether this homage is parodic or serious. Certainly, the concept itself is absurd, and basically all of the main cast besides Hazama himself are aware of this, but on the other hand, Hazama is so earnest and sincere in his quixotic and incompetent quest for justice that he's nothing less than endearing as a result. Indeed, for the first few episodes, Samurai Flamenco actually treads the line between being absurd and being dramatically effective fairly well, and a fair amount of this hinges on the effective chemistry between Hazama and Gotou. In its early episodes, I found Samurai Flamenco refreshing because it admits that Hazama is something of an idiot and that there's something not completely believable about the attitude of television superheroes, whose attitude and mannerisms would seem bizarre in the real world. At the same time, however it doesn't want us to mock him, for there's something satisfying about watching an otherwise disgruntled and jaded police officer take something of a lesson from his optimism, even if he's hesitant to admit it. Indeed, Gotou and Hazama make for an enjoyable pair to watch, and I wouldn't be surprised to find that they've been heavily "shipped," a dynamic that the show itself entertains.
As much as I like the main characters of Samurai Flamenco, however, there's evidence early on that it has the mentality of an eccentric scientist who has started a set of experiments with no hypothesis in mind: it's not absolutely necessary that the goal you start out with be the one you eventually end up pursuing, but it's usually advisable to start with at least something in mind, since it's easier to modify an idea than make it up on the spot. Unfortunately, Samurai Flamenco is an excellent example of this problem, and the series' third main character, Mari, is the main one who suffers from it. I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about her, given her hotheadedness and the fact that she takes a bit too much glee in stomping testicles (even if those are the testicles of molesters, rapists, and other awful, awful men), and yet the show seemed prime to set her up as an interesting character. She's a nice contrast to Hazama in that both have the same theoretically desirable profession and yet are unsatisfied with life, but her motivation for getting out of that dissatisfaction is different, and the show hints frequently that something more might be at work. It's a shame, then, that she's relegated to a bit player as soon as the show starts to get out of hand (and I'll address that point in a minute). Worse, near the end of the series' second arc, she's subjected to an attempted rape in a horribly unnecessary and exploitative scene, which does nothing besides create a damsel-in-distress situation for Hazama to save her from. The trauma of this then leaves her incapacitated for most of the rest of the show, until she re-emerges seemingly for the convenience of the show in order to becomes a supporting player in the sob story that is Gotou's arc (at the very end). Her arc is, ultimately, symptomatic of Samurai Flamenco's problem of having promising buildup give way to nothing.
And it really is striking how sharply Samurai Flamenco turns from being a fun and quirky show to a nonsensical, pompous, and stupid one. I recall that while Stig, Tim, and I were synchroing this show, we all used a fair amount of unprintable language at the same time in the seventh episode, when a seemingly human suspect being chased by police abruptly paused to take a drug and turned into...a gorilla with a guillotine in his chest. And with that transformation, Samurai Flamenco was no longer about Hazama's endearing quest to fight petty criminals in a sentai suit. No, it was suddenly about a larger-than-life organization of supervillains, subtly named "Torture" and led by the equally subtly-named "King Torture," conniving to take over the world, and Samurai Flamenco had to step up his game and be an actual superhero. Since a fair amount of the show's charm was the silliness of Hazama being a wannabe superhero in a mundane setting, a lot of that simply goes out the window when the show starts taking itself so seriously, and particularly since the villains themselves are so damned uninspired. Indeed, the members of "Torture" basically seem to be the results of a rush job of fusing animals with power tools, while the King himself is basically a cackling megalomaniac, and there's not much to say about him other than that he's apparently meant to be evil incarnate. Or something.
In any case, while we kept the synchro going for a few more episodes, none of us seemed to doubt that the show had jumped the shark, though in this case "given birth to the guillotine gorilla" might be the more appropriate term. If the supervillains are lame and the drama surrounding them even lamer, it doesn't help that the show is immediately taken over by the "Flamengers," a team of superheroes whom Hazama's mentor Kaname (a former action actor) recruits to fight alongside him. To say I didn't like the Flamengers is an understatement: their head-butting and whining makes the cast of Gundam Wing look as calm and level-headed as a temple full of Buddhist Monks, and in the case of the team's sole female member, further insult is added to injury when she develops a creepy, overbearing, and one-sided crush on the married Kaname, apparently for "comedy". They annoyed me almost enough to make me root for the bad guys, who in addition to "Torture" include an idiotic team of aliens (seriously?) named "From Beyond" (come on!) as well as a doppelgänger of Hazama who says a lot of faux-intellectual cryptic crap before basically becoming irrelevant. It's all stupid, and it's all taken with far too much of a straight face for the degree to which any of this makes sense, or to the extent that the aliens and monsters' goofy, cartoonish designs even fit into the show's otherwise realistic (and pleasant) art style. The shameful part is that Hazama gets lost in his own show, and Gotou and Mari basically disappear from the picture; brief respites aside, everything that interested me about Samurai Flamenco vanishes in a midst of shouting and stupid character designs.
I'd really like to figure out who was the one who thought any of this was a good idea, but given the talent involved with this series, I'm baffled that it turned out to be such a monumental mess. I've enjoyed shows that went out on a crazy limb before, but if you don't have the flair of Hiroyuki Imaishi that allowed Gurren Lagann's ridiculous ending to work, or the talent of the staff that enabled Space Dandy's flamboyant antics to succeed, it's not an advisable move. That's not to say that Takahiro Omori, responsible for the wonderful manic storytelling of Baccano and the serene joy of Natsume's Book of Friends, can't direct, but perhaps he wasn't the right man to take on this whirlwind of a story? It's not like one would expect the writing to be this bad, either, given that scriptwriter Hideyuki Kurata was the one who brought us the rather good Read or Die light novels, as well as the original script to Now and Then, Here and There, one of the most moving anime I've ever seen. Ultimately, I can only speculate that there was a great deal of promise and ambition vested in the creation of this show, but that somewhere down the line, things didn't work out as planned: either that the team didn't work as well together as expected, or that more time was spent setting the plot up than developing it, or, simply, that it was the wrong team for the wrong show? I'm at a loss, to be honest.
In essence, Samurai Flamenco is an unsalvageable mess, bookended by a few good episodes at the beginning and a would-be decent ending sullied by the experience of sitting through said mess. Indeed, while that ending returns to the original spirit of the show somewhat, it's hard to get back fully into the flow of the series by that point, with the series already having done so much damage to itself. In spite of its good aspects, Samurai Flamenco is ultimately an incredibly disappointing show, and it's one that I find hard to recommend.
Seven good episodes at the beginning and a few decent ones at the end don't neutralize the heap of trash that is the show's main act. It's a shame, because these really were good characters, and I wavered between two and three for a while, but in the end, too much damage was done. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: I wouldn't show this to kids. There's a lot of violence, some of it graphic, as well as a disturbing attempted rape; in the scene in question, the survivor has most of her clothes violently ripped off. There's not a whole lot in the way of fanservice, meanwhile, aside from one scene of same-sex tongue kissing, while there are a handful of references to drugs.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of crunchyroll, Japanese with English Subtitles
Review Status: Full (22/22)
Samurai Flamenco © 2013 Manglobe/Project samumenco
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