Text version and links:
Useless Anime Knowledge: Intro to Manglobe Studio: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDS-6T1v38s
creative engineering of the series seems to have been taking a well-known and loved director, teaming him up with a writer who’s done a lot of exciting original series, and telling them to do whatever they want for twenty-two episodes.
The director in question is Omori Takahiro, who has worked with studio Brains Base exclusively for most of the past ten years, directing the anime adaptations of Hell Girl, Baccano, Durarara, Natsume’s Book of Friends, and Jellyfish Princess. All of these are fairly popular and critically well-liked series, and Omori’s directing work is often credited as one of the reasons these shows succeeded.
Meanwhile, the series head writer is Kurata Hideyuki, who created and wrote some really cool original anime with various studios, such as Read Or Die, Kamichu, and Welcome to the Space Show. Kurata is also the one major staff member who actually has worked with Manglobe before, having written their adaptation of The World God Only Knows, which is likely how he got the job on this series.
The show was broadcast on the noitaminA block in Japan and seems to aim for all of its main demographics, with pretty-boy characters and hints of boys love for the fujoshi fans, alongside an insane original premise and presentation for arthouse fans.
So, what is Samurai Flamenco anyways? In order to do an explanation any justice, it is necessary to spoil some of the show’s major twists. If you want a raw experience of some of the most jarring plot twists you’ll see in anime this year, then now is the time to stop watching this video and go watch the show on Crunchyroll, but I warn you that many viewers have stated that they wished they knew where the show was going from the beginning so that it wouldn’t feel like the series they invested in had been totally different from what they got.
It took fifteen episodes for me to completely understand what the central theme of Samurai Flamenco is, and that theme is, “what would happen if someone’s one passion in life was to be a super-hero, and the world itself conformed to their desires?”
At first, the series approaches this idea in the context of a regular guy trying to fight regular, everyday crime, in a way that borrows more than a little bit from Kick-Ass in how it’s presented. The twist is that the main character, Masayoshi, is inspired by Japanese hero shows like Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, rather than American comic book heroes. The first six and a half episodes go through and frequently subvert the tropes of the main character taking on a sidekick, finding a mentor figure in the actor who played one of his favorite heroes on TV, and experiencing the highs and lows of hero work on a scale that consistently increases throughout the episodes.
Halfway through the seventh episode, the show seems to have exhausted all the themes it wants to explore with a kick-ass style hero, so it asks itself a new question: what if the hero suddenly had to fight actual monsters like the ones in transforming hero shows? Literally out of nowhere, a monster appears and the show suddenly becomes something completely different and even weirdly dark as it begins juxtaposing scenes of murder and torture against its usually comedic core.
After a few episodes wrapping up what is actually the best dramatic arc in the show, Flamenco then undergoes yet another jarring twist as a new set of even bigger monsters are introduced, and Flamenco joins a team of heroes, becoming the Samurai Sentai Flamengers. Once again, the central conceit remains that of a person whose passion is being a hero getting tested on another level of heroism. Over the course of this arc, the show’s world continues to become so much more ridiculous that it no longer resembles reality as we know it.
Before the series is over, Flamenco goes on to literally meet God and put an end to all evil on Earth, before settling back down into an arc where he fights against a young boy who makes him question the nature and motivations behind his own heroism, testing him one last time.
The best comparison I can think of between Samurai Flemenco and another piece of media is Harmony Korrine’s trippy arthouse movie Spring Breakers. In that film, the main characters were constantly moving on to the next level of hedonism and criminality, discovering how their different levels of motivation and passion for evil would take them to different distances. Over the course of the series, Masayoshi’s most prominent capability is his inability to stop, even if those around him have lost hope. As the show’s eyecatch reminds the viewer in every episode, “hero will never give up, never hide, never be defeated, never accept evil.”
Over the course of its run, Flamenco touches lightly on a variety of themes, some interesting and some baffling. The commentary on how people would become desensitized to monsters attacking their city and to Samurai Flamenco’s heroics were pretty clever, but the show’s attempt at commenting on the nature of love in its final episodes just seemed to come out of nowhere and say nothing in particular.
And that’s the thing about this show: if I could describe its overall tone and writing in one word, I’d call it, “awkward.” The characters are awkward and have awkward chemistry together, and the script is awkward with dialog and scenes that are so off-key, it’s hard to imagine characters behaving the way they do in any context. Maya Mari, the idol character who becomes Flamen Girl, has an arc so confusing and ultimately inconsequential that I kept scratching my head at where the show was going with her. Many of the side-characters are one-note cliches who never get to accomplish much, while others actually show a spark of being interesting, but never get to do anything.
Masayoshi’s best friend Goto, starts off playing the straight man to Masayoshi’s wackiness, but throughout the show’s midpoint he’s largely forgotten about as the wackiness becomes too intense for one straight man to play against. The final arc revolves around Goto, but it turns the tables and makes him yet another strange and awkward character through a plot twist that seemed out-of-place even for this show, and as a result the final arc is perhaps the MOST awkward of the entire series.
Altogether, Samurai Flamenco rides right on the line between a fascinating amalgamation, and an obnoxious clusterfuck. Its art and animation quality are as inconsistent as its tone, and viewers expecting the show to ever be anything other than unpredictable might be dissatisfied in the end. At its high points, the series is so batshit insane that it’s hard not to enjoy, but at its worst there are episodes so tedious that I found them hard to finish. If you’re really into transforming superhero shows, then Samurai Flamenco will probably appeal to you on some level, but it won’t likely impress. You can check the show out on Crunchyroll in the US, and it’s been licensed in the UK and Australia, and apparently dubbed in Germany. Up next, I’ll either be covering another Manglobe show, or another Bones shows. I haven’t decided.