Director: Takahiro Omori, Original Character Designer: Chinatsu Kurahara, Series Composition: Hideyuki Kurata, Character Designer: Yoshimitsu Yamashita, Art Director: Hiroshi Kato
Voice Actors: Ryota Ohsaka (Masayoshi Hazama), Iori Nomizu (Hidenori Goto), Chie Nakamura (Sumi Ishihara), Chiwa Saito (Mari Maya), Juurouta Kosugi (Joji Kaname), Satoshi Mikami (Akira Konno), Emi Sarah Bridcut (Moe Morita), Ryohei Kimura (Mizuki Misawa)
One of my long anime posts (because I love the show!) so get a cup of coffee and read on if you are brave.
Goto is a cop in Japan. Japan is a safe country so his days are spent standing outside the police-box giving directions to people who are lost. While he’s diligent about doing his job he spends more time texting his girlfriend than enforcing minor laws.
One night, when off-duty, Goto heads out to a nearby convenience store to get dinner and is shocked to discover a naked man lurking in an alley.
Little does he know that the naked guy is not a pervert but the handsome model Masayoshi Hazama and the reason he is naked is because his superhero costume was torn after he tried stopping an evil villain… in the form of a drunk salaryman jaywalking… then Masayoshi’s costume is set on fire thanks to a stray cigarette dropped by Goto from the shock of seeing a naked man.
With no clothes Masayoshi is in a predicament but Goto, convinced the poor guy with delusions of being a hero needs protecting, offers him a spare set and walks him home where he finds out more about Masayoshi.
Masayoshi is trying to be a superhero. Ever since he was a schoolboy he grew up on super sentai shows and has wanted to be a superhero, a fantasy that persisted even after his teachers told him it was no real career option. Masayoshi is no idiot. He knows that his favourite superhero Harakiri Sunshine is made-up but he figures there’s a work-around that will allow him to be a real hero.
Fresh out of high school he was scooped up by an entertainment production company called Ceasar Pro to become a model because he was uncommonly good-looking and through his modelling connections he got a fashion designer to create a superhero uniform for his alter ego Samurai Flamenco. Now he spends his days modelling and his nights patrolling the suburbs stopping small crimes like housewives putting the bins out too early as practice for tackling more serious crimes later.
Goto is not amused especially because his police box is getting calls from housewives who are worried about a pervert in a red uniform ordering them about. Goto insists on trying to dissuade Masayoshi but to no avail. Masayoshi believes in his cause and his idealism, borne on a love of superhero shows, will not fade.
So, to protect the brave, innocent and extremely good-looking Masayoshi, cynical Goto decides to keep an eye on him little realising how far Masayoshi’s escapades will escalate.
When I wrote the Autumn Preview for Anime UK News I had little indication about what the show would be because of the lack of info released at the time. All I knew was that it was a riff on the super sentai formula and the show’s taglines read “To those ‘adults’ who don’t want to become adults…” and “Hero will never give up, never hide, never be defeated, never accept evil.” Consider this my favourite show of the season. This is a Noitamina production by the Studio Manglobe and as such it aims to be an original title that goes for quality and boy does it hit it!
Five episodes in and, if you will allow me to make a crass comparison, this strikes me as a good-natured version of Kick-Ass only with likeable characters and genuinely amusing humour based less on teen-boy favourites of gratuitous violence, swearing and sex and more on characters and social observations. The requisite “normal guy being a superhero” gags are here but there’s also the sense that the writer and director are addressing bigger real-world issues through the loveable characters in absurd situations. It feels more adult and real than a lot of anime I watch, clearly aiming for the seinen/josei demographic as signalled by the tagline.
At its heart is the story of a growing web of relationships between twenty-something’s and oldsters, some who lead normal lives while others work in the entertainment industry, most of whom grew up on superheroes and/or cultivated big expectations and aspirations while the rest of the nation that has become apathetic and less than idealistic. Speaking as someone from the same generation and in similar circumstances it is easy to identify with the characters and care about them.
Masayoshi is easy to root for.
He is highly idealistic and enthusiastic as a hero but he couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag. It makes clear that he is really inept at anything that does not include being good-looking but he genuinely cares about justice and making life better for ordinary people, standing up for respect and good behaviour. He tackles crime that Goto and the government would typically ignore or don’t have time for because it is too low-level – gangs of rowdy kids intimidating people, drunks in public and people stealing umbrellas.
These things sound banal compared to bank robberies, yes, and while it is amusing seeing Masayoshi’s un-tempered idealism and burgeoning vigilante actions tackle these minor things in extreme ways we still root for him because these issues do matter, they do affect everyone’s quality of life. Furthermore seeing his background allows us to understand that far from being a weirdo he’s an innocent and very naïve which is kind of charming.
He comes across as an earnest kid and this sense is added to by the unalloyed friendship he seeks from and offers to Goto after the latter discovers his secret. Masayoshi invites Goto into his apartment, paid for by the talent agency he is signed up to, and shows his action-figure collection. It is clear that Masayoshi is treated like a child by his management company and he is lonely. I loved that half of the first episode was Masayoshi and Goto eating curry and having an adult conversation so we got to know them.
The characters grow, we get insights into why they act the way they do and it is open for both character-building and satire of things like old super sentai shows.
The opposite side of the relationship, the counter-balance to youthful idealism is Goto. While not much older, Goto is the more realistic and mature of the two. He has a wider network of friends and responsibilities which he carries out. Perhaps analogous with the audience and reflecting their reactions, he is the sceptical one, the first to burst Masayoshi’s fantasies, pull him back from crazy decisions and offer serious advice.
He is also the one who rescues Masayoshi when the kid gets into serious situations. Through dialogue and actions it is clear that Goto finds Masayoshi eccentric but not unreasonable. He plays a sort of older brother figure trying to keep Masayoshi out of trouble but behind the heavy sighs of frustration over his job being complicated by a masked inept pretty-boy vigilante you can sense a sort of grudging admiration.
It looks like Masayoshi will reawaken Goto’s desire to tackle crime. There seems to be the indication that behind the cynicism, Goto harbours a degree of sympathy for Masayoshi and could end up wearing a costume himself but that’s for further down the line.
The world is made believable in the sense it takes place in quiet suburbs and empty parks, convenience stores lit up with cold fluorescent lighting, seedy neon-lit red-light districts. The mise-en-scene and action both correspond to a real-world aesthetic so far. No shiny, sparkly scenes with outrageously camp costumes or blindingly gorgeous lighting and no giant robots. Not outside the film studios that is. The strange and distorting mirror of the hype-driven media, the raucous action and visuals of silly variety shows and movies is perfectly captured. Indeed the media sections are entertaining to watch and speaking as someone who watches a lot of Japanese television shows and films I found the details were really entertaining as the life of an idol is skewered in every episode.
Witness episode three’s variety show discussion panel crammed full of pointless celebrities like Masayoshi and with more on-screen text than a news channel, much like real life:
The on-set rehearsals
Even the scripts get shown
Outside of the studio Masayoshi gets recognised by fans who watch the shows
Samurai Flamenco has a well-thought out entertainment eco-system and takes the time to display it. Throughout it all Masayoshi remains charming but there is an element of danger because his midnight antics could potentially blow his modelling career or make it sky-rocket. Samurai Flamenco quickly ties in the social media phenomena with videos uploaded to NicoNico and internet forums abuzz with his activities. Many moments of justice delivered – a stolen umbrella recovered – is recorded by everyone on their smart-phones.
This brings me to another character I like, Sumi Ishihara, Masayoshi’s scarily focussed manager at Ceasar Pro.
First off, she’s an adult (my age, even!). She is a tenacious and ambitious woman who works hard, constantly grooming and pushing Masayoshi to sign up for dramas and shows, very much aware that he is her next pay cheque as much as he is a talent and a person. She seems scarily aggressive and controlling to some characters but she is just doing her job and looking out for her and Masayoshi’s best interests.
Her initial reactions to the idea that Masayoshi may be Samurai Flamenco is horror but one gets the sense that she could turn that element into a major marketing boon.
She is beautiful but not a doll. Intelligent and sharp, not a dimwit. One character’s attempts to flirt with her hilariously fall on stony ground as she flatly turns him down. It’s a relief to find a woman who isn’t chasing after men and is career focussed. It is also as much a sign that the show is more adult oriented and aiming for a broader demographic than teen boys and it is funny to see the gender reversal in the idol/manager equation.
Outside of the more obvious humour to be had from poking fun at idol culture and having bad guys get the stuffing beaten out of them in realistically exaggerated ways there are lots of more subtle things going on. The innocent bystanders caught up in Masayoshi’s crime fighting and the way they react to the action, the way Goto panics when Masayoshi drags him into embarrassing situations. These comic moments are littered throughout the episodes and chime with how the viewer would react in real life. They have to be caught and tracked but they are there and I think it is a sign of the trust in the audience that the writer and director have in the audience to catch and interpret them.
As of episode five things take unexpected and darker turns and fun is still a major factor. Even if it goes off into the fantastical there will always be the characters to watch and I can see myself writing another lengthy post about this a month down the line and maybe even picking it up when it gets released in the UK by Anime Limited.
If Samurai Flamenco continues being as amusing and sharp with its satire and the characters remain likeable this has a pretty good chance of being one of my shows of the year.