It has been five days but I’m still trying to recover from episode seven of Samurai Flamenco. In the future, when humanity lives in their sky cities maintained by tsundere robot maids, historians will look back at the greatest achievements of the post-modern age and this episode will be forever remembered for having the greatest WTF moment in the history of ANYTHING.
The moment was special.
The moment made me yell “OH MY GOD!”
It was the moment when anime said “f*ck you” to reality and I laughed so hard I almost choked on a cake!
It is a moment I remember when it is least appropriate and a big stupid grin spreads across my face and I so desperately want to whisper Guillotine Gorilla.
Come on those of you who have seen it… Whisper it… GUILLOTINE GORILLA…
Let me rewind back to before the episode.
I was so tempted to post about this anime after episode five because I’m totally in love with Samurai Flamenco as a slice-of-life show with lots of meta references to Japanese entertainment. A show for 20-somethings uncertain of their position in a world of cynicism, and indifference. Funny and good-natured and with characters I could identify with and want to be around.
From episode five we are introduced to the crazy media frenzy surrounding Samurai Flamenco and, more importantly, a female hero… or should that be a vigilante… named Flamenco Girl.
She is someone who grew up with mahou shoujo stereotypes and has crafted a frilly colourful costume and a huge magical wand which actually hides tasers and tear gas. The big reveal was that she was the idol Mari Maya. Her day job is singing and her new night job is busting evil’s ball’s. Literally.
Flamenco Girl actually seems to have deep-rooted problems with men as can be seen from her desire to save women from sexual assault and punish men with ultra-violence and repeated kicks to the balls which she does so with complete relish.
With her entrance the anime veers even further into black humour and darker territory. It goes from the absurdity of Masayoshi tackling minor crime to graduating to tackling real criminals in red-light districts… and then getting chased by a public eager to scoop the reward for revealing his identity. While seeing Samurai Flamenco dodge getting caught by the mobs with the help of military-grade stationary, my eyes were on Flamenco Girl and her bandmates who are roped into her lunacy.
I loved the way the anime cleverly drew comparisons with the duality of people/superheroes through Mari Maya and her career as an idol – like superheroes, idols have two identities and they have to go through intense physical and mental training, learn complex moves and master the art of putting on a show to create a public persona. As absurd as it sounds AKB48 could be a real life Justice League/Avengers if they spent their time training to break jaws and not sell records.
Flamenco Girl became the character that drew me in because she was so extreme it was funny. Off-hand comments and Mari’s increasingly brutal behaviour threw her super-heroics into a different realm from Samurai Flamenco. This is her blowing off steam and exercising much darker impulses, always fun to explore.
It’s also fun seeing Mari exercise her sexual powers.
The anime didn’t go too far off the deep end because amidst all of the action and comedy the script continued to draw the line between civic duty and vigilantism, childish enthusiasm and reality, in funny and well-observed ways such as when a journeyman-director of a super-sentai show bursts Masayoshi’s superhero fantasies by telling him that it’s just his job to churn out episodes, how every woman rescued by Flamenco Girl runs away in terror at the violence she metes out and the police having to deal with a potential PR crisis by creating a unit that just files paperwork and other make-work tasks to keep the citizens happy who are either irritated by the heroes or constantly mobbing Samurai Flamenco for the reward offered by the celebrity website High Rollers Hi.
So yeah, it was all ticking away nicely and by episode seven it had all of these elements, the meta-references, media frenzy, fun characters and the absurdity of the scenario, and it could have been sustained for the 22 episodes the show is running for.
Episode 7 seemed set to signal that the anime was set to transcend these things as characters got deeper and faced different challenges. Crime is down, the police PR campaign is over and the cops are bored, the characters in the show have a moment to be introspective. By the midpoint of the episode the script introduced a revelation about Masayoshi’s background – his parents were murdered. It’s the superhero cliché but Masayoshi’s reaction is fascinating because he is apathetic about the news. He feels nothing because his memories are so tenuous and false. This casts him into an interesting bit of soul-searching about the meaning of justice.
He thinks about the murder of his parents but cannot do anything about it. It happened in a foreign country, too far in the past and the local police have forgotten about it. Worst of all, he feels no compulsion to bring justice in the case of the murder of his own parents! Talk about existential crisis! Can he be a superhero and deliver justice if he is as apathetic as everybody else?
It’s totally rooted in reality and quite bitter. Goto offers friendly advice (those quiet conversations are just so expertly handled!), he prefers the Masayoshi who isn’t just a hero but a person beset with problems and uncertainty like everybody else.
Then we get to THAT sequence. Goto and Masayoshi take part in a police PR stunt “Chief For a Day” where Samurai Flamenco shows up at the beginning and end of a drug bust and gets his photograph taken by the media.
The police bust down the door and start arresting people. One perp gets away and grabs some pills and transforms into a GIANT ARMOURED GORILLA!
Not just any GIANT ARMOURED GORILLA but one with a GUILLOTINE IN ITS GUTS!
The anime goes nuts as police start getting decapitated and thrown at walls and out of windows. Prior to this sequence, everything was firmly rooted in reality and there was never any violence like this. At this point I was stunned and couldn’t decide whether to like it or not and just yelled “OH MY GOD” and laughed.
I honestly expected the pills to be medicine for some condition and for the perp to die or something normal and present Masayoshi with more challenges to his ideas of justice on top of his own apathy. But no. A giant gorilla with a guillotine for a gut.
The only way Goto and Masayoshi get out of the situation is to blind the giant armoured gorilla by throwing a bag of cocaine into its eyes and push the thing out of the window where he lands on a police car.
Things aren’t over as the gorilla gets up yells “VIVA TORTURE” and self-destructs.
Then some floating chap appears and declares himself “King Torture, the source of all evil.” Masayoshi and Goto are stunned. I was stunned.
This came out of nowhere. It was a surprise. The sudden shift in the show from reality to fantasy was sudden. Prior to this slice-of-fantasy it was a well-established slice-of-life about dreams and reality, careers and private lives, the viability of superheroes in real life and the media furore surrounding them, friendship and duty. For about 19 minutes of episode seven it continued in this vein and then it suddenly veered into superhero and supernatural shenanigans and I’m desperate to see what the anime does next because it was such a sudden shift…
Was it a dream? I don’t think so.
It is the biggest and sharpest twist I have seen in an anime for a while. I can see how it might work and with the series having 22 episodes, all of the themes mentioned above be expanded upon alongside the crazy action. Still, I think I would have really loved a series based purely on normal people trying to live their dreams… Let’s put that aside for now and see the next episode when it’s released! Until then… Tenterhooks. Was this a dream? I need to know! Until then I’m like this…