“And start to feel mortality surround me.
I close my eyes and think that I have found me.
But life inside the music box ain’t easy.
The mallets hit the gears are always turning.
And everyone inside the mechanism is yearning to get out.
And sing another melody completely”
– Regina Spektor, “Musicbox”
When speaking of Samurai Flamenco, there is a clear turning point that demarcates where the show aims to go. The series’ seventh episode – titled quite literally as “Change the World” – introduces Guillotine Gorilla and suddenly everything you knew about Samurai Flamenco changes. Your heartwarming, cuddly, and cute buddy-cop friendship becomes something else entirely, and you’re not quite sure what to do.
Admittedly, I stopped watching Samurai Flamenco at episode seven. It unfortunately the first show on the chopping block when hours at my job slowly crept into any hours I had for watching anime. In a season with Kyousogiga and Kill la Kill!, I put the little superhero series on hold, not quite certain as to what to do with it when actual supervillains appeared.
The series begins with the boredom – if not “boredom” than perhaps restlessness – of Hazama Masayoshi. Masayoshi has a fairly successful, albeit sometimes stressful, job as an up and coming model. He’s pretty, if not a bit dim, and socially anxious with an overwhelming sense of justice cultivated from a childhood diet of superhero television shows. Masayoshi is bent on fighting evil not because of a tragic backstory – which eventually comes to him – but for the sake of “good.” This becomes a problem in the world outside of television, where good and evil are far more difficult to define, and their relationship with one another constantly muddied. Most importantly, Masayoshi is an adult. At 20 years-old, he is someone who should have given up on his dream long ago. In striking up a friendship with dull policeman Hidenori Gotou, he is confronted with the fact that those who once shared the same dream have long since accepted their fate as a mechanism in the social music box.
Thus, Masayoshi takes it upon himself to change Gotou’s heart along with our own. He stands up to wayward junior high school students, and reprimands those who steal others umbrellas. In forcing his world to have a superhero, he becomes a catalyst for all that follows, including additional superheroes and yes, eventual supervillains, beginning with the infamous Guillotine Gorilla.
The episode prior to the primate’s arrival places a bounty on Samurai Flamenco’s head, and the city descends into chaos in order to claim the sum. In the process, the superhero saves a person who was attempting to capture him, leading to the young man’s exclamation that perhaps heroes do exist. In that moment, Masayoshi accomplishes what he unwittingly set out to do: convince others of good in the world. Most importantly, he does this before the series gives him a Big Bad to do so.
Masayoshi’s actions also inspire Mari Maya, a bored idol who is living the dream, but not her dream. In donning a costume and taking to the streets as Samurai Flamenco, Mari claims that Masayoshi stole her thunder, while effectively taking his name – at the very least, the “Flamenco” part in Flamenco Girl and later, Flamenco Diamond – and using his established brand to dispense her own form of justice. She becomes the model of superhero that Masayoshi refuses to be, one who metes out justice in violence and fear. Rather than trying to change the world one person at a time like Masayoshi, Mari readily accepts her world for what it is and uses the guise of Flamenco Girl to rail against it.
Lastly, the first of Samurai Flamenco‘s supervillains, King Torture, readily admits that he was raised on the same diet of superhero cartoons and sentai series that Masayoshi was. Where Masayoshi drew inspiration from the heroes, King Torture drew inspiration from the villains, seeing a united world under “evil” as an easier solution to solving the world’s problems. Upon seeing Masayoshi as Samurai Flamenco, he realizes his own dream of being the villain, King Torture. In a standard “we’re not so different, you and I” monologue, King Torture proves that he is the stereotypical antithesis of Masayoshi’s idea of the hero. Like Mari, he claims to have prepared far more thoroughly than Masayoshi for his part in the narrative. In fact, everyone claims to have taken steps prior to Masayoshi, seemingly waiting for someone as naive and reckless as he to appear.
As Samurai Flamenco moves forward, further down the rabbit hole, away from the comfort of watching Masayoshi struggle with encroaching adulthood and just what heroes mean to him, everyone he meets bends to his presence, but not to his goal. In seeing his attempts at heroics, they are inspired to showcase what the idea of the hero means to them specifically. Similar to real life, not everyone agrees on a standard definition of what a hero should be. I’d like to think that Samurai Flamenco encourages this in its audience as well. It will always be a pre-Guillotine Gorilla world for those of us watching the series; however, the questions raised in the post-Guillotine Gorilla world of Samurai Flamenco could prove to be the most pertinent.