Reflecting on Samurai Flamenco

Reflecting on Samurai Flamenco

I wish I could say March 27th 2014 was the day “Goto-san, let’s get married!” was heard ’round the world as the series finale of Samurai Flamenco aired. Unfortunately, many viewers had abandoned Samurai Flamenco along its broadcast or simply weren’t watching it to begin with like myself. Thankfully the sliver of attention a marriage proposal between men characters received convinced me to check out what became one of my favorite anime series for its exploration of immaturity, nostalgia, social misfits, queerness, and love. I know it’s a silly show, but I like to take it seriously too.

Samurai Flamenco follows a young man named Masayoshi in his effort to become a superhero like those of tokusatsu he’s idolized all his life. On his first patrol, he winds up stripped of his homemade costume and accused of public indecency by a police officer named Goto. Instead of arresting him, Goto hears him out and becomes the confidant of the city’s mysterious vigilante. The sensible Goto and eccentric Masayoshi naturally clash, but their teamwork forms the heart of the show. Masayoshi also joins forces with a powerless but destructive magical girl named Mari, plus her sidekicks Moe and Mizuki. Mari and Moe are already a couple, but Masayoshi’s love story is just beginning…

This post contains spoilers for Samurai Flamenco from the seventh episode to the end. This show takes many twists and turns so if you wish to experience it unspoiled, I recommend watching it (on CrunchyrollNetflix, Hulu, etc.) before reading on. The streams tragically don’t have the polish of the Blu-ray version, however.

The superhero set-up ushers in interwoven themes of immaturity, nostalgia, and social misfits. Masayoshi is about to become a legal adult at 20 years old, but he’s still obsessed with television for children. He doesn’t have any adult mentors in his life to guide him, as his parents died when he was a child and his grandfather who raised him recently passed away. His fixation on tokusatsu has prevented him from entering the workforce and socially connecting to others, until he’s by chance offered a modeling job. Despite his optimism (he believes he can become a superhero after all) and energy, his social skills leave a lot to be desired. In any other story perhaps Masayoshi fulfilling his childhood wish of becoming a superhero would make him infinitely confident and respected, but here it comes with realistic consequences. He has to use modified office supplies for weapons, civilians don’t take him seriously, Mari and her team of Flamenco Girls upstage him, and television executives put a bounty on his secret identity. He’s the same social misfit, even moreso in a costume and striking dramatic poses during speeches. Goto declares him a “freak” initially, but decides he’s respectable in his passion for justice.

Mari too has a nostalgic obsession that makes her a “freak,” but does a better job of hiding it. In front of the camera she’s the bubbly but well-adjusted leader of the idol group Mineral Miracle Muse, while off camera she’s a volatile teenager dreaming of being a magical girl. An idol must remain single to fulfill the fantasy of straight men, so Mari keeps her intimate relationship with band member Moe a secret as well as her embarrassing hobby. It’s strange how when Samurai Flamenco comes up as representation of same-gender couples, Mari and Moe are often missing from the conversation when their relationship is more candid (with on-screen kissing) than our primary couple. It goes to show that people take romance between women less seriously than those between men.

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The relationship between Mari and Moe adds a thread of queerness to intertwined themes, as Mari’s interests in magical girls and women are both “in the closet.” Masayoshi too keeps his tokusatsu figure and video collection a secret from his manager who looks down on hobbies. Samurai Flamenco connects immaturity and queerness, though not in a negative way like queerness as a stepping stone to adulthood. Rather, Masayoshi and Mari may cling to childish things as escapism from heteronormative expectations on them. Masayoshi outright says he never became interested in girls (among other things) because he didn’t move on from his superhero fixation, but it’s not like he’s going to marry a woman by the end. Instead, the show draws parallels between immaturity and queerness to examine them both as socially abnormal.

Mari and Moe’s relationship also plays a part in Samurai Flamenco‘s structure of a romcom: Masayoshi as the protagonist inexperienced in love, Goto as the love interest already in a relationship (with a long distance girlfriend), and Mari and Moe as the established secondary relationship. However, a viewer may not recognize this set-up if not attuned to same-gender romance and expecting an anime version of Kick-Ass. Mari insinuates Goto loves Masayoshi, and he responds with the fact he has a girlfriend. Even his girlfriend, who only appears through text messages on his phone, teases him for talking to her about Masayoshi all the time. At this point it seems their relationship will only be teased and cancelled by the fact Goto has a girlfriend, but Samurai Flamenco knows how to throw curve balls.

In the seventh episode, the watershed that swerves the show from realism to fantasy by introducing murderous monsters, Goto decides he trusts “freaks” like Masayoshi rather than unrealistically ideal heroes. He comforts Masayoshi upon him learning that his parents died by being mysteriously robbed and murdered. The perfect Batman-esque backstory falls into Masayoshi’s lap, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be as he feels disconnected to it after so long not knowing. According to Goto such imperfections actually make him and Mari better heroes, ready to face their new world of supervillains and monsters come to life. Even Goto teams up with Masayoshi to defeat the vicious King Torture, who grew up obsessed with villains rather than heroes.

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After King Torture, the fantasy escalates with alien invaders fought with giant robots. Masayoshi finds himself away from Goto and MMM and instead with a team of bland superheroes, then on the run as a framed criminal. In the meantime, Mari breaks up with Moe in an explosion of traumatic insecurity and moves in with Goto. The breakup, Mari’s attraction to Goto (initially because of her uniform fetish), and Masayoshi’s absence seemingly builds up Goto and Mari becoming a couple. It would certainly fit the precedent of Class S literature that girls leave behind their relationships with fellow girls to marry men. However, Samurai Flamenco brings back its couples to make them stronger than ever: in the same episode Mizuki repairs Mari and Moe’s relationship (and possibly joins it), Masayoshi realizes how much he cares for Goto in a flashback montage and returns to his side. Love proves itself to rise above conflict and bring people together.

The primary and secondary relationships ground Samurai Flamenco as its plot increases in strangeness. On Masayoshi’s journey to space to uncover the reason behind the alien invasion, he learns his fantastical time as a superhero all resulted from the ultimate wish fulfillment: the will of the universe granted him subconscious reality-warping powers completely by chance, resulting in a world informed by his nostalgia for tokusatsu. He got to live his fantasy, but all good things come to an end and the dust settles. Any other show might end right there, with Masayoshi ready to “grow up” in the mundane world after expending all his immaturity.

Instead, Samurai Flamenco explores the characters and relationships on an intimate level for its final episodes. The romcom set up hasn’t been resolved yet, for one thing. Although Goto was playing the “straight man” (ha) to Masayoshi’s superhero antics, a trip to his girlfriend reveals him to actually be the biggest “freak” of them all. Masayoshi and Mari explore nostalgic escapism through superheroes, while Goto copes with the disappearance and apparent death of his high school girlfriend by sending himself text messages as if they were from her. Mari expresses disgust and moves on from her attraction to him, whereas Masayoshi feels intense sympathy.

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Don’t forget, Masayoshi mysteriously lost loved ones too. The revelation of Goto’s past puts the scene when he declared his trust in a “freak” like Masayoshi in perspective: Masayoshi struggled with the inability to transform a traumatic event into something meaningful, when Goto was inspired to become a police officer after the loss of his girlfriend. Despite entering the world of adults, he still indulges in escapism and denial by writing text conversations. They were both alone living in the past, but found each other in the present. Now they have to come to terms with Goto’s psyche, which leads to a fight not unlike when Mari broke up with Moe.

Goto says he never wants to see Masayoshi again, but Samurai Flamenco has one last card up its sleeve to put their relationship to the test. Monsters have all been defeated and the world has achieved peace, but a boy named Haiji Sawada isn’t happy about it. He rejects the optimism of Samurai Flamenco and devises to transform him into a more compelling “dark hero.” The adult Masayoshi clings to childish superheroes, while actual child Haiji demands the supposedly more “mature.” Mari sits somewhere between them as a teenager who embellishes her magical girl image with violence. Masayoshi and Mari have aged to the point their childhood can be used for escapism, while Haiji can’t feel nostalgia for something he’s still living. Instead, he’s obsessed with the novelty of Samurai Flamenco and extinguishing it. Haiji injures Masayoshi’s superhero mentor and allies to put them out of commission, but knows to save killing Goto for last to crush his spirit.

Masayoshi’s hero mentor and his modeling manager give him advice to defeat Haiji: love is power, and love comes in many forms. Once again love must guide Masayoshi to a resolution, and does it ever. Haiji kidnaps Goto and deletes the last real message from his girlfriend, leaving him emotionally alone again. Masayoshi refuses to play into Haiji’s cruelty and see him as a villain, alternatively recognizing him as an unloved misfit like himself. He decides not only to show Haiji love, but also his feelings for Goto culminate in yelling “let’s get married!” so he won’t have to be alone. Goto doesn’t believe he’s serious he could love him, but Masayoshi breaking down in tears convinces him. He loves Masayoshi too, “freak” and all.

Mari arrives to actually discipline Haiji beyond Masayoshi’s sentimentality and closes the case. Haiji goes to a youth detention center, but Masayoshi visits to show him kindness. Masayoshi and Goto walk together as a love song plays, but Goto still communicates with his girlfriend because love can’t cure trauma overnight. The day has been saved, but Masayoshi and MMM still have their superhero costumes ready to go. Masayoshi and Mari have grown as people, but they can still be superheroes and don’t have to conform to heteronormativity. The end of Samurai Flamenco leaves room for gradual growth, but the love between Masayshi and Goto and Mari and her girlfriends is here to stay.

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