Samurai Flamenco starts out as being about Masayoshi, a socially inept guy working as a model during the day, and a wannabe-superhero at night.Initially he just picks up trash and tells hooligans to stop being such a nuisance, and for the first seven episodes of the series it’s essentially a more light-hearted and optimistic Kick-Ass. It got slightly sillier with each episode, but in general it stayed entrenched in realism. And alongside Masayoshi is his best friend and buddy, Gotou the cop, who acts as the foil and more down to earth of the two.
Eventually the story takes a sudden turn away from this setting with the infamous appearance of the monster Guillotine Gorilla and his commander King Torture, in which the show starts to resemble more of an actual sentai show—or at least a parody of one. And what’s more, the pacing went way up so that we went through a new supervillain and “story arc” every three or four episodes, with each one getting bigger and badder than the last. First it’s evil monsters, than the Japanese government, and finally aliens. This drastic shift in tone and writing is where the show started to lose a lot of its fans; people became so used to the “realistic” Samurai Flamenco of the first seven episodes, that it seemed as if the story was losing direction and depended on ass-pulls to keep it going each week.
But there is a logic behind the chaos. To understand why Samurai Flamenco is the way it is, let’s first fast forward to episode 19 towards the end of the series, where Masayoshi defeats Alien Flamenco and has a conversation with the Universe:
The Universe: Individuals with strong ideals and emotions create invisible energy that draws in others. As that energy grows, it overtakes cities, nations, and planets. Eventually, it will draw in parallel worlds, resulting in wars between energy creators. […] the choices you have made led you down this particular route, out of many possibilities. First, you chose to become a hero. You wished for enemies to come forth. You wished for the appearance of an evil army. You wished to become a tragic hero. You wished to fight aliens, which is how you ended up here.
Basically, Masayoshi has the power to change and shift the world to comply with his fantasies of being a hero. Throughout the series he hasn’t merely been reacting to evil villains showing up, but it’s because he wants these villains to appear that they do. So although Masayoshi tries to do his part to fight crime and inspire others, on a deeper level he’s also just fulfilling his fantasies and stroking his own ego—even if only subconsciously.
Masayoshi wants to be a hero and make the world a better place, but he can only really comprehend heroism as something resembling the sentai shows he grew up on. Masayoshi may have agreed that even the smallest form of good-doing is important for the betterment of society, but he still went about his crime-fighting antics as a sentai hero. And deep down, he wanted to do something more. He didn’t just want to pick up trash, he wanted to become a hero. And once he no longer had any more normal crime to keep him busy, the Universe gave him Guillotine Gorilla and King Torture.
For better or worse, we tend to be more attracted to the grand and fantastic rather than the trivial and mundane. Consequently, our idea of what makes someone a hero is often based around whatever superhuman feats they can pull off to do good; whether that means saving a dozen people from a fire or beating up a lizard monster. When we think of “hero,” we don’t think about the trivial and mundane, of things that anyone can do—we think about the grand and fantastic.
But really, it’s that sort of thing which undermines how important the sort trivial and mundane work that Masayoshi does early on is. For the sake of creating a better society and world, it’s vital that people do “small” things to help whenever they can. Be it reducing how much water you use, volunteering to clean up a beach or park, telling a friend to get their act together, and so on. For any significant change to be made it’s necessary to change the system or government itself (i.e. pass some legislation,) but the small stuff is still important too. And you can’t always depend on the government or businesses to get stuff done, either. It sounds cheesy to say that someone who strives to better their community and world is a true hero on the inside, but it’s true.
And in glorifying superheroes like Masayoshi, we can also lose sight of the people who do the bulk of crime-fighting—local law enforcers. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the more larger-than-life Masayoshi’s antics become throughout the series, the less relevance Gotou has in the plot. Probably a more apt comparison for real-life would be the relationship between politicians and law enforcers; we could thank politicians and certain people of power for passing the necessary legislation to fight crime, but at the end of the day it’s the police who actually do the grunt work to keep our streets clean.
Concerning the structure of the story and how it progresses, there’s much that could be said about how in order to stay entertained, we often desire things to get bigger and better, and to change. In the first story arc, the public gets increasingly fascinated and obsessed with Samurai Flamenco. But once crime starts to fall, shortly after Samurai Flamenco has reached the peak of his popularity during the contest to reveal his identity, the public quickly loses interest in him. Then later in the King Torture arc, Guillotine Gorilla at first starts a panic among the public and government, but eventually people just treat it as another boring part of life once Samurai Flamenco consistently defeats each villain over a long period of time.
As humans, we get easily tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. Which is only reasonable since seeing the same thing repeated doesn’t do much to stimulate our minds, but at the same time it can sometimes keep us from paying attention to important issues. Compare how many people are still paying attention to the on-going Syria crisis to the more recent Cremea crisis, for example. Especially when it comes to fiction and entertainment, it’s just human nature for us to continually want something bigger and better to keep us interested. It’s only after the appearance of From Beyond, in which the villains of the show start to regularly and consistently get bigger and badder, that the public maintains a constant interest in Samurai Flamenco.
In fact, towards the end of the series after Alien Flamenco is defeated, world peace suddenly becomes a reality where absolutely no crime happens. Which is all nice and dandy, but it’s clearly abnormal. For one, this sort of peace is impossible to achieve in reality; humans are complicated beings, and so realistically “world peace” could only ever be achieved with either Brave New World levels of human subjugation, or if the human race evolved into something else entirely. But more importantly to the themes of Samurai Flamenco, world peace is also boring. Without any crime happening, nothing interesting is happening in the world. There’s nothing for Samurai Flamenco to do, and there’s nothing for news reporters to report on. “It’s so peaceful, nothing interesting is happening! Hey, you! Go find me a dead body!” exclaims Konno.
Now, let’s talk about the ending of Samurai Flamenco. In the final story-arc, world peace is restored, and Masayoshi no longer has a need to act as Samurai Flamenco. But then there’s one issue that crops up which Masayoshi has no idea how to deal with: his best-friend Gotou turns out to have some serious mental issues, as the girlfriend he’s been texting throughout the whole series turns out to just be a figment of his imagination. And then shortly after that, a new nemesis appears for Masayoshi to deal with, Sawada Haiji, who’s bent on slowly destroying Masayoshi’s life and turning him into a “dark hero.”
All Sawada Haiji wants is to restore Samurai Flamenco’s relevance in the world, and since Masayoshi has already defeated all sorts of cartoony villains and restored world peace, the only path for him to go is downward. So Sawada Haiji kidnaps Gotou, and deletes all the text messages Gotou has received from his imaginary girlfriend—riling him up to the point where Gotou wants to kill Haiji. And that’s precisely what Haiji wants to accomplish; he wants Gotou to kill him so that Masayoshi’s relationship with his best friend will be strained, and he’ll have his own traumatic past to make him more cool and interesting. By the time Masayoshi comes to rescue Gotou, it’s not exactly a situation that can easily be solved by him punching Haiji and calling it a day. So how is Samurai Flamenco to solve this final problem?
Tracking back a bit, when Masayoshi consults Kaname on how to deal with Sawada Haiji, Kaneme explains that “A hero’s ultimate enemy is loneliness […] But we have the ultimate secret weapon on our side. It is love.” Which brings us to Masayoshi’s major character flaw: he doesn’t really know how to emphasize with others, and he specifically equates heroism with vanquishing evil. As a sentai hero, he only knows how to deal with things in terms of good and evil, whether that means beating up the bad guys to save the day or telling someone not to litter because it’s bad for the environment.
But wait, you might say, Masayoshi has been helping people throughout the whole series! How could he not know what love and empathy are? See, the thing with Masayoshi’s heroic actions throughout the series is that he’s never actually done it for people, but for the sake of doing good. When he saves someone from a bunch of thugs, he’s not necessarily doing it because he can relate to the person as a human, but for the sake of saving someone for the greater good. That’s still good-doing at the end of the day, but then it leaves him ill-equipped to deal with issues which have nothing to do with good and evil.
That’s why when Masayoshi is confronted with an alien from outer space, he’s able to save the world no problem. But then once his best friend turns out to have some serious mental issues, he’s at a total loss at how he can help—conveniently ignoring the issue altogether once Sawada Haiji shows up.
So that’s what the final story-arc is about: Masayoshi learning to stop playing hero and actually emphasize with others. Amidst the final confrontation with Sawada Haiji and Gotou, Masayoshi accepts that he can only help Gotou with his problems as a friend, not as Samurai Flamenco; and that the only way he even hope to help Sawada Haiji is not to treat him as a villain, but as a human being with his own mental problems. He even strips himself naked to prove the point. And thus Samurai Flamenco takes the cliche “the power of love conquers all” theme, and applies it in a way that makes it more relevant to real life.
Admittedly, the show probably could have done everything it needed to in half the time it did. Though either way I loved Samurai Flamenco for what it is, and it’s been an enjoyable viewing experience each week; I even loved the cartoony sentai episodes before their thematic relevance became clear. I believe it was Bobduh from Wrong Every Time, who said on twitter that Samurai Flamenco seems like a show written by competent writers intentionally writing bad. The plot is deliberately wacky and chaotic, throwing plot twist after plot twist at the audience to make the show as silly as it can. But underneath all the silly plot twists does lie a coherent and potent message about, well, the power of love and superheroes; which comes full circle by the time the series concludes.