Back of the Envelope: Samurai Flamenco, ENTERTAINMENT, and the Viewer

Samurai Flamenco is a strange show. But it is nothing if not entertaining.

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The concept of ENTERTAINMENT is more than just a sidenote thrown into the show. It’s appeared twice now right around the climax of two crucial arcs. The Prime Minister makes sure to bring it up when he’s pummelling Flamenco, before he’s beaten through the power of Akira Konno’s smartphone.

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The other instance also involves Konno. When he’s captured by King Torture, he is given a choice. Die without betraying Mari, or betray her and partake in the ensuing entertainment.

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I think both of these scenes are telling something about Samumenco at a fundamental level (plus have some other interesting qualities). First, much of Samumenco‘s appeal (at least to those still watching it) is just how ridiculously entertaining it is. The plot twists come out of nowhere, and the complete changes of style between each arc keep the show “fresh”. And the scenes with Guillotine Gorrilla, the final fight with King Tortue, etc. have been nothing if not entertaining. In this sense, it almost seems to embody the type of philosophy Konno espouses (and “falls prey” to).

GORIRA

Wait, not that gorilla.

In addition to the “ridiculousness” that sort of pervades the show, it also focuses hard on paying homage (and somewhat ribbing) the core genres that it’s drawing from. For many fans familiar with the source material, spotting references, tropes, etc. is another form of entertainment. Which is something many light novel (LN) adaptations — and much of anime in general — capitalize on. They all draw from the same pool of tropes and events, and frequently spend a decent portion of the show making callbacks and letting the viewers know that their “experience” is being appreciated. While I tend to be a little bit frustrated with the way that many adaptations today have gone about this (stating all the tropes upfront, poking fun at them, and then just using them all anyways with little to no variation), I cannot deny that this type of thing is entertaining. And that it is especially entertaining to “otaku” types, who tend to be more obsessed than most with this type of thing. In addition, Samumenco has been more effective about doing this type of thing than many recent shows because it actually uses its inherent meta setting/nature to good effect. It’s much less of a metaphorical “nod” (i.e. “this feels just like [LN adaption name] but we’re not in an anime so lolol”) and much more of a metaphorical “embrace”. It isn’t afraid to make the genres it’s drawing from its own thing.

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In addition to some fundamental backdrop, the ideas of entertainment are also a major part of the setting. Both Masayoshi (mode) and Mari & the Mineral Miracle Muse trio (singers) work in the entertainment industry, for instance. And a decent part of the first two arcs emphasize their careers there.

The next points are a bit of a closer reading of the two main “climax” scenes above. I noticed that in both of them, Konno plays a major role. Is there a reason for this? His character is almost entirely that of a bona-fide “observer”, who records the action. He’s even blasted by King Torture for not really directly participating in the stuff that’s going on, choosing instead to let other people do his work (such as in the original arc, when he posts the bounty for Flamenco himself). So I asked myself: could Konno be a stand-in for the viewer?

Once I started to think this way, scenes started taking on a little bit of a different meaning. For example, King Torture now seems to hit a lot closer to home when he’s talking to Konno.

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And some of the comments made by Konno and the Prime Minister now seem much closer to actual social commentary (especially given the current state of Japanese government and media) than just ridiculously cliched dialogue.

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This also brings up the possibility that the other (main) characters are also stand-ins for ideas or possible character archetypes. Masayoshi and Mari could be seen as the sort of idealistic (modern?) and cynical (postmodern?) views of the “hero” concept embodied by the audience. The former is idealistic and “pure”; the latter is selfish, attention-seeking, and “corrupted”. The former sees himself as part of a long tradition and narrative, and is optimistic about the human condition; the latter has a much more localized, fragmented view of her actions, and seems to have a much more negative view of basic human nature. Etc. Etc.

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So here’s meta-commentary…

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…but delivered so nonchalantly it doesn’t come across as somewhat obnoxious.

It's interesting that the idea of excitement/entertainment comes up here as well...

Isn’t it also interesting that the idea of excitement/entertainment comes up here as well?

Goto is now a stand-in for what many people would like to see themselves as if they were friends with the traditional hero like Samurai Flamenco. For all his “realism”, he actually is surprisingly idealistic – never letting Masayoshi down, giving him good advice, providing him places to stay, always supporting him even in times of crisis, etc. You never see him display signs of jealousy or craving attention.

samumenco 16 samumenco 17 samumenco 18They have a full-on bromance.

Moe and Mizuki, on the other hand, are counterpoints for Mari and represent the more “cynical” ways one might relate to such a superhero. Moe essentially hero worships, while Mizuki is shown harboring feelings of inadequacy and jealousy (but of course keeping those in check because she’s a good friend).

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Rather than just being “character archetypes” given on-screen form, I think another way to view this would be what people think would act like as character archetypes. So Samumenco is not just a show about past nostalgia updated to the present, but one with a message about the way that we as viewers are involved. It shines an uncomfortable light on the “hero complexes” (or villain complexes) we entertain in our heads, as well as on the darker sides of ourselves in our endless quest to be entertained.

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AREYOUNOTENTERTAINED

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2 responses to “Back of the Envelope: Samurai Flamenco, ENTERTAINMENT, and the Viewer

  1. I’d have to agree that Samurai Flamenco is one of the stranger anime shows of the season – perhaps one of the strangest anime I’ve seen over the last several years, in fact. I’d also be completely lying if I said I hadn’t been getting a good dose of entertainment value out of it. I get that a lot of people were disappointed with the way in which the series took a turn for the freakishly bizarre – nothing wrong with that – but personally speaking, I’m enjoying Samurai Flamenco now just as much as I was prior to the infamous Guillotine Gorrilla episode. Albeit in an entirely different way, granted, but you can bet I still look forward to the next episode each and every week.

    • It’s a pity that the show now has turned off so many people who wanted it to stay in the same quirky, upbeat, modern “superhero” format it started with, when in my opinion it’s tried to something quite a bit more interesting!

      And can’t wait to see how Masayoshi and crew fend off an alien invasion XD

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