written by Laurie Tom
Samurai Flamenco is a send-up/meta-commentary of the Japanese superhero genre, particularly the various Super Sentai series, which Americans have mostly been exposed to in the form of Power Rangers.
Twenty-year-old Masayoshi Hazama grew up idolizing the televised superheroes of his childhood, so much so that even into adulthood he never gave up his dream of becoming a hero. He lives in a world much like ours, where criminals are handled by the police; a world that doesn’t have or need superheroes. But Masayoshi isn’t like normal people.
He has an uncompromising sense of morality and in his homemade costume as Samurai Flamenco, he decides to make the world a better place, even if it’s just as simple as getting someone to stop littering.
His first attempt at being a hero is downright miserable (Batman he is not), but fortunately he soon meets Hidenori Goto, a jaded policeman a few years older than him. At first all they have in common is a fondness for childhood superhero shows, but as time passes, Goto starts to help out Masayoshi as he gets in over his head. As a vigilante, it helps to have a friend on the police force, and for the audience Goto serves as the straight man to antics that only Masayoshi could possibly take seriously.
Eventually Masayoshi makes allies, rivals, and even enemies. During episode 7 the show takes a huge right turn that is completely crazy and runs against everything that had been set up about how the world works, but it’s just so damn good and completely in the spirit of the show that it’s hard not to just roll with it. Episode 7 is really what sets the tone of the rest to follow.
Once the real spirit of the show reveals itself Samurai Flamenco runs fast and furious, barely stopping to take a breath. Like in a TV series, the hero defeats one enemy only for another to appear, but it does what would be 5-6 seasons in another show in just two (and it works!). There was one point where I wondered just how the hell the series could possibly wrap up in the wake of ever escalating adversaries, but wrap up it does, and it does it in the unexpected and completely off-beat manner that the show has been displaying its entire run.
Samurai Flamenco manages a neat balancing act between the laughs and the drama, sometimes even juggling both in the exact same scene, with a couple teary-eyed moments I just wasn’t expecting.
That said though, this is a series I find difficult to recommend, since so much of the humor hinges around Japanese superheroes. If you watched Power Rangers as a kid and know a little bit about its Super Sentai origins, or if you happen to be a fan of the American comic Kick-Ass, I’d say this is worth giving a shot, but it’s probably too bizarre to be someone’s intro to anime.
Otherwise, if you’re an anime fan looking for something new, there really isn’t anything else like Samurai Flamenco.
Lasting 22 episodes, Samurai Flamenco recently finished its run with the end of the winter 2014 anime season.
Pluses: commentary on the staples of Japanese superheroes is hilarious, story never loses sight of itself, clear that the creative staff loved what they were doing
Minuses: takes a few episodes to get to the real plot, most of the villains don’t last long enough to make an impact, very niche appeal
Samurai Flamenco is currently streaming at CrunchyRoll and is available subtitled. Aniplex of America has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.
Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published inGalaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.