Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Anime Review: Samurai Flamenco

The winter season was an odd one for the noimainA timeslot, it had Silver Spoon returning for the second of it's split seasons and then this show continuing on from the fall as well. Like many noitaminA shows, there wasn't a lot of information available about Samurai Flamenco before it started airing beyond a few posters and a weird motto about how a hero never gives up and I remember that I didn't think highly of the first episode. But after a few episodes it grew on me and then a few more after that it had the biggest genre shift I can ever remember seeing which left my social media feeds swearing for a solid two days.....

Samurai Flamenco

Hazuma Masayoshi is an up-and-coming male fashion model who believes that he has a higher calling in life, to be a superhero. This being modern day Japan there isn't much in the way of crime and what does exist is either banal (such as litterers) or too downright dangerous for a civilian to handle (like the underground drug trade). As luck would have it he completely bungles his first attempt at heroism and runs into off-duty cop Hidenori Goto who can't believe that someone would be this weird. They end up forming an odd friendship however and come to rely on each other when it turns out there might be a place for Hazuma's heroism in this world after all.

As mentioned earlier, this show has a genre shift the likes of which I've never seen and it occurs pretty early on too, if I was to limit myself to just talking about that part of the series then this review would be completely useless. So, while I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum there are going to be some here because I can't talk about character development if I don't note what they've been through!

Having gotten that out of the way, I've seen a lot of people online talking about how SamFlam is this great deconstruction of various superhero genres and I have to disagree with that idea on several points. My biggest sticking point is that deconstructions are a fairly lengthy process actually, you have to establish your base idea first well enough that the viewer thinks they know it inside and out and then play with the idea to show that actually everything the viewer (and often the characters) was wrong and then rebuild the story one way or another after it. SamFlam jumps between so many different stories that I doesn't really have time to do that except in possibly it's first arc. That ended up being far and away my first arc because of how much focus it gave the characters and the transition from the first arc to the second makes the most thematic sense since it continues the characters' developments (Hazuma to an extent, since the whole story is his story it obviously doesn't finish there, and Mari, one of the "magical girls" of the show in particular). 

That being said, I half wish the show had jumped straight from the first arc to the last one (which would cut out nearly half the show) and that could even work if it wasn't for how vital that part is to Mari's development (and it would have given Hazuma's situation in the last arc a lot more tension and suspense to it, after everything else we've seen I didn't really care what the truth of the matter was since nothing would shock me anymore). For me the middle of the series is a bit of a shambles, Mari (plus Moe and Mizuki) are absent for a large part of the middle of the show and Goto is gone far more often than Hazuma's best friend should be (especially since, as the last arc confirms, he's got some problems too and the last arc never quite provides any resolution and I feel that the show should have made a move on them earlier). The show even introduces some new characters but they're as nuanced as paper dolls and they get abandoned after their arc when all the other characters return a bit more and felt beyond useless to me. 

Also, holy cow was the art quality all over the place, mostly on the lower end. There were so many jokes on the internet about it, from "Samurai Quality" to the joke that the characters would only be on model every seven shots, and I'm not talking about the off-model where you zoom into a faraway shot, this was for big main important shots and quite frankly I'm not sure where their budget went. I imagine the budget must not have been huge to start with but none of the action scenes seemed elaborate enough to eat up the budget and I was rather confused. And the color work in the show, ugh, it made everything look 15% uglier. I know a lot of people said "it's a realistic show and real life is like that!" but I was remembering that comment when I was watching Elementary and took this random screenshot. 

Look at that scene, it's dark but still understands lighting and having a variety of hues, highlights, and shadows in a scene and looks completely natural to boot. And then look at this shot from SamFlam's opening (the first one, let's not even talk about how delayed the second one was, we practically got three OPs from it like that). 

You can see that their trying to make their characters look distinctive with the different skin tones and such but everything just feels flat, there are no contrasting colors to create depth or shadows and highlights. It quite honestly feels like slapdash work and I know I would have been called out on something like that back in high school, this show just had problems everywhere. So in the end, it's a show that doesn't look nearly as interesting as it should, the story changes pace so quickly it's not able to really do anything with it's settings (other than be an extended fanboy letter to childhood nostalgia which I will accept as a reason/premise for a show, however that's a bit too niche to be your ONLY reason/premise) and it didn't seem to know how to treat it's own characters. I can't say I recommend it at all, there are so many other, better stories out there that deal with superheroes and their traditional narratives so unless you're already a die-hard fan of things like super sentai and tokusatsu you should probably give this one a pass (and for those fans, it is licensed by Aniplex of America so it's streaming on crunchyroll, hulu, and daisuki).

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