(Cutting Class is a series of blog posts written by Arden Ripley, meant to showcase the world of anime beyond high school settings.)
Samurai Flamenco is a show with a perfect elevator pitch: imagine Kick-Ass if the protagonist was inspired by tokusatsu television (Kamen Rider, Super Sentai - the original Power Rangers) instead of Western superhero comics. But even that sells it short of what a special show it is. It's a smartly written genre parody full of an engaging cast of lovable (and canonically queer! seriously!) characters.
I've never felt like I trusted the creators of an anime before I watched Samurai Flamenco. It's a difficult show to talk about without spoiling parts of what makes it so wonderful, but it's also one I can't sing the praises of highly enough. Samurai Flamenco asks you to meet it halfway. It's the friend urging you to just jump off that cliff into the water below because "trust me, it'll be so fun".
I trusted Samurai Flamenco wholeheartedly, and was rewarded with a gem I would've sorely missed out on if I hadn't.
Masayoshi is a young model who secretly dreams of becoming a real life superhero. Goto is a cop who really doesn't have time for this nonsense, but still continuously goes along with Masayoshi's passionate desire to fulfill his impossible dream. Their relationship is the strongest part of the show, portraying an unlikely friendship developing into a sweet, fumbling romance. Goto looks out for Masayoshi and reins him in when necessary, while still encouraging him to make his own decisions and giving him room to grow on his own. Masayoshi's energy and passion gives Goto's life brightness and excitement, something Goto needs more than he realizes.
The way Goto and Masayoshi's relationship turns into a romance is sweet and... about as realistic as it can be in a show about modern-day superheroes. A common theme in anime romance is that the more "experienced" or "wiser" partner simply tells the more naive one what they should or shouldn't do, and even if it's well-intentioned, it can still feel weird to watch. Goto is instead there for Masayoshi in a more mature, even way - he listens carefully to Masayoshi's worries and fears, and talks them through with him, never telling him outright what to do, but helping him consider he benefits of each. When Masayoshi wants to quit, Goto doesn't make impassioned speeches about how he just can't give up, but instead asks, "Will that really make you happy?" It's clear he'll be there to support him no matter what, and that's more moving than the almost frenzied "you have to keep going!" speeches a lot of anime characters give.
The show doesn't skip over the awkward parts of navigating relationships, either, and shows characters working through them together. Masayoshi and Goto's relationship begins to change as Masayoshi becomes more famous. When the pair first meet, Goto has a girlfriend, and her relationship with him changes as it becomes clear that he's falling for someone else. And as time goes on, we learn Goto doesn't have his act together as much as he might appear to. Through it all, they're there for each other, ready to be supportive and kind while still having human flaws and problems of their own to deal with.
The supporting cast of characters are varied and carefully written as well, the core group being an idol unit made up of three women who eventually join in on Masayoshi's superhero antics. The leader of this group, Mari, is particularly great - women are not often given room to both do terrible things while still being presented as "good" characters, and Mari is complex, realistic, and endearing. She's also canonically, openly bisexual, which isn't something I often get to see in anime, especially if it's not played for laughs. I've started to realize that the more a character is described by viewers as a "bitch", the higher the likelihood that I'll love her because she's a well-realized person who is given room to breathe and not be a perfect womanly trope.
Mari is probably the best example of this I can think of in recent years. She starts off as bratty, loud, and bossy, and... ends the show being bratty, loud, and bossy. But the amount of growth she has is incredible - she goes through some Real Shit and gets an unpleasant wake-up call for how she's been acting and the way it impacts the people closest to her, especially to her girlfriend, Moe. Often, when loud, "bitchy" female characters have to experience trauma in a show, it can feel like the writers wanting to take her down a peg. While Mari goes through unpleasant ordeals, it never feels like the show is out to "punish" her for being the way she is. She's an imperfect person, shaped by her experiences, and to my great relief, experiencing hardship didn't transform her into what the writers thought a victim "should" be like.
I've praised the animation or visual style of the past few Cutting Class entries, but that's... not something I can do for Samurai Flamenco. It's painfully clear the show had budget problems - there are times when you think a shot should be an in-between frame, but it stays onscreen for a good five seconds. The Blu-ray release significantly improves a lot of this, redrawing and fixing a lot of scenes, but if you're watching through a service like Crunchyroll, you're in for some rough patches. It's not a dismal-looking show, and I'll take excellent writing over animation any day, but if you like anime with a lot of visual flair, you're going to be a little disappointed.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack suffers similarly. Aside from some great opening and ending themes, the music used in-show is entirely forgettable and often repetitive or ill-suited to whatever is happening in the scene. And there's not much to say about it other than that.
Samurai Flamenco may be rough, but it's still a gem. Featuring a cast of queer superheroes and the relationships between them, as well as plot twists and genre shifts aplenty, it's not a show you should miss. It's a show that makes me feel genuinely happy every time I watch it - the clever writing, the high-quality voice acting, and the cherry on top: seeing my friend's reactions when they make it to the end of episode seven. It's a joyful show full of enthusiasm and fun.
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