Understanding Samurai Flamenco’s Current Direction Through Zebraman

So I understood what Samurai Flamenco is going for more after I watched Takashi Miike’s Zebraman last week. Since my only exposure to super sentai was through Power Rangers and a Thai copy of the Kamen Rider PS1 game (in that it was one of those cheap bootleg discs that only worked on a modded PS1), I wasn’t too familiar with the actual Japanese super sentai formula. I’m still not persay because all I know is through what I’ve heard from various people rather than seen, but based on Zebraman alone, I’ve got a better grasp on what’s happening so far.

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For those who never saw Zebraman, it’s about a normal bloke who has family problems and deals with them by dressing up as his childhood superhero, a masked guy in a zebra costume who only had one season due to lack of popularity. One day, whilst going out in his zebra costume, he encounters a guy with a crab head attacking a woman with a knife. In an attempt to fight the guy off, he suddenly discovers the ability to do screw kicks and eventually also gains the power to repair his costume out of nowhere and fly. At the same time, it is also discovered that Earth has been invaded by aliens and the cancelled TV show was actually a message warning of this impending apocalypse.

Where do his sudden super powers come from? The movie never says. Why are these aliens only showing up now? The movie doesn’t bother to explain. When did these giant robots exist? Well, the movie hasn’t introduced them yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the sequel has them and never bothers to really explain them.

And that’s pretty much the sentai formula in Japan in a nutshell. Now I haven’t seen Kamen Rider or any of those other Japanese sentai shows, but according to what I’ve heard, it kind of does the same thing. Starts off like an everyday world, introduces these guys from out of nowhere, and then the world just accepts them as the new normal. Rinse. Repeat. All that stuff. Since I haven’t seen any real proof of that, I’m just going to state my viewpoint and say that Samurai Flamenco is basically Zebraman turned into a series.

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This works for and against it because it’s easier to buy Zebraman’s “apparent” shifts in tone due to the fact that we’re not given too much time to think it over (the movie is only under two hours long) whilst Flamenco is a series and thus a little harder to swallow. I also somehow doubt that Kamen Rider took seven episodes for it to actually start introducing the sentai concepts and making them everyday life. Guillotine Gorilla really should have happened a few episodes earlier than when it did. However, it also works for it the same way 1984 works for fans of those sorts of futuristic dystopian stories. If you are familiar at all with the sentai genre, then Flamenco is going to be a real treat for you. It hits every note really well and there is no “jump the shark” moment as people have claimed because Flamenco was always this kind of world from the start. You just didn’t know it because the show duped you.

As a guy who grew up on superhero and sentai stuff, I “sort of” support what Flamenco is doing now.

Let’s close off this post by addressing some of the other complaints I heard. First off, you could make the argument that Flamenco is now a standard super sentai show that happens to be meta rather than an insightful commentary on what it means to be a superhero in the real world, which is what people hoped it would be from the start. I have no defense for that considering I’m one of those folks who thinks playing it straight, meta or not, isn’t satire in the least. Thus, I can’t help you there.

You could also say that in order to focus on these new characters, the old characters are getting sidelined. Eh. They haven’t been sidelined for that long. Two or three episodes tops in a 22-episode show? That’s not really a long time. We’ll definitely see more of them in the second half. And if we don’t, well then maybe I’ll join you guys’ hater camp. But for now, let’s just wait and see.

Finally, you could say that the whole “sentai genre” culture that I described above is flawed right down to its basic premise. In that case, Flamenco is probably just going to make you hate the sentai genre just like Robotics;Notes made me hate the mecha genre.

3 responses to “Understanding Samurai Flamenco’s Current Direction Through Zebraman

  1. The only kamen rider show I have watched is Kamen Rider Ryuuki, and when it comes to super sentai, I have seen the American’s Power Rangers, and Japanese’s Turbo Rangers and Ninja Rangers, all on television. I have also seen some Ultramen. All of these shows are definitely for kids. I can’t imagine an adult liking it. Not at all. An adult who likes them must be… a weirdo.

    Now here’s where the problem of Samurai Flamenco lies. The early episodes are definitely for older audiences. They don’t have superpowers. They don’t have crazy villains who are evil, just because they are evil. No, it seems to be smart commentary show on how bland and dreamless people are when they get older.

    But then, what do we have here? A typical super sentai show! No, it’s not a parody of super sentai show because of the plot holes, because a super sentai show is supposed to have a lot of plot holes. They are supposed to be watched by little kids in the first place. This shift is really weird and wrong. If you want to be a kid’s show, you should have done it since episode 1 or 2.

    I am dropping this show. I will keep my eyes for people’s blog, however, to see if it’s able to fix itself, or if it’s going to make people’s eyes bleed from the sheer stupidity.

  2. I’m on the same boat as the people that hopes this show is a deconstruction of the superhero genre. Sadly, I started to get disappointed at episode 7 because of the badly inserted twist and I feel it gets worse every new episode from there. Either make it a insightful commentary anime making fun of superheroes or just go straight into a typical superhero show from the start, don’t revolve around the middle line like it currently does.

  3. But the thing is, did they really have to do it – I mean, Samumenco’s producers – in 20-odd episodes? Couldn’t they have gone for a 1-cour? It’s just all so weird, I think. We’re not even getting surprised anymore. I’ll say I have no experience with tokusatsu aside from having been a Power Rangers fan at some point in my life, either, but damn.

    Besides, I’m agreeing with eternia here in that it’s shows for kids, and maybe it makes just a little more sense for those adults who indeed grew with Kamen Rider and the likes, – although I really wonder if that’s an audience…? Do those people still watch NoitaminA anime, I mean, in Japan? – but yeah, the first episodes definitely had a different feeling going for it; One of “even if it jumps the shark, it will go back to its comfort zone”, which definitely didn’t happen. Not saying this is necessarily bad, but it can be frustrating to the viewers, I think.