Thursday, January 23, 2014

Samurai Flamenco is pretty neat

I'm suddenly getting the notion that I'm kind of joining the deepshit crew here.

All abort the ship then!

Today, I want to join the league of pretentious deepfaggotry anibloggers (ergo almost all of my colleagues) and I figured I might as well write something defending SamuMenco, considering all the flak it has been getting for quite a few weeks by now. Yes, you got that right. Me. Defending things. Not attacking them for a change. Miracles do happen after all, etc. etc..

Anyway, it's saddening to see that an anime like this gets so much shit for cleverly playing with its genre, drastically shifting between that one's components yet most anime can get away with all the actual bullshit they pull off without ever getting accused of being "randumb" or the likes. Anime fans are a bunch of fairly desperate apologists anyway so when something like this happens, I can't help but shake my head in utter disbelief.

I guess the moment Guillotine Gorilla went Viva Torture on us, those reactions were pretty much bound to happen. People tend to call that a directionless shock effect that messed up everything but it's actually extremely obvious that it merely used that to go from Slice of Life antics to Tokusatsu and then continued with Sentai, with this one ultimately going through several superhero genres out there (which is a somewhat interesting thing to do for an anime) and I'm also fairly sure that Sentai won't be the last of it. Think about it: Do you really believe the Flamengers will take over the entire second half? Not to mention how the show is called "Samurai Flamenco" after all, so of course, we'll get back to Hazama doing solo adventures, aided by a certain unfortunate cop. Anyway, as far as playing with the sub-genres is concerned, who knows, maybe even Godzilla will pop up one day. I wouldn't even call it bizarre or unnatural, given what this show is all about.

In essence, SamuMenco is neither directionless nor randumb. Quite on the contrary even. I'd even argue that, while writing the show, they took expectations, possible reactions and potential speculations into account and that's what makes the entire affair so clever. At first, we expected some generic superhero anime out of this, going by the what the promo material had shown and ended up getting a more or less realistic, Slice of Life-esque hero thing. Then Guillotine Guerilla happened and the writing left enough red herrings around for speculating. Was the entire twist just a dream as the opening indicates? A TV show as it was mentioned earlier in the episode with Hazama participating? There's also drugs involved, maybe someone was simply on drugs instead? Remember how Goto kept them the day before after arresting that one punk? Plus there were drugs at the scene of the event. I doubt all those elements were integrated without exactly that one purpose in mind. The entire writing was pretty much fixed on getting the audience to speculate about the events being real or not and heck, some of us still do to this day. It just goes to show how conscious the writing is of the show's viewers and how very efficient it's being at it. Afterwards, monsters started causing havoc the city and there was a pattern of them getting more and more harmless every time a new one appeared. Internet discussions then turned into speculating about how that was being done on purpose and guess what? The episode afterwards, more monsters appeared and the citizens didn't even care anymore. Bullseye. Additionally to that, there were also several neat scenes such as the weekly meetings of Japan's most important men growing more and more stale to the point of the prime minister not even paying attention. That was kind of clever writing. As much as some kinds of anime tend to evoke fan theories, they barely ever actually apply and are essentially wasted. Just think of the theorycrafting Madoka caused. Or Kyousougiga. SamuMenco, meanwhile, embodies the fan speculation aspect into its writing and that's what makes me appreciate it. And things didn't just stop there. There was another red herring, namely the reporter dude. All the ambitious foreshadowing to him being the evil guy and then it turned out he wasn't King Torture after all, quite on the contrary, he was the one getting tortured by him. And let's not forget about Red Axe. Or more like "Red Herring". Claims he's travelling to other countries whenever Hazama is in need of something, might as well be a sham of a superhero, only gets used for comedic purposes. Turns out to be a commander of actual superheroes. Perhaps abandons them. The great thing about this is how you can't be sure about it since how from the very beginning, he was portrayed as untrustworthy yet still not a bad human being and always up for a surprise. Keep the speculations coming! Not to mention Goto's girlfriend. Heck, the writing is smart enough to make everyone care about someone's girlfriend, a character who has not even once appeared on screen, and rile up speculations as if it was the most urgent matter on earth. Combine that with the opening indicating she's dead and there you have your conspiracy theories. The good thing about SamuMenco is that it keeps getting people to doubt it, question it, turn things around, speculate, theorycraft and the list goes on. That's an entirely different thing from the few provocative anime out there that are all about evoking reactions but hardly ever make use of good writing to get those (Aku no Hana and Wake Up, Girls! come to mind). This is nowhere near lazy or indecisive. This show knows exactly what it's doing and is executing it with such a brilliant level of competence.

He'll never give up and neither will I on you!

In other words, it's all intentional. The smart kind of intentional. Not the one with anime fans suddenly going "You call it bad writing but I'm sure so does the writer which actually makes it good!". That's a piss-poor excuse. Itiswhatitisms are bullshit anyway. We excuse the unambitious (a rule applied to every KyoAni show ever), the bad and many, many more but are unable to stomach something like this? Are your conventions so important that you're not even willing to actually look at things? It's a bit hilarious how many people, when defending anime against actually justified criticism (plotholes, lack of realism in a show that did not indicate the specific target of criticism to be unrealistic, inconsistencies, to name a few), claim that in fiction, anything goes, yet something like SamuMenco, an anime that has been carefully constructed but opts for something completely different, gets so much flak. A bit on the side of double standards here, aren't we? It's not "Anything goes." with you. It's "Anything goes but if it defies my expectations [read: pre-set standards and norms] for it, nothing should.". So no, this show never "jumped the shark". It's just you who didn't want to jump. Frankly, I'm not sure whether we should call this 2deep4u or you 2dumb4it.

Making things super-ultra-meta even, here we have the promo material. Everything was hinting at it being an ordinary superhero show. Then we got SoL antics. You claim that Guillotine Gorilla was the first time a genre shift happened, but nah, the promo material being a blatant lie (and yet not one at all) was actually something akin to it right before the anime even started, completely messing with our expectations. And is if that wasn't already enough, the promo material, by the point the show had started airing mostly taken as a joke, was right all along and did all the foreshadowing you accused the anime of not having. Yes, even the Flamengers were foreshadowed:

(Protip: Look at the jets.)

Frankly, if you were to ask me, it makes a lot of sense to argue that Samurai Flamenco started the very second the first promotional image was released - not just when the show began airing. In a way or two, it's a "community-including anime" through and through. It's been messing with you from the very beginning on, with you not even realizing it. Taking your expectations into account, your theories, leading you from one pitfall right to the next one, foreseeing your every step. Whether you like it or not, it's as if you're part of the show. You're always taken into account - and certainly not on some moronic "How do we pander the most to the audience?" plane. It's a love letter to the superhero genre and at the same time, takes the fans so much into account and gets them engaged to the point that some sort of COMMUNICATION between the anime and the audience is going on. You just can't help but admit that it has actually achieved something next to no other anime has managed to achieve.

The main issue is that people just can't fucking move on and still keep complaining about episode 7 s twist. To this day, I've been reading the very same complaints several times already: "They did not gradually build things up, the shift of tone was too sudden.". Yada yada. Hey there. The entire point of that shift was to be sudden. When monsters appear, monsters appear and guess what, that is supposed to be a shocking thing. It made the twist work. Going with a realistic setting and then suddenly introducing actual monsters made us relate to the situation by 100%. Anything else wouldn't have made you drop your jaws. Which is the same what happened with Goto and Hazama. Because reality just got flooded with monsters. The twist being unpredictable was its entire fucking point. I kid you not, if the same were to happen in real life, some of you would probably furiously shake your heads and scream about how that wasn't foreshadowed before getting guillotine gorrila'd. Good riddance.

Imagine if reality had monsters popping up. Same shit. You usually don't pay much heed to that in anime because it tends to be included in the synopsis or gets introduced as a part of the world or something like that. SamuMenco did it another way. Even though "Monsters appear!" is technically a twist in other anime, it never manages to surprise anyone. In SamuMenco's case, it did. In that sense, it's not unnatural. It's natural. It's logical. That was the entire point of the twist. You getting immersed in SamuMenco's reality and that one then getting smashed to bits and pieces. It made the "lack of foreshadowing" (well, apart from the promo material) completely valid.

If anything, it kind of reminds me of the days when "THAT" happened in Umineko and a formerly realistic mystery suddenly brought goat butlers with laser swords and shit to the table and even though in hindsight, it turned out that Umineko had always included anti-mystery elements from the very beginning on and despite the fact that hey, they used supernatural elements on the island whenever the protagonist wasn't around so the writing could pull off some unreliable narration, meaning you couldn't fault the supernatural elements, people were still yelling left and right. It's the same with SamuMenco. I have yet to see some more reasonable complaints about this than "BAWWWW IT DID NOT GO INTO THE DIRECTION I EXPECTED!".

And let's be honest, that's your sole issue with this thing and it's your fault, not the anime's. See, had this thing been just like everything post-episode 7 from the very beginning on, you wouldn't have had a problem with that, probably would have liked it even, so your complaints that "the show went to shit" are hardly any apt, given that said "shit" would have been totally tolerable according to you if not for the first quarter. Your entire problem is that the first seven episodes were completely different, not that the anime is being bad now or something. Besides, it's not like the arcs following them have been any worse. Different, yes, worse, no.

Don't worry, he'll be relevant againI thinkmaybeperhapsnah, I'm not so sure after all.

Not that you don't have the right to criticize an anime for what it is, it's just that you first have to get what it is in order to do that, something most people fail at with this one. Nonetheless, if you do "understand" the anime, you certainly are qualified to address a few issues with what it's doing. For instance, it's a bit disappointing how Hazama basically made it from the guy who'd hunt after an umbrella to uphold his definition of justice to someone who joins a superhero team, ultimately piloting a super robot and yet, there's so little weight to that. Granted, Guillotine Gorilla was a shocker and that admittedly did have weight and impact but that's about it. But hey, I've hardly seen anyone try with actual criticism. All the complaints I've read so far can be summed up as "Is different now from before.". Uh, yeah. No one has actually offered an explanation on how the writing apparently got worse, hardly anyone has bothered with actually getting the point of this thing (at the same time though, I'd also like to note how the few compliments it's getting, namely "It's fun." and "It's a parody." are equally short-sighted), heck, when trying to evaluate SamuMenco, people hardly ever look at the thing in the first place. It's always Viva Tortura this, Muh Expectations that. Legit standard criticism as in "There that was moment in episode X, Y happened and it was bad because of Z."? Not even once. Yet it has supposedly become so much worse without anyone being able to tell why.

Unlike pretty much every fucking other anime out there, SF is not exactly a crowd pleaser. Now, I'm not saying that not being SAO, which is basically a huge masturbation session to your ego (seriously, how can an anime pander so fucking much in so fucking bad ways?) in case you lack any dignity, makes it good or anything. But it also doesn't necessarily make it bad. And look at all the clever aforementioned things it has been doing all along. Things that have been mostly ignored so far. On an unrelated sidenote, I also didn't expect anime bloggers, people usually masturbating to anything that might have any (hallucinated, projected) depth to it, to hate this this much. Well, guess they are only good at seeing things that aren't there.

Furthermore, for as much as people love to spout that this has become a completely different something, at its core, it's still the very same show with more or less the same characters and the same character interactions. The circumstances have changed, yes, but the quality of the writing hasn't. Which, on that note, really goes to highlight how little people care about the writing rather than their expectations not getting smashed. There's a shift of genres, yes, but the quality has remained the same. From the dialogues to the characters, zilch has changed in terms of that. The entire most recent episode was decent too, building up a "truth vs. bigger picture obligation" conflict with Hazama starting to doubt his status as an ally of justice and suffering from both pressure and guilt, plus the entire "You can only save 5 people." matter that was executed in a splendid way. And the threat of numerous, countless enemies. "By the way, we have 60000 minions! You might be superheroes but you can't fight against numbers!". Either that was an empty threat completely overthrowing everything without even sending in as much as a single monster or they'll actually erase the entirety of Japan as the episode title seems to indicate. The best thing is how you wouldn't put either beyond this show. It's such a refreshing thing.

"Worse than before!", they say, yet we keep getting brilliant stuff like this. Yeah, sure.

It's interesting that a genre as clich d as superheroes of all things got so unique, outstanding works like SamuMenco and Gatchaman Crowds airing with only a short span of time between them. GatchaCrowds told us that anyone can be a hero. SamuMenco is about said anyone. Sasuga, noitamiNAkamura conspiracy.

With Silver Spoon and this, this is easily the best season noitaminA has delivered in ages. No, it never turned into a generic superhero show (this? Generic? For real?). It also never took the bullshit route. And so, SamuMenco will keep being about things you don't want it to be while also being so very decent at it. Terrible, I know.
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