Hey everybody! Time for the second day of Christmas on this little blog we like to call Shibireru Darou? In case you’ve missed it, in the days leading up to Christmas we will be putting up one post a day zeroing in on memorable experiences we’ve had this year. Shocking moments, memorable characters, hilariously bad experiences: all of these are eligible! Yesterday we had Steve bring our attention to Meganebu, which I’ve only seen a single episode of but apparently involves glasses or something. Look out for Steven and Natasha’s contributions in the days ahead. As for me…
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,
The shocking 2013 sentai revolution!
That’s right, why write about a single anime in one post when you can write about two anime? This year we were lucky enough to have had two unassuming series that took it upon themselves to explode the sentai paradigm with the force of a nuclear bomb: weird auteur Kenji Nakamura’s old-school reboot Gatchaman Crowds, and beleaguered studio Manglobe’s genre-bending original Samurai Flamenco. The key difference between the two: Crowds takes the old-school world of superheroes and villains and drags it kicking and screaming into a modern world of social media, trolling and collective action. Flamenco takes the modern world, the setting of your typical, low-key Noitamina drama, and drags it kicking and screaming into the world of superheroes, high-stakes adventure and unexpectedly dangerous consequences.
The heroes of Crowds don’t make a good impression at first glance. Not only are they stuck in the old way of doing things, chasing after mysterious alien kidnappers and fighting them one-on-one, but as their new recruit Hajime quickly discovers, said aliens aren’t even malevolent and quickly forsake their victims once lines of communication are established. Meanwhile, computer supergenius Rui’s social media service GALAX is able to mobilize hundreds of people across the city of Tachikawa for the greater good, saving people far more efficiently than our heroes’s efforts. The situation seems to be stacked against the Gatchaman, their way of doing things hopelessly outdated. But as monstrous alien trickster Berg Katze proves, GALAX can be just as dangerous as it is helpful. As many people in Tachikawa as there are willing to help out others for GALAX points, there are just as many if not more anonymous malcontents begging to be exploited.
The villain in Crowds, then, is not the MESS or even Berg Katze but instead our own human weakness. It’s a seemingly immortal monster that every character in the series, from Rui to the Hundred under his employ to the Prime Minister himself, are forced to deal with. And so it is that the struggle of the Gatchaman becomes not just a fight to transcend the old ways and become relevant again, but to do so while keeping their essential core of goodness intact. Many superhero shows take humanity’s inherent goodness as a given, but the heroes of Crowds are forced to earn it every step of the way: to prove that if they can put themselves on the line for the common good, fight for the downtrodden against impossible odds, then anyone can. Hajime plays an important role in revolutionizing the old status quo, to the point where some have diminished her as a “Mary Sue,” but what those people don’t realize is that Hajime doesn’t solve the problems of the Gatchaman for them. Rather, she enables them to succeed with the strength that they always secretly possessed. So that when they stand together in episode 10, heroes at last, it’s an extraordinarily powerful scene solely because it is one they have earned. Through great struggle, together.
Like its predecessor Crowds, Samurai Flamenco means to put heroism into context. But while the Gatchaman are old-fashioned heroes adrift in the modern world, the protagonists of Flamenco are modern-world men and women who aspire to be old fashioned heroes and in doing so essentially alter the universe until it fits their circumstances perfectly. The series begins as a much gentler take on Kick-Ass, with its protagonist Masayoshi putting on a uniform and trying to fight evil with nothing more than a costume and idealism, but every successive episode spirals further and further into genre: a magical girl with a taser wand and a tendency for stomping on male crotches is introduced, she forms a team, Masayoshi recieves martial arts lessons from a sentai actor and obtains his own specialized equipment. And then this happens.
The so-called “Guillotine Gorilla” moment is probably one of the most shocking scenes I’ve seen in recent anime. The sheer amount of excitement/bewilderment it inspired on Twitter should classify it as an all-time great moment. But what separates the scene from moments in other shows you could charitably label as “jump the shark” moments is that while the supernatural or implausible has not been present in the series before that moment, the series has been very carefully building towards that moment from the beginning. When Guillotine Gorilla appears out of nowhere and executes members of the police, blood spurting everywhere, it’s both horrifying in how it’s easily the most violence the series has seen thus far, and cathartic in how by this point in the show the world of Flamenco seems awfully constrained. The characters are bored, the populace is bored, probably even the viewer is bored. Guillotine Gorilla serves as the point at which Flamenco reveals its true colors, given extra weight by the fact that after seven episodes of build-up we actually care about the outcome. Flamenco could easily fall to pieces in the next few episodes, but at least for me it’s successfully managed to walk an almost impossible tightrope (made worse by an evidently poor animation budget) with enormous confidence. With half of Flamenco left to go and another season of Crowds in the works, here’s hoping the revolution continues in the years to come!