How does the saying go? “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain?” I’m departing a bit from my usual format because I really want to focus on this week’s episode of Samurai Flamenco for a bit. At the same time, however, it’s a show where I don’t think my notes on it are particularly interesting enough to include at the bottom like what I usually do with other individual episodes. So we’ll just forget about them entirely and jump right into the nitty-gritty: what did I think about this episode? Well, who really knows why the Prime Minister of Japan is so goddamn powerful? Maybe he used to be a hero himself, but the main point is that the world has become cynical. You learn this straight from Beyond Flamenco’s own mouth:
[Why fight for] world peace? As long as there are humans, they will find causes to start wars. … There’s no point in fighting for what will never happen. This is what I thought. And at the moment I realized that, I ended up this way. You, I, and all the rest have no reason to do this. We’re all the same. The only difference is what we’re crazy about, how we’re crazy, and [the] degree to which we’re crazy. That’s all. No matter what happens, this phase will end shortly. I’ve given up on this world. One day you will be defeated.
What does Beyond Flamenco mean here when he says that Masayoshi will one day be defeated? Taken quite literally, it might very well be the case that a superior monster will show up one day and defeat our hero. This, however, would not be a very insightful or meaningful statement to make. So given the context of the scene — also considering the themes that the show has built up to this point — I think it’s quite obvious what the evil brother is trying to say: Masayoshi’s optimism will be defeated.
Classic superheroes are purely good. Why? Because they believe in us. They believe in mankind’s ability to do good. That’s why they are different. Like the Almighty himself, superheroes love mankind as if we have the capacity to redeem ourselves. It’s not that we can do no wrong. Most superheroes aren’t dumb enough to think that. But superheroes nevertheless believe that humanity is worth saving even if there are plenty of rotten apples amongst us. And that is why the threat in classic superhero stories are always monsters “from beyond.” The evil that faces mankind has to be extricated from mankind itself so that we can have hope. By boiling down the conflict to a simple matter of good vs. evil, it makes it easy for us to find our resolve. It’s easy to get up in the morning each and every single day when you know exactly what it is that you have to do. This is what the Super Sentai series are all about. They are simplistic because good vs. evil is a very optimistic way of looking at the world.
For young children, i.e. the primary audience of the Super Sentai series, what they need most is optimism before the real world turns them all into jaded adults. It’s clear from Masayoshi’s naivete that he never really “grew up.” After all, he never even had a proper childhood. He lost his parents early in his life, and he had few friends in his youth. Even as an adult, Sumi has to run and plan most of Masayoshi’s life, coordinating his day-to-day activities. Then when our hero gets paid, he doesn’t use it to have sex, drink beer, or gamble. Nah, he doesn’t do any of the stuff that most of us adults would do to wind down after a long, hard day at work. Rather, Masayoshi continues to indulge himself in the world of superheroes. These same classic superheroes have long served as Masayoshi’s parents as he was growing up, and it’s clear that what these heroes represent continue to mentor him even to this day.
In the real world, however, superheroes can’t keep fighting forever because the real threat to world peace — and this is exactly what Beyond Flamenco is trying to say — is man itself. And so long as there are men, there will be conflict. The conflict won’t even be black-and-white; that’s the truly perplexing thing about the nature of real world conflicts. Do you honestly think that there are sides of pure good and pure evil in the world? Of course not. Oh, the terrorists are evil, you say. Sure, sure they are. But how did we get to this point? Did religious extremists just decide to wake up one day and prey upon the good, innocent people of liberal, Western democracies like the USA? Of course not. Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not trying to engage in a game of false equivalencies here. My point is simply that superheroes, i.e. humanity’s champions, cannot save mankind from itself. It is an impossible battle.
Samurai Flamenco is a lot of things, but its message boils down to a fight between optimism and cynicism. Make no doubts about it, guys like the Prime Minister can be heroes too. Why? Because they have the power to do good. And y’know what, maybe he was a hero at one point in his life, but somewhere along the way, he became cynical. People like him started to look out for just themselves, and this is because cynicism taken too far will eventually lead to nihilism. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of skepticism, but when you start to distrust and doubt everything, you will naturally start to doubt even morality itself. This is why Beyond Flamenco doesn’t even know why his organization does what it does. They are just evil. Not because it means anything, and that’s precisely why. After all, this struggle between good vs. evil never ends. Why fight for that which has no conclusion? And without a conclusion, how can we say that the struggle actually has any meaning? Why struggle for what doesn’t even exist, i.e. world peace?
Selfish people like our Prime Minister are a little more practical. Pragmatic nihilism, if that even makes sense, is basically just hedonism. Lofty concepts like the Good are probably meaningless to people like him, but y’know what probably does have meaning in his eyes? Pleasure. So he and his cronies are self-serving manipulators because their nihilism has led them to hedonism. Because let’s face it: very few proponents of nihilism practice that extreme form where absolutely nothing has meaning. Such a thing would be incomprehensible and inhuman, e.g. the From Beyond monsters and their actions. People like the Prime Minster are human, and are therefore wrought with human contradictions. So naturally, they fight for their own interests even if they don’t believe in much of anything else.
Of course, if we are fans of Masayohi, we should have hope. We should have hope in mankind’s goodness. We should believe that despite people like the Prime Minister, this world is worth saving. ‘Cause that’s what Masayoshi would believe, wouldn’t he? We all know that our pure-hearted hero will find some way to appeal to the people of Japan, overthrow the evil Prime Minister, and save his country from the abyss of nihilism. Like everyone’s been saying, Samurai Flamenco is an homage to the classic Japanese superheroes. It’s also an argument for why classic Japanese superheroes should continue to exist even to this very day. Even amidst Japan’s myriad troubles, we can’t doom ourselves to becoming our very own villains. So as I’ve been saying for weeks, Samurai Flamenco essentially tackles the problem of not only how simple, idealistic heroes might exist within a realistic world full of cynicism, but also why we need them.