Samurai Flamenco Ep. 16: In defense of Guillotine Gorilla

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At one point in the episode, a hungry, exhausted Masayoshi is almost tempted into stealing a bun from a bakery. “But wait a minute,” you might naturally remark, “Masayoshi didn’t go through with it. He didn’t actually steal the bun.” Ah, but he could have. Even our paragon of goodness and justice nearly falters, and why wouldn’t he? He’s only human, after all. And it is precisely because he is human that he has human limitations, i.e. hunger and exhaustion. To go even further, Masayoshi’s human weaknesses is exactly what a lot of detractors have been asking for: a modern, realistic take on a superhero. “B-b-but Guillotine Gorilla!” you object. Yes, Guillotine Gorilla. I’m going to say this right now: Guillotine Gorilla as well as the rest of his ilk — from King Torture to Miami Ballerina — are necessary components to the narrative. Yes, really. And I’ll tell you why… by quoting a crusty ol’ French dude:

Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.

The Disneyland imaginary is neither true nor false: it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real. Whence the debility, the infantile degeneration of this imaginary. It ~s meant to be an infantile world, in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the “real” world, and to conceal the fact that real childishness is everywhere, particularly among those adults who go there to act the child in order to foster illusions of their real childishness. — Jean Baudrillard

Obviously, the government is a total sham. Obviously, the Prime Minster of Japan is lying to his people. Obviously, he is no hero; he is not the savior that the people of Japan wants him to be. But of course, it’s easy for us to sit here and assert these statements from the perspective of the outside observer. From our vantage point — and we’re not even in the world of Samurai Flamenco so we’re basically cheating — it is so plainly obvious that Guillotine Gorilla is a joke. So much so that a lot of us have stopped watching the anime as a result. But put yourself in the position of an average person within the world Samurai Flamenco. Wow, the From Beyond bullshit isn’t actually bullshit after all. Yes, it looks dumb as hell, but man, we actually have to evacuate Tokyo today! But thank the gods we have the Flamengers.

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There’s the key right there. Thank the gods we have the Flamengers. The Flamengers is equivalent to the Disneyland imaginary in the quoted passage above. Yes, both the Flamengers and the From Beyond monsters are silly, but they are “presented as imaginary in order to make [the rest of the populace] believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of [Tokyo] and the [Japan] surrounding it are no longer real,” i.e. the government is a sham. The fake nature of the conflict between the Flamengers and the From Beyond monsters are admirable and attractive. It constitutes what I would call the superhero imaginary. Yay, we have heroes to save the day! Yay, no matter what happens, the good guys will always triumph! The illusion was so extreme that it even began to bore some people. Remember that? Remember how Masayoshi, when he was still Samurai Flamenco and not Red Flamenger, would battle some monster on the streets of Japan and people would just walk by as if it was just any other day in their ordinary lives? The fairy tale nature of the superhero imaginary makes it so that we shouldn’t realistically regard these events with any sort of urgency. This reminds me of a humorous moment in The Simpsons when the buffoonish Homer goes to space only to find himself in peril. This is how his own daughter and father react to the situation:

Lisa: C’mon Dad, you can make it.
Grandpa Simpson: Of course he’ll make it. It’s TV!

This is exactly what happens in the anime. People don’t even pay attention because “[o]f course the heroes will win. It’s [like on] TV!” So what am I getting at? In reaction to the latest episodes, a lot of people are like, “How can everyone just believe the Prime Minister? Why would everyone turn on the Flamengers so easily? Is mass media really that potent?” It’s because the superhero imaginary has made the hyperreal seem all too real. People didn’t feel the urgency when Samurai Flamenco was battling King Torture’s minions because it was so obviously TV-like and so obviously imaginary. I mean, just look at Miami Ballerina! So to re-iterate, the hyperreality of the world around them becomes the reality. The threat of the Flamengers being terrorists suddenly becomes urgent even though it is just as fake as the From Beyond monsters. But that’s the thing. In reality, it’s just as fake, but it doesn’t look as fake. It looks more real. What are you going to believe? That some superhero organization are really terrorists in disguise or… Miami Ballerina? The answer is obvious.

And so people mistake the hyperreal for the real because they’ve bought into the superhero imaginary. Again, the superhero imaginary has made it so attractive for some mythological hero to appear out of nowhere and save the day in a clean and tidy fashion. Now that the Flamengers are seen as the villains, people now look to the Prime Minister to fill the missing gap, i.e. become the mythological hero. As viewers, we know the truth. We know the Prime Minister is a fake as well as his government. But the people within the actual universe of Samurai Flamenco don’t have the same advantages that we do. As such, they’ve lost sight of the real. And now, we get to ask the all-important question: what is the real? To put it in a better way, who has been the “realest” person throughout the entire series? There is only one answer: our everyday man Gotou.

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Gotou has really suffered as a result of the superhero imaginary. As I’ve said, the superhero imaginary makes it so that we come to rely upon great men (or women) to save the day. When you can’t call upon the Flamengers, the next best thing is to rely upon our appointed leaders. And as result, this just ends up obscuring the real, i.e. the everyday people who contribute to keeping the world a safe place. I know I’m repeating myself, but I’m just about to get to my point. Look at it this way. I’m pretty lucky. I’m not rich, but I don’t live in the ghetto or anything. I can walk down to a nearby burger place — about two blocks away — at midnight and it’s likely that nothing will happen to me. No one’s going to mug me, no one’s going to kill me (hopefully, I haven’t jinxed myself…). Of course, you can’t say the same for some of the worse areas of this country, but you get my point: my community is relatively safe. Now, who can I thank for that? Obama, my president? Of course not. He’s the appointed leader of the United States, but it would be absolutely ludicrous to attribute my everyday safety to him. In reality, I am safe due to a confluence of factors.

From cops to neighborhood leaders to just parents teaching their children the difference between right and wrong, these are all reasons for why I am able to grab a burger at midnight without having to worry about being mugged or stabbed. Admittedly, I’m using a bit of an ideal example here, but my point is that we often lose sight of the real due to the powerful influence of the imaginary. Guys like Gotou are heroes as well. They do their part in keeping the peace in Japan, but unfortunately, they’ve been forgotten. They’ve been subsumed by the superhero imaginary. It is much easier to put all of our eggs in one basket. We don’t have to extend our trust to the rest of our community. We don’t have to depend upon each and every single neighbor to keep the world a safe place. We can just shine a spotlight and call upon our superheroes to swoop in and save the day. But let’s not forget what the beginnings of Samurai Flamenco — the beginnings of Masayoshi’s career — was all about. It was about the small things, i.e. don’t smoke in a non-smoking area. It’s finding heroism in every little deed no matter how small and insignificant they may seem in the bigger picture. The truth is that Gotou is a hero too, but because his job is to merely patrol the neighborhood, he’s been forgotten. Even Masayoshi has forgotten about Gotou.

No, Gotou has not been forgotten in the sense that Masayoshi no longer remembers who he is anymore. Obviously, our hero still remembers who Gotou is. Gotou is Masayoshi’s best friend. But y’see, until the very end of this episode, he was only a friend in Masayoshi’s eyes. And it is precisely for this reason that our protagonist is reluctant to rely upon Gotou. By seeing him as nothing more than a friend, it’s only natural that Masayoshi would then worry for Gotou’s sake, i.e. “I can’t get him involved; the Prime Minister’s people have been interrogating all of my friends and I don’t want anything bad to happen to my best friend.” So then what changed at the end?

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The beggar is living proof that anyone can perform deeds of heroism. The beggar is also a part of the real that people like Masayoshi have lost sight of. Anyone from the paragon of righteousness that is Red Flamenger to even a disgraced beggar can be a hero. And if you doubt the beggar’s heroism, he puts himself on the line to get Masayoshi out a sticky situation. What do you think will happen to the blind man if the the Prime Minister’s goons ever find out that he had aided Masayoshi? So this single act of heroism reminds our hero that he isn’t alone. It also reminds him that the superhero imaginary is only that. More importantly, Masayoshi need not carry this burden by himself because there are more heroes out there than he can possibly imagine.

By extension, therefore, Gotou is a hero as well. Yes, he’s a friend — and it’s perfectly naturally to worry for a friend’s sake — but he too can help Masayoshi fight for what is right. Part of this requires Masayoshi to reject the superhero imaginary, i.e. the very same imaginary that has made an idol out of him. And this is the return to the real. This is a rejection of both the superhero imaginary and the hyperreality surrounding the Prime Minister’s gambit. And I would contend that none of this would’ve been possible without our good ol’ friend Guillotine Gorilla.

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