Content warning: discussion of police brutality, mass shootings, and systemic violence
Spoilers for Samurai Flamenco
Samurai Flamenco is a story about the intersection of community and justice. The main character, Hazama Masayoshi, is intent on living out the ideals he learned from the hero stories that captured his imagination as a child. Their values guide his actions, so much so that he decides to become one himself, under the moniker Samurai Flamenco. As he navigates this choice, he begins to learn that heroes and villains are parts of their community, not forces outside of it. This causes him to re-evaluate what justice means to him and how he wants to practice it. This process closes the gap he sees between himself and his community, has him reject violence, and roots his sense of justice in love and empathy rather than punishment.
According to the logic of the story, the world around Masayoshi is being shaped by his unspoken desires (at least until the final arc). This means a viewer can retroactively read revelations about Masayoshi as a character onto how the narrative develops. To put it lightly, at the beginning of the story, Masayoshi is a highly privileged individual. He was scouted as a model in high school and lives in a nice apartment at the top of a building, with sufficient wealth to have an extensive collection of hero paraphernalia. This distance between him and the street is a very literal barrier that serves as a metaphorical one as well. Masayoshi is well-meaning, but his wealth, fame, and isolation from his community restricts his empathy. He sees his role as a hero as distinct from being a normal person.
This type of isolation is very common in the real world, as historical trends like white flight or growing gaps in class privilege allow some people to be insulated from the worst effects of inflation and supply shortages. Gaps in empathy are built by or for people, which create an “us” and “them” view of our communities. A very common consequence of this is viewing lawbreaking by people with less privilege with more contempt.
For Masayoshi, this results in him patrolling the streets in a homemade costume, telling off folks for smoking in non-smoking zones and for being out after curfew. At this time, all he knows to do is to tell them what they are doing is wrong. Rather than approaching these individuals as people first, he puts their offense as the center of his initial dialogue. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t go over well, and Masayoshi finds himself naked in a back alley after a scuffle.
Here he meets the police officer Goto Hidenori. Rather than arresting him for indecent exposure, Goto helps him back to his apartment. Here, Goto abdicates his authority in favor of helping Masayoshi. This example serves as the first opportunity for Masayoshi to see a different understanding of justice. Masayoshi shares his love of heroes with Goto. Goto points out to him that he could have been a cop, but even in this early part of the story Masayoshi understands there is something different between their two roles—here it’s because Masayoshi’s half-baked conception of justice demands he save the world by himself, but his arc will continue to lead him away from the systemic failings of policing in other ways. Goto continues to help Masayoshi from this point on, but notably always when he is not working, or by leaving his post to do so. This budding friendship begins to ground Masayoshi in his community. It also establishes the foundation for resolving the final arc of the story.
There are other early signs of where Masayoshi’s character arc will take him. In his childhood, Masayoshi had taken a classmate’s umbrella after school, causing this person to get sick. His takeaway from this experience is that the tolerance of petty evils that “everybody does” builds the foundation for larger evils. While in some ways it’s similar to him scolding residents for taking their trash out a little early, it shows part of his driving desire is to prevent harm
It isn’t long before Masayoshi encounters Flamenco Girl, the head of the idol group Mineral Miracle Muse that also begins fighting crime at night. However, Flamenco Girl’s actions are excessively forceful. This violence, and the joy being taken in it, shocks Masayoshi. Indeed, Mari is pretty mask-off about how this violence helps her “let off steam” as her primary motivator. He breaks off his team-up with her, and Mari rebrands as Flamenco Diamond, pressuring her idol bandmates into joining her as part of the “Flamenco Girls.”
Despite not being cops, the Flamenco Girls are not unlike police in their behavior. While the language of protecting and serving is deployed to explain their actions, it is well known that calling them in often escalates a situation, rather than making it safer. This is why some communities create alternative structures to cope with domestic abuse and urgent mental health crises. While I don’t personally think all people who become cops have the same zeal for violence as Mari, the system they operate in and how it frames justice often inevitably leads them to these actions. Masayoshi’s discomfort with the violence is likely exacerbated by his complicity in it by not doing more to stop them, like the immigration agents who took no action while Whishma Sandamali’s health deteriorated in their “care.”
Masayoshi’s reality soon takes a turn, with the introduction of actual monsters, organized first under King Torture and then under the banner of “From Beyond.” Before now, the stakes of the story were pretty low, but very suddenly the first onscreen death occurs. This level of cruelty from a villain is what Masayoshi (at this point in the story) believes is necessary to justify using the level of violence practiced by his peers. This change in the world stunts Masayoshi’s growing connection to his community, and instead starts to bring him closer to how the Flamenco Girls operate. Because he is still stuck in his original perspective of justice, his change is to make the violence “justified,” rather than to stop the harm done by the violence.
After a short period, the monsters’ plans to take over the world become more esoteric and less directly threatening to the general populace. Simultaneously, Samurai Flamenco expands his arsenal of technically legal weaponry, provided by a supportive scientist. This escalation of force on his part and his growing competence in using violence as a tool to maintain the status quo culminate in his confrontation with From Beyond’s leader, who happens to look identical to Masayoshi himself. This confrontation ends with the leader committing suicide right in front of Masayoshi. From Beyond’s leader looking just like him plants a seed of self-reflection in Masayoshi, making him question if his use of violence is any different from theirs. It shakes him out of the mental framework that built this arc, and recenters his focus on reducing harm.
This event also comes on the heels of Masayoshi defying the authorities who legitimize his violence. The politicians supporting his heroics seek to evacuate before the final attack, but do not wish to let the public know. Masayoshi spills the beans, rather than keeping people in the dark while the politicians quietly leave. This betrayal of trust by authority (by prioritizing their safety over others) and his growing unease with his use of violence set the stage for the next change to both him as a character and the story’s status quo.
This escalation of force is an ongoing issue in our world as well. While continuing to not address the issues of poverty that drive many people towards illicit activity, legislators and city officials work to ensure that the police have surplus military grade weapons and equipment that is caused by overspending on that as well. Despite this overwhelming monopoly on violent tools, situations like the school shooting in Uvalde show that no amount of tactical overpreparedness is ever enough.
When the world changes, Masayoshi is put into conflict with his government. Japan outlaws heroes performing their duties in public. Masayoshi is unable to accept the idea that he should stop doing what he believes will help people, even if the law disagrees. However, now that his opponent is an entity that he has respect for, he struggles with finding a way to engage with it. He ends up fighting the Prime Minister, as this helps put a face on the challenge, despite it being a more systemic issue. The Prime Minister is ultimately defeated thanks to a collaboration between Masayoshi and a reporter, highlighting the power of community information. Together, alongside Goto, they show how he benefits from this change in legal structure.
Control of information and access to decision-makers is also something that is used to disempower the general public. Whether it is scheduling public meetings at prohibitive times, permitting little or no public participation in those meetings or not sharing details of private room dealings that lead to policy decisions, control over speech and information help bolster less democratic processes at all levels of governance. Recording meetings, prerecording a message and giving it to someone who can attend, and leaking privileged information are all ways this has been countered in real life.
Masayoshi’s battle with aliens demonstrates the way he’s come to see himself as part of the community, rather than separate from it, and must find a more external threat to engage. It also shows growth in his methodology, as he first attempts to have a conversation with his opponent. They do fight, but the attempt shows how he is becoming less reliant on violence as a tool, more familiar with other ways to enact justice, and sees things from a people-first perspective.
After defeating the alien, Masayoshi meets with a cosmic entity that gives him a choice. He can continue to be a hero in the way he wished at the beginning of the series, or the world can be reset to a state where categorically evil entities do not exist. After reflecting on his journey, Masayoshi decides to reject his initial vision of what being a hero means. He now understands how it isolated him from his community, and how it led to unending and ever escalating conflict.
Once the world is changed, Masayoshi has a final test of his growth. Sawada Haiji is a middle school student who wishes to make Masayoshi’s life miserable. Sawada commits extreme acts of violence, but the solution to defeating him lies in finding the power to love him. This arc is noticeably less focused on heroic actions and more on self-reflection paired with personal growth.
Ultimately, Masayoshi prevails by becoming able to acknowledge his love for Goto. One of Haiji’s cruelties is the destruction of Goto’s former girlfriend’s phone, which forces Goto to confront his unresolved grief over her unsolved disappearance in their youth. Shortly after, Masayoshi professes his love for Goto and even proposes marriage. Finding the path to this confession is essential to Masayoshi’s ability to see Haiji as someone worthy of love instead of a “bad guy” who needs to be punished. The consequences of Haiji’s arc aren’t complete by the end of the show, but we are left in a place that posits a hopeful future, with Masayoshi and Goto regularly visiting him at his detention center.
In our own world, people commit acts of violence against one another, abuse positions of authority, take things or people we care about away from us and many other cruel things. People like Masayoshi, who are not taught about, and who are not confronted daily with oppression, often struggle to imagine a different idea of justice. Like Masayoshi, many first steps into this work can be messy, or actively unhelpful. But Samurai Flamenco’s story ultimately suggests that by continuing to work together, recognizing when one is in error, and prioritizing humanity, a better world can be made.