Management: While my opinion of the show is generally positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes. This post mainly references Samurai Flamenco Episode 2: “My Umbrella Is Missing.”
One of the moments I found most memorable in Samurai Flamenco didn’t involve any of the steadily spectacle-creep superhero battles. My evaluations of these battles ranged from tediously cliche (The Flamengers versus From Beyond) to absolutely ridiculous (Samurai Flamenco versus The Prime Minister). I would suspect a lot of people who watched the show from start to finish had similar reactions. But from moment-to-moment, the parts of the story I found the most emotionally resonant was the parts that were relatively mundane. They were slow moments, characters talking with each other, arguing with each other, sharing their ambitions and motivations, dreams and goals.
Getting back to the point, a moment that struck me was one about umbrellas. Hazama Masayoshi and Goto Hidenori are in a restaurant, eating, drinking, and talking about Hazama’s latest antics as Samurai Flamenco. That discussion leads back into a discussion of Hazama’s motivations for being a hero. Up to that point, Samurai Flamenco’s illustrious career thus far consisted of scolding people for not following the small laws: salarymen smoking in non-smoking zones, housewives putting out their trash too early, kids littering and staying out past curfew, and people swiping each other’s umbrellas from the public stands. These violations are misdemeanors at worst, and nuisances at best.
Most of the people who will read this post will be Westerners, and I’m an American. I can’t really argue with certainty how much of an issue government overreach happens to be outside of the US, but inside the US, there’s a deep distrust by many Americans of anything associated with the “nanny-state.” I can’t help but be skeptical of it myself. They’re little, albeit formal, violations that the system lets slip under the cracks, because they’re not worth enforcing compared to other priorities. And indeed, the inevitability of them happening, the frequency by which they occur, and costs of enforcement are deemed by policeman Goto as not worth the trouble for him to actively seek out. Hero Hazama disagrees. He disagrees, and he explains why by discussing the meaning behind his small-time crime fighting. Far from trying to invade people’s privacy and controlling their lives, what he wants to fight is cynicism.
It’s the kind of cynicism that small traditional villages fear taking root and big modern cities take for granted as not having. It’s a negativity you feel acutely when an hour passes by with no one stopping to give a boost to your dead car’s battery. It’s the worry of unlocked doors, the concern over unattended umbrellas, the pessimism of believing that Good Samaritans are as numerous as saints: few and far between. It’s the trust you direct to only your close relations, the distrust of people in general.
As both a self-proclaimed cynic and individualist, I can’t say that I’m especially fond of the idea of public umbrella holders. Whenever I go to anyplace public during a rainy day, I tend to keep my umbrella on me. I do it to protect myself. Putting aside thoughts of a hidden blade I might whip out to shank muggers, I imagine protecting myself with an umbrella through two ways. (1) I’m in a position to keep a close watch over it, and (2) even if I happen to lose it, I’d chalk up my loss as my own fault for being careless despite my agency. If I put less faith in others not swiping my umbrella, then I feel less betrayed when someone does swipe my umbrella. At least to me, being betrayed feels worse than being careless. And umbrellas, at the very least, are easy and affordable to come by.
On a related anecdote, I used to carry all of my textbooks with me during high school. I had a backpack and a shoulder bag that I lugged around to hold all the reading material I’d need for the day. Yes, they were heavy and they strained my back. I had to plan early for what classes I had travel to next during recesses because I was unable to run around without risking faceplants and nausea. Part of it had to do with my stubborn refusal to learn how to use lockers properly. The other part had to do with my fears of leaving my things unattended. I felt more mentally comfortable carrying my belongings around with me, because I didn’t trust lockers to keep my belongings unmolested. By extension, I couldn’t trust any schoolmates that I wasn’t friends with from stealing my stuff.
And you know, upon reflecting on what I used to do in these types of situations and what I would do when I’m confronted with them again, I can’t help but feel sad. I can’t help but feel sad that these cynical lessons are the ones that I and my peers might pass down to our potential kids and pupils. Related to this sentiment is the crushing feeling I get that today’s parents will likely pass down the insistence on distrust to their children. I doubt my level of cynicism to strangers is unique to me. In fact, I think that cynicism is quite common among people in this day and age. The lessons passed down aren’t to be considerate, charitable, and compassionate to your fellow man and woman. They’re to be guarded against them, because you can’t expect them to be any of those things.
The truly malicious are relatively rare, but our responses are fuel for a cynical cycle that feeds into itself. The man/woman that passes you when you’ve fallen in the street probably isn’t altogether bad. He/she is probably afraid of what will happen if he/she bends down to help, more often than not. They are afraid of the commitment he/she might have to invest, given limited temporal and financial resources. They are afraid of the frustration that may be felt if he/she happens to be disappointed, misunderstood, or hoodwinked. They have their priorities and egos. Nevertheless, I feel like I have to be on guard. They feel like they have to be on guard. We all feel like we have to be on guard, and yet it is our very caution, our very cynicism and even paranoia that creates this atmosphere of distrust in the first place.
By extension, in this atmosphere of distrust, people can justify taking immoral shortcuts, and especially minor ones, to get by. They can justify them because they believe that they can’t expect any better of others. It’s a cynical cycle that feeds into itself. It’s ‘just business,’ the business of their careers, their societies, their lives. It’s the kind of excuse that leads to people swiping unattended umbrellas. They’re not unlike an relentless visiting of microaggressions pounding on your periphery. The oppressiveness of this distrust just builds overtime, shaping your subconscious, your thoughts, your tendencies, your proclivities, and your reactions for the bitter.
And in out cynicism, our defensiveness, our bitterness, we neglect to be empathetic. We neglect to imagine the personal feelings invested in that cheap umbrella we swiped. We neglect to think about the concern that others have when they see you lugging a heavy load. We neglect to consider the faith people lose in humanity when they see callousness and selfishness in the mundane. It rubs off on them. It bleeds into the culture, and it saps the spirit. That is why Masayoshi goes out every evening, stopping petty violations to the law with his ridiculously flamboyant superhero consume and demeanor. His goal isn’t to “nanny” people, strictly speaking. It’s to make people understand how smokers can harm non-smokers that have to walk past them, how housewives can invite rat problems into the community, how kids after curfew are ruining their futures and making their loved ones sick with worry.
It’s to combat cynicism. It’s to inspire empathy.