After a solid four months or so, we finally hunkered down and finished up Flame of Recca. The original impetus behind watching this series was kyaaaaaah Mahiron kyaaaaaah. What we ended up with was a master class on how not to do a tournament fighting arc.
The first quarter or so of Flame of Recca is based around establishing the characters and the setting. After that point, the show becomes one long tournament where Recca and his team need to fight through a succession of opponents in best of five rounds. This has some pretty big structural problems from a storytelling perspective.
The first problem, which causes many more problems to flow forth from it, is that Recca is always slotted into the fifth slot on his team. The reasoning here is that he’s the best fighter (and this is his story), so he should be the one to settle each match. The problem with this is that it requires from a storytelling perspective that every round is going to need to go to the fifth and final match rather than having them win say, 3-0.
Based on the fact that every round needs to go all five matches, there needs to be a way balance out the wins and the losses so that Recca’s team doesn’t win before he gets to show up. Otherwise, this series would be more like Flame of Fuuko or Flame of Domon than Flame of Recca. Unfortunately, rather than having tough matches that go back and forth, the series generally just pulls decisions out of its ass in order to stretch out each round. There are times when a member of Recca’s team knocks out the other fighter and then returns back to their corner to celebrate, only to collapse once they get there. These then get called as draws rather than wins. Then on the flip side, there are times when both fighters are clearly knocked out, but rather than call it as a draw, the referee waits for a while until someone (and by someone I mean the person that Recca’s team is fighting) eventually gets up to call the match for that team.
And those are some of the less egregious asspulls. The morning before one round, Domon and Fuuko go out for a walk where they fall into a pit trap. They don’t escape until after both of their matches have to be conceded, allowing the match to start 0-2. There is another round where Domon and Fuuko win their matches, making Recca’s team goes up a quick 2-0. Their opponents ask if they want to do a 2 on 2 match, winner takes all. Stupidly, Recca’s team accepts even though there is no reason whatsoever why they should do that. Then, during the match the other team is about to kill Recca and his partner with one of their attacks. This causes Domon to run into the ring to save them from a certain death. Understandably, this causes the ref to penalize Recca’s team—by reversing Domon’s win earlier…which already doesn’t count for anything because the results of the first two matches were already tossed out by the new winner takes all stipulation. Finally, the most contrived of all is in the finals. Recca’s team is down 1-2 (which really should be more like up 2-0-1) going into the fourth match. Their opponent concedes without even fighting. His reasoning was that this whole tournament was organized by Recca’s brother (the fifth member of that team) to provide a showdown between Recca and himself, so the entire tournament would’ve been totally pointless were his team to win that round 3-1.
The second problem comes from those obligatory shounen battle explanation scenes. You know which ones I mean. The ones where character A goes to do some kind of big attack, character B looks unprepared for the attack, character C out in the stands gets shocked, characters D-Z ask what is so shocking, and then character C explains how character A’s attack works. Flame of Recca has these scenes constantly, with the role of character C played by Recca’s mother. The backstory of the series is that back in the Sengoku Era, Recca’s mother sent him (and unknowingly, Reccas’s evil brother) into the future to save him from an attack on their village. This cursed her with immortality, which she has been using in the hundreds of years since then to both look for Recca and to hunt down the many magical weapons that were stolen from their ninja clan after that battle (and are now being used by the competitors in the tournament).
So despite the fact that she has been spending centuries researching and tracking these weapons, along with scouting the various participants in the tournament, none of this information ever comes up prior to each battle and we/the other characters only ever learn of it when it would be dramatic to do so. Along with making every fight feel incredibly cliched and derivative, there’s no real satisfaction whatsoever from a predicative perspective while watching them. You can never think of any good way for the good guys to win each fight because there’s nothing that you can base any predictions upon. And again, they’re simply lazy ways to write fights because rather than needing to do the difficult task of coming up with some kinds of fictional strategies for both fighters, every battle just needs to consist of the good guy getting beaten up until both people pull some new move out of thin air to end the match.
Finally, the last thing that I want to say about Flame of Recca is that animation in this series is quite possible the most inconsistent that I’ve ever seen. The above image of Fuuko shows how the character designs, art style, and quality of the drawings would massively fluctuate from episode to episode. But that only tells a partial story. Based on that comparison, one would think that the animation in this show varies from “awfully” to “unbelievably bad”. In actuality it ranges from “unbelievably bad” to “oh look, Atsushi Wakabayashi and Norio Matsumoto worked on this episode.” Observe: