by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Fire Force ?
I find it fascinating how episode 10 of Fire Force, despite mostly consisting of table-setting exposition and low-stakes workplace comedy, contains some of the most quietly effective storyboarding and direction we've seen from the show for weeks. It's the kind of episode that ends up feeling more impactful than it actually was, because every scene is bolstered by David Production's unassuming confidence. In recent weeks, it's been easy to pick out the scenes that the staff prioritized above everything else, those key beats where the spectacle and pathos managed to shine through the fog of Fire Force's wildly inconsistent storytelling. I don't want to write off the sins of the show's most recent arcs by damning it with faint praise, but this episode slightly reminded me of the first two episodes of the series, which were easily its best so far.
The key difference between “The Promise” and Fire Force's initial episodes is one of content – those first two episodes were packed to the gills with emotion, spectacle, and the unmistakable excitement that came along with the show's still nascent potential. “The Promise” is mostly about setting things up for the next arc, since the last one resolved in a meager handful of episodes. The big focus of the first half is on the meeting of the Fire Force Captains, which takes place at a church that has been built right into the base of Amaterasu, the “perpetual thermal energy plant”. We're introduced to the gaggle of captains in charge of running the place, doing the whole “everyone gets a title card and not much else” thing that Demon Slayer pulled a couple weeks back too. I'm rarely a fan of these “en masse” character introductions, but Fire Force gets one up on Demon Slayer by making such an expository chapter be fun to watch.
The colors and boarding make nearly every shot feel compelling, and the framing of the captains goes a long way in characterizing their relationships to one another. Company 2's Gustav Honda is a strict adherent to the traditions of both the Fire Force and the Church of Sol, while the bird-masked Dr. Giovanni, who heads Company 3, is content to sit silently on the sidelines and concoct whatever schemes he's cooking up underneath his plague-doctor mask. Most interesting of all is Company 7's Benimaru Shinmori, an aggressively uncooperative man who is labeled as a “proto-nationalist” by the others. In this case, it means that he has absolutely no patience for either the church or even traditional Japanese naming conventions – the guy literally shows up to call the whole procedure stupid and then leave, which Captain Obi implies is a regular occurrence. I don't know exactly where Fire Force is headed as it fills out the political landscape of this alternate universe, but I'm both interested and a little terrified to see what space Fire Force makes for ideological battlegrounds in the future.
This sequence also introduces us to Emperor Raffles III, who has the most delightfully stupid name I could imagine, and lots of plot details to deliver. Chiefly, he clarifies that Shinra's fancy feet are a manifestation of an Adolla Burst, which Fire Force helpfully explains as being like fire, but, you know, better. The Amaterasu's eternal power-plant blaze is another example of an Adolla Burst, and apparently the whole point of the Evangelist's mission is to obtain the power of Adolla Bursts by creating as many Infernals as possible. On the one hand, I can't imagine a more straightforward, no-frills way that Fire Force could have come out on stage and said, “Alright everyone, now that we've burned through ten episodes, here's the actual plot of the show”. On the other hand, it's nice to have expectations to follow, and if a little more direction is what it takes to get Fire Force back on track, then so be it.
The remainder of the episode is fluffy but well-directed workplace comedy about everyone eating dinner, giving the whole company a chance to hang out together for the first time since Tamaki joined the team. The Lucky Lecher Lure moments remain painfully stupid, and Princess' infatuation for Shinra fares only slightly better, but at least those jokes rely on Princess' awkward behavior and not so much her sexual humiliation. That's a low bar to clear, but I'll take it. Still, I enjoyed this sequence, which had Company 8 feeling like a real ensemble again, and it reminded me of how much I want to see this crew go out and fight monsters together. I'm even glad to have Arthur back for everyone to dunk on, though I remain mystified at the amount of attention given to his desert adventure last week, which apparently was just another “Arthur is exceptionally dumb” gag.
The Company 8 dinner also gives Shinra the chance to reveal what he learned in the episode's other major scene, where Joker returns out of the blue to reveal that Shinra's brother Sho is both definitely alive and a Commander of the Evangelist's Ashen Flames, the company of warriors that last week's pair of interlopers belonged to. Though Arthur and the others wonder if Joker can even be trusted, Fire Force isn't interested in any of that pesky ambiguity – the final shot of the episode shows us a little boy dressed in the garb of the Ashen Flame, who has murder in his eyes and a suspiciously familiar sharp-toothed grin.
This ending is emblematic of “The Promise's” strengths and weaknesses as a whole. Sure, the writing is too clunky and on-the-nose for its own good, but it all looks cool as hell, and you can tell that Atsushi Okubo and David Production are having fun with these visuals. This episode is nowhere near as exciting or emotionally resonant as Fire Force's first pair, but it feels more like the show I was expecting to see, which is a step up from the last arc's misfires. I'm too cynical to blindly hope that the series is just going to “get better” all of a sudden, but we may at least be seeing the signs of Fire Force shaking off its doldrums and getting back to its strengths.
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