by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Fire Force ?
Given the nearly month-long absence from our screens, it's funny to have Fire Force picking back up exactly where it left off back in Episode 11: Following the funeral for Kantaro, the unfortunate Infernal that Shinmon put down in Asakusa, the Company 8 members are helping Company 7 with the district's repair efforts. Shrina uses his fiery feet to transport materials and entertain the children, Arthur puts a little Mini-Excalibur to good welding use, Maki takes care of the heavy lifting, and Tamaki…well, she gets up to her usual nonsense. It's a fairly low-key episode in its first third, as it mostly works to establish a bit of a rapport between the two companies, and introduce the concept of tephrosis, the affliction that currently afflicts Company 7's eldest member, Konro. Apparently, third-gen pyrotechnics can more-or-less “burn out” their natural source of fire energy, which not only renders them useless in battle, but also sees their body withering away as a result. It's grim stuff, and another interesting wrinkle in Fire Force's worldbuilding, but there isn't too much time to dwell on that when the episode is titled “Eve of Hostilities in Asakusa”.
The titular “hostilities” make up the majority of this week's events, and they show Fire Force both at its most entertaining and its sloppiest. The Evangelist's agents are about, you see, and in addition to infecting citizens like Kantaro with the Infernal Bug, they're also sowing discord by turning Shinmon against Company 8. Their exact method is dubious, to be sure: As Shinmon makes his nightly patrol, the agents basically trick him into thinking that he overhears Captain Obi and Lieutenant Hinawa having a comically obvious discussion about their supposed evil plot. It essentially boils down to the two of them loudly proclaiming how excited they are to just be the most evil of evil bad guys and turn everyone into Infernals. Shinmon, for his part, does not bother to investigate this thread of suspiciously obvious information for a second – he just starts blowing crap up, and this a fifteen minute long fight scene between Company 8 and Shinmon Benimaru ensues.
To Fire Force's credit, this is a solid, well animated action sequence, albeit a bit one-sided, since Shinmon wipes the floor with everyone without breaking a sweat. It's nice to see the whole team (minus Iris) in on the action again, though it's unfortunate that there's very little for any of them to do aside from getting the snot kicked out of them. Hinawa gets a couple of strategic shots out of his gunplay, which is always neat, and there's the briefest glimpse of Maki and Shinra tag-teaming with their fighting styles, which I would love to see more off. Too often, the fights boil down to just Shinra using his breakdancing moves, so more interplay between him and the rest of the squad would go a long way towards spicing up the choreography a bit.
This is Captain Obi's time to shine, though, which is good, since he hasn't had a proper moment in the spotlight for months. The last fight that didn't revolve entirely around Shinra was the rushed assault on Company 5's base, and the whole joke was that Obi spent so long preparing his combat gear that he missed out on all of the action. That isn't the case here, though, as Obi gets to put his armor and his firefighting gadgets to good use. There's perhaps a bit too much emphasis on the one trick of his extinguishing grenades, but it's something different, so I can forgive the episode for having a somewhat limited imagination when it comes to how the action was staged.
The neat fight scene isn't enough to draw back from the episode's sloppiness, though, which extends beyond simply taking too long to get Shinmon back on Company 8's side again. The contrived circumstances of the fight don't exactly make for great drama; Shinmon's refusal to even consider his allies' side of the story is made even more frustrating when the whole fight is resolved simply by having Konro come out and ask Shinmon to just shut up and listen for a second. It stops just short of the show admitting that the whole fight was basically filler. More noticeable editing and animation flubs rear their heads this week, too: One sequence, near the end of the fight, seems like it didn't have enough footage to string it's separate shots together, so random sound effects and a still frame of Shinmon's eye get crammed in the middle of the scene instead.
Also, the episode commits one of my least favorite writing gaffes: It ends on a cliff-hanger in the middle of a flashback. Konro's story of how he wound up suffering from tephrosis doesn't even seem as if it warrants more than a few minutes of explanation anyways, yet “Eve of Hostilities in Asakusa” ends with a slightly younger Shinmon and Konro barely running into an intimidating Infernal during a combustion outbreak a few years prior, and then we just cut to credits. Pacing has never been Fire Force's strong suit, and I was thinking this Asakusa Arc would be a chance for the show to get a fresh start, but this isn't exactly the return to form I had been hoping for. We'll just have to see if the buildup was worth it when Fire Force picks things up again next time.
Odds and Ends
• Number of Weeks Without a “Lucky Lecher Lure” Incident: Zero, unfortunately. All Tamaki contributes to this episode (aside from getting her back broken against a tree) is having her top fly off so the Asakusa men get to ogle her. Hooray.
• I honestly have no clue what Hikage and Hinata are doing in Company 7. Whether they're nuns, or pyrotechnics, or just a pair of weird orphans that exist to heckle Shinmon, they haven't proven themselves to be all that useful at much of anything.
• The twins do roast Shinra a bit for his flashy fire moves, which he defends by whining: “It's breakin'! Break Dancing! And it's not ridiculous, it's cool!” I resisted the overwhelming urge to make an “Electric Boogaloo” joke this time, but if Shinra insists on referring to his fighting style as “breakin'” again, I won't have the willpower to restrain myself.
• In a nearly pointless aside, Princess' and the Company 5 crew are holding down the fort with Iris at the Company 8 station. However, the scene has one of the Company 5 men literally begging Princess to step on him some more, so you can't accuse Fire Force of selling a false bill of goods.
• Is it just me, or are Shinmon's goofy-ass eyes even more distracting than Princess'? I don't know if it's the specific “X and O” shapes he's got going on, the asymmetry of them, or the colors of his irises, but every time I see Shinmon I think he has to be nearly blind and in a lot of pain.
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