by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 16 of
Fire Force ?
I've come to the conclusion that the best way to accept the show that Fire Force has become is that not only is it written for an audience of primarily of young teenagers, but it feels like might as well also be made by a bunch of young teenagers. At the very least, the show often embodies the creative spirit of a very young and very enthusiastic artists that want to tell an epic, serious, and badass superhero story…but who also can't help but indulge in their ridiculous juvenile instincts along the way. The internet tells me that Atsushi Okubo is 40 years old at the time of this writing, but are we sure that Fire Force wasn't actually written and drawn by a bunch of boys stacked on top of each other in a trenchcoat?
“We Are a Family” is an interesting episode of Fire Force, because those exuberantly and unapologetically immature sensibilities both hurt and help the show in equal measure this week. On the one hand, the script is about as straightforward and plain as they come. When you have a title like “We Are a Family”, and then the episode spends an awful lot of time emphasizing how “unbreakable” Vulcan's bonds to his makeshift family are, it's of absolutely no surprise when things immediately go south. Giovanni, the creepy guy dressed like a plague doctor, turns out to be a villain? Of course. The one-woman Vulcan has come to trust ends up being a double-agent for the Evangelist? Naturally. Yu, the innocent child caught in the crosshairs, is brutally injured to show just how Bad™ our Bad Guys really are? Called it from a mile away. These are the kinds of twists a kid might pull when he's working on his Shonen Jump fanfiction and has to copy the beats of the better stories that have come before him because he hasn't figured out how to change up the formula on his own. When you toss in the relatively basic fight-scenes that exist primarily to pad out the running time, and what you have on paper is a mostly mediocre episode of a frustratingly underwhelming anime.
Then again, Fire Force's goofy adolescent approach to nearly everything it does is what saves this episode in the long run, because it gives Arthur the chance to do the single dumbest thing he's ever done, which is really saying something. Suffering from what basically amounts to performance anxiety, and with Shinra down for the count after getting bushwhacked by Giovanni, Arthur admits that he won't have the strength to fight off the Evangelist's goons unless he can feel “more knightly”. Vulcan's solution is improbably weirder than I ever could have guessed: He tosses a blue tarp onto Arthur to function as a cape, and then outfits him with something that I wish I could describe as anything other than what it is: A disturbingly realistic donkey head that gets strapped right on to Arthur's junk.
I wasn't actually surprised that this trick worked – Arthur is, as we know, the single dumbest boy to ever live. It only makes sense that he would utterly and completely buy into his delusions of knighthood the minute he walked out on to the battlefield with a horrifying donkey-head phallus aimed right at his enemies. The purity of the humor is almost too great for me to properly put into words, because I can only describe it exactly as it happened, and pray that all of you reading this understand what makes it so inherently perfect. Arthur Boyle fights a Knight of the Ashen Flame with the power of imagination, which is bestowed upon him by robot donkey head that he obliviously wears like a sex toy. It is one of the single dumbest visual gags I have ever encountered in an anime, and it alone makes this episode worth recommending, if just barely.
Otherwise, this episode is about giving Vulcan a buy-in to helping out the Fire Force, and it explains Giovanni and the Evangelist's goal of unlocking the great perpetual energy machine, Amaterasu. Lisa has betrayed everyone, Yu has been mortally wounded by Giovanni's gunshot, and Vulcan either can't or won't reveal the location of Amaterasu's key. Like the rest of the episode, the cliffhanger is a functional imitation of what better stories have done before it, but it's enough to get us to the next chapter. With Arthur's steed little more than scraps of fur and metal in the wind, it is likely foolish to hope for his return. Let's all raise a glass, and a hearty “Hi yo, Silver!”, for our fallen comrade. He was the hero Fire Force deserved, and the world will be a poorer place without him.
Odds and Ends
• I didn't talk much about either Lisa or Giovanni's heel turns this week because there isn't too much to say about them. They're bad and mean, and if Fire Force is interested in making them more developed than that, it'll have to be saved for future episodes.
• As far as quality goes, however, Giovanni leaves a lot to be desired as an antagonist. His character design is pretty weak, for one thing, and most of his evil dialogue kind of sucks. A prime example of his hollow posturing: ““Gullible people don't suspect others, so they get tricked. You should learn to look twice before you leap. Did you have fun playing house with Lisa?” Blegh.
• Credit where it's due, though: Giovanni's breakdown into enraged, repetitive screaming at the end of the episode is pretty funny in how silly and absurd it is. “I have looked, and looked, and looked, and looked, and looked, and looked, and looked, and looked, and looked, and looked, for that key!”
• Finally, I have to ask: Why the hell did Vulcan have that robotic donkey head to begin with? Between this and the nightmare squirrel from last week, I have some questions about Vulcan that might be better left unanswered.
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