by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 17 of
Fire Force ?
Lately, it seems like Fire Force is at its best when it is wrapping up an arc with some manner of bombastic conclusion. For all of the many issues this show has in its plotting and character writing, it can still put on a good show of spectacle when the demand arises. This week, Company 8's “Recruit Vulcan And Also Don't Get Killed By The White Clad” mission reaches its climax as the group recruits Vulcan and manages to not get killed by the White Clad. The former was basically an inevitability, but the fight against the Evangelist's forces becomes even more complicated when Sho arrives on the scene. This makes for some solid action and suspense, though I'm sure Shinra would have preferred a less homicidal family reunion for his long lost little brother.
It's hard to say how well Sho is going to fare as a character based on this initial appearance. Like most every member of the Fire Force cast, he's a familiar trope: The long-lost sibling that has been brainwashed into hating our heroes with a passion? You can practically hear the narration that would have been slapped over this scene if it was an early-90s anime: “Will Shinra be able to use the power of love and friendship to rescue his brother from the Evangelist's grasp!?” Honestly, I don't know how much I care at this point, seeing the characters' relationships in Fire Force have been mostly functional at this point. I like everyone okay, but I'm not so vested in their personal conflicts that I'm jumping out of my seat to find out what happens next. I'm sure everything with Sho is going to work out just fine. Or maybe not; either way, Fire Force will keep on trucking.
Likewise, I'm more or less ambivalent about Vulcan's addition to the cast, mostly due to how little these characters have had to do already outside of churn through the plot – Tamaki has been a non-presence since she joined the team; Princess has mostly existed to dole out exposition; Arthur has been given literally nothing but comedic relief; even Shinra has mostly just been doing his hero thing. The slowly expanding mysteries surrounding his Devil's Footprints are a decent enough way to propel the narrative along in fits and starts, but if I'm being honest, these disparate story arcs have yet to come together into anything truly compelling. My hope is that with Shinra and Sho's conflict now fully out in the open, along with the focus on Amaterasu and the fight to protect/control it, the show's plot will take shape and give Fire Force some much-needed structure for its character development to follow. I'll give Vulcan some credit: His obsession with weirdly inappropriate robot animals may be kind of stupid and juvenile, but it's a more unique personality than a lot of these new characters have been given this far (I'm looking at you, Lisa).
Speaking of new(ish) characters, though, Victor and Joker get some surprising hero moments, with Victor showing up to help rescue everyone from Sho and Giovanni while Joker provides an explosive distraction. I am interested to see where their place in the story is going to be, since they seem to be working against both the Fire Force and the Evangelist. It could very well end up being that these two (and whoever they represent) will end up representing a necessary third faction in the brewing conflicts, since the Evangelist is obviously no good, and the majority of Fire Force is shaping up to be equally sketchy. I don't know if that means Joker and Victor well end up being “good guys”, but more complications to Fire Force's plot can only be a good thing.
It might seem like my opinion on “Black and White and Gray” is pretty low, but though I have plenty of problems with Fire Force's writing and pacing, the episode itself is fun to watch in spite of these quibbles. The animation is slick and the action is well-directed; I suspect the crew knew that the meat of the story wasn't exactly the series' A material, and the extra spice thrown into the mix certainly made the episode work as a piece of entertainment, even if its merits as a story remain dubious. Shinra now knows exactly what has happened to his brother, and Vulcan has committed to helping out the Fire Force, even if the spirits of his father and grandfather might not exactly approve. The sequences this week are particularly well done across the board, and I commend the show for putting a bit of extra effort into a climax that could have easily been phoned in. It took a fair amount of explosions and bizarre jokes to get us to the end of the arc, but even if this wasn't my favorite batch of episodes, Fire Force is not a show to dwell on any one story for too long, so now we'll just have to see what the coming weeks have in store.
Odds and Ends
• Was it just me, or did the CGI in this episode kind of suck? Iris' frantic “Latóm”ing of the Random Robot Animal Buttons (?) in Vulcan's shop was pretty funny, but the cascade of cheap looking 3D models looked a little…dumb, and not the good “Arthur is a Precious Cinnamon Roll Idiot” kind of dumb, either.
• I'm also not a fan of Lisa's whole “magnetic flame” powers. They didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, conceptually, and I thought the CG flame tentacles looks a little cheap, especially compared to how good the fire effects usually look in this show.
• Number of Weeks Without a “Lucky Lecher Lure” Incident: Technically Zero again, but I will begrudgingly admit that Fire Force finally got a funny joke out of Tamaki's dumb fanservice gag this week: At Vulcan's introductory Company 8 dinner, everyone makes a point of Tamaki's Lecher Lure not being active, only for her tempura to lose its clothing instead.
• Though I'm not a huge fan of Princess' flatness as a character, I laughed pretty hard are her brazen willingness to kill anyone that isn't Shinra, including Arthur. The poor guy just can't catch a break.
• For the third week in a row, I must ask, what is with all of the
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