by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 20 of
Fire Force ?
If you were hoping that Fire Force would take this week as an opportunity to continue with its “Stop worrying about the plot so much and let the heroes kick a bunch of ass for a bit” plan that worked so well last time, then you're in luck, because “Wearing His Pride” does exactly that. Instead of focusing on the ladies, though, Shinra, Arthur, and Hinawa are the ones at bat here, and they acquit themselves quite well, as does the show in general. There is barely a plot to recap, and hardly anything that could be considered a complex or resonant emotional core, but the good guys use their magic fire punches to hit the bad guys really hard, and Fire Force is almost always at its best when it keeps things simple like this, and puts the emphasis on what it's good at.
For the second week in a row, Shinra takes a backseat for most of the episode, which is a good thing. Of the entirety of Company 8, Shinra is leagues ahead of his comrades in terms of both screen time and development, so I don't mind him taking on the role of comedic relief while the others take on the tougher challenges. His paring with Victor is fine, offering a handful of laughs as he uses the scientist's rescue as an opportunity to refine his special move naming skills. I'm surprised that the show hasn't done anything with Victor since he joined the team; his mysterious introduction came at the very beginning of the series, and we're almost two dozen episodes in now, yet Victor's purpose and presence has amounted to not much more than redundant foreshadowing and some gag work.
Maybe that will come in the final weeks of the winter season. For now though, a break from the action is what Victor and Shinra have to offer, as do Maki, Tamaki, and Iris, who also get a short-but-cute reunion in between fight scenes. Outside of that, however, this week is all about giving Hinawa and Arthur some time to shine in their respective battles against Arrow and Mirage, respectively. These aren't the most amazingly animated or choreographed set pieces Fire Force has given us, but the two fights fit squarely within the comfortable framework of classic shonen action, and they work well for what they are. Hinawa's bullet manipulation has never felt more powerful or visceral than here as he's facing off with Arrow, and his use of Arrow's flames to enhance the velocity of his own projectiles is an admittedly gorgeous cut of animation, in addition to being rad as hell.
Arthur's fight to protect an injured Hinawa against Mirage and his doppelgangers is also solid, though it would have been even better if the clunky flashbacks to Shinmon's pacing didn't drag down the pacing so much. I usually appreciate the more cerebral fights over the straightforward brawls, and I liked that Fire Force managed to squeak in a bit of character development by framing the fight as an opportunity for Arthur to demonstrate his relative cool-headedness. In waiting out the barrage of figment Mirages and carefully studying his opponent's breathing, Arthur wins the day by choosing when not to strike. It's surprisingly smart writing to see Fire Force successfully playing with how its audience could by now believe that Arthur is too dumb to successfully trick Mirage, if only for a second, only to have his single slash at the enemy succeed. It's a familiar trick, but a fun and satisfying one all the same.
It's a shame, then, that “Wearing His Pride” would end on a weak note, but the confrontation between Vulcan, Lisa, and Dr. Giovanni is easily the part of the episode that made me want to check out. The dynamic between Giovanni and Lisa, which has an abusive air that is coded as more than a little sexual, is the kind of edgy writing that might have seemed appropriately gritty a decade ago, but comes across as a cheap cliché in 2019. Lisa was picked up by Giovanni off the street and “taught how to manipulate fire…and men”, and not only does he constantly refer to her as a dirty little street cat (his words), he also threatens one of his “lessons” should she not comply with fighting against Vulcan. To be clear, I don't find this to be egregiously offensive – it's just boring. Giovanni and Lisa have both had about an episode's worth of story to establish themselves as characters, and they're just your basic Evil Scientist Evil Turncoat/Ex-Girlfriend type.
Not even the juxtaposition of Giovanni's villainous means of control versus Obi's more noble method of leadership can give this scene the kick in the pants it needs; what we have here is a basic mini-boss fight right before the team reunites to take down the current Big Bad. There isn't even any guarantee that Sho is going to end up being all that interesting himself as a villain, but his relationship with Fire Force's single decently-developed protagonist gives us something to work with at least. The promise of a slightly more interesting fight against a middling foe might be damning Fire Force's final batch of winter episodes with faint praise, but it will at least be enough to get us through to the storyline's conclusion.
Odds and Ends
• The “Wearing His Pride” of the title refers to Hinawa finding inspiration in his Company 8 patch, and the affection he feels for his very quaint little band of upstarts and outcasts. I'm not going to call this Grade-A characterization, but it does confirm that Hinawa is indeed a good lieutenant, and that that he deserves a vacation when all of this nonsense is done.
• Shinra's Silly Superhero Pseudonym Corner: He gets two this week. The first comes when he is rescuing Victor, when he declares that he is “On-His-Toes Man”. The second comes much later, when Shinra explains why he has to use the word “Man” in everything, even when Victor offers “Rapid” as a better name for his “Kicker-Man Kick”. It's a convolution twisting of the various readings to be found in the Kanji that form Shinra and Sho's names, which basically boils down to “man” being a character that can bridge the divide between the family (at least, that's what I think is going on). Either way, the whole “[Insert Whatever The Hell Shinra Is Thinking About Here] + Man” naming formula is one kanji-based pun that I'm sure makes the series' translators' lives ever-so-fun, and inspires Shinra's latest nom-de-hero: “Uses-Man-Man!”.
• DubTalk: Some folks have been asking for thoughts on Funimation's English Dub, and while I can't promise I'll have much to say about it each week, here's my breakdown of this week's most prominent cast members, along with how they've done so far: Derick Snow is doing fine as Shinra, though the “raspy-voiced cocky hero” trope hasn't given him too much work with so far. Ian Sinclair is playing Victor with a peculiar, laid back affectation, and I can't quite decide whether I like it or not. Eric Vale captures Arthur's brash, idiotic confidence spectacularly, and I love it. Every other actor sounds pretty much exactly like you'd expect, with nothing especially surprising cropping up in either the performances or the script.
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