by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 21 of
Fire Force ?
“Those Connected” is the kind of flashy mishmash that depends entirely on one's investment in the characters involved in the throwdown, so isn't all that surprising that the end result is a bit of a mixed bag, considering that one of the episode's two conflicts is significantly more engaging than the other. Thankfully, David Production has stepped up its game this week, allowing the visuals to distract from the script's bumpier moments. The Nether Arc may be inconsistent between its individual chapters, but the story has proven to be Fire Force's most reliably entertaining stretch in ages.
It's a shame that the show's refreshed energy can't do much for the story that focuses on the battle between Obi, Vulcan, Lisa, and Giovanni, which is just functional enough to get us episode's halfway point. I always like it when Obi has the opportunity to get some work in on the bad guys, which we haven't seen since he went toe-to-toe with Shinmon awhile back, but since the crux of this battle once again boils down to him having to use technology and ingenuity over pyrokinetic powers, it lacks the freshness of that earlier fight (though I did laugh out loud at the mechanical penguin helmet Vulcan built for him). Likewise, Vulcan and Lisa's story is one we've seen a million times before, and her Fallen Woman/Damsel in Distress schtick is yet another example of the show's really weak character writing work for the women of its cast. This goes ditto for Giovanni, who mostly exists to torture characters other characters care about while he dumps exposition and makes vaguely ominous threats.
Clichés and common tropes are not inherently bad on their own, however. They can be very effective tools when used properly, which is exactly what the episode proves with the battle between Sho and Shinra in its second half. Conceptually, this is a fairly obvious step in the story's process, and one that threatens to get bogged down in too much worldbuilding jargon. This the fight that Shinra cannot win, because its sole purpose is to show how extraordinarily powerful his younger brother has become. Both brothers attack each other at speeds that render them imperceptible to the onlooking Victor, though Sho gets the upper hand when he reveals that his pyrokinetic powers allow him to essentially stop time, an ability which somehow results from his ability to manipulate the fabric of this universe, or a parallel universe, or some such ridiculousness.
The thing is, where Fire Force's reliance of narrative bluster and overly familiar emotional beats hinders the Giovanni fight, it doesn't do a thing to damper Shinra and Sho's battle, and for one simple reason: It's a damned hoot to watch. I'm not one to ever be completely swayed by the sakuga of any given anime, no matter how eye-blisteringly good it is, because I've never seen a show where the animation alone made it worth watching. I might not care enough about Fire Force's characters and plot to be completely swept away by the impressive work David Production has put into the art and animation of this one scene, but I would be lying if I said it didn't make “Those Connected” a significantly better episode, overall. The typically gorgeous fire effects bolster the snappy editing and fluid character animations, making every connected hit have the impact of a finishing blow. The camera doesn't get too crazy with its flips and pans, either, which makes it easier to focus on the fighters themselves.
While I wouldn't say Fire Force has matched the likes of this year's best Demon Slayer or Attack on Titan in terms of sheer spectacle, the show continues to make a case for being worthwhile B-grade entertainment , at least most of the time. What's more, the plot is finally making some strides in developing its story and establishing meaningful conflicts that go beyond simple conspiracy; improbably enough, though, it feels like the show is speeding towards a climax. If it's true that we can expect a full two cours of additional material once this season has wrapped up, Fire Force is going to need all the fuel it can get if it wants to keep burning bright long enough for viewers to stick around until the very end.
Odds and Ends
• Fire Force deserves credit for being delightfully funny, so long as its jokes don't involve Tamaki. While I don't know if any gag is going to hit me as hard as Silver the Robot Donkey Strap-On, I have been appreciating recent episode's willingness to go all out with the silly bits and references. My favorite shout-out here was the shot of Obi slumped over in a boxing ring, which comes right after Vulcan spoils his attempt at being mysteriously heroic. It is an allusion to infamous final scene of Ashita no Joe (aka Tomorrow's Joe), the boxing franchise phenomenon that inspire the equally glorious Megalobox.
• We got some very surreal visuals when Shinra got hit with another Adolla Link. I still have no idea what any of that is about, really, but I won't sniff at the chance to see David Production get creative and spooky with the animation style again. I loved how the simple sound of crackling embers was made to be so eerie, here.
• Dead anyone else get some serious Death Stranding vibes from the ashy footprints left behind by Sho and Shinra, or was it just me?
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