by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 28 of
Fire Force ?
“Groping Through the Fire” is not exactly a pedestrian episode of Fire Force, but it does feel like a noticeable step down from the show's blistering last few weeks. After the tense introduction of Inca, it looked like Charon and Shinra were set to square off big-time over Inca's freedom and allegiance here. That throwdown does take place, but in fits and starts, spread out across an extended ground-level action sequence that features the rest of Company 8 trying to save the civilians from the mass of Infernals that the White Clad have created.
The Company 8 half of the plot is unfortunately a lot less compelling than what Shinra and Charon are up to with Inca. For one, it rehashes a lot of the same “Highlight the skills of individual members” beats that we already saw in the Season 2 premiere, except instead of the whole crew working to take down a gargantuan Infernal, it's with several anonymous ones instead. Another point in the premiere's favor over “Groping Through the Fire” is that the animation and direction this week is decidedly workmanlike, with an overreliance on still frames, choppy transitions, and some confusingly blocked conversations that feel padded out to kill time. Also, Tamaki returns to fill in as Company 8's backup Sister, which of course means that she immediately starts flopping about with her clothes flying every way. I'll give the show credit in that the focus of the Lecher Lure was more on the absurdity of a battle-bikini-wearing nun, and the camera generally remained a healthy distance from Takami's lady bits save for a brief gratuitous butt shot, and even then it was being played up for laughs. Emphasizing how stupid Tamaki's curse is helps the whole thing feel more like an actual joke, though it's still the worst running gag Fire Force has going for it.
That said, there was some interesting thematic work going on as the non-Heroes/Knights of the group did their job. Some of the grim tone set in the scenes where random citizens are turned into Infernals is reminiscent of the show's best work, where the true horror of spontaneous combustion is played absolutely straight, and I remain fascinated by what Fire Force is doing with its religious subtext. Despite the overt horror-fantasy elements that have been with Fire Force since the beginning, the Sisters' prayers have never been presented as anything with explicit magical force behind them. The Infernals don't explode with holy light or become magically reverted in their final moments, lasers don't shoot out of the Sisters' habits or anything; they simply pray for the souls of the lost, and it seems like most everyone in this society genuinely believes in the necessity of it. Even Takehisa takes it seriously when he goes to put Infernals down without Iris or Tamaki's blessing, and he's basically an atheist, though he respects the psychological power of faith amidst terror.
Fire Force's relationship with the sociological power of religion versus its legitimate magical reality is the kind of thematic bugbear that I just love to dig in to, and I'm itching for characters like Iris to get more time in the spotlight. The Church of Sol has been portrayed as an ambiguous force at its very best, and there's a very real danger that, should it prove to be truly nefarious or self-serving, many of our heroes would suffer catastrophic crisis of faith. The implications are too juicy for a critic like me to ignore, and I'll be disappointed (though not terribly surprised) if the religious imagery and subtext in Fire Force ends up merely as window dressing to the fiery punch-em-ups.Thankfully, there are some solid punch-em-ups to be had in “Groping through the Fire," despite its inconsistent presentation, because Shinra's fight with Charon is positively badass. The animation becomes fluid and weighty again, the camera work more ambitious, and there's a playful willingness to mess around with smears, motion blur, and irregular character models that makes everything just feel right. There's one cut in particular that sees Charon and Shinra pummeling each other through the whole foundation of a building that you can just tell was a blast to storyboard and animate.
The scripting of the fight admittedly feels a little messy, as Inca's lack of presence and the time spent on Shinra flashing back to his training and technique development from last season comes across as more padding, since the meat of the battle is being saved for next episode. Half of Fire Force's power comes from its infernal combustion engine of hype, though, and “Groping Through the Fire” manages to keep the pistons pumping hard enough to maintain momentum. Bring on the next round.
Odds and Ends
• Lots of cameos from other Company members as they all spill in to help control the population burn that the White Clad started. It was great to see the likes of Karim again, though I did not remember folks like Toru or Juggernaut at all, and the sight of the giant bowling-pin shaped Fire Force member threw me for a loop. Have those guys shown up at all since early Season 1, or is my memory finally beginning to fail me?
• Instead of the Lucky Lecher Lure, you know what idiotic running joke truly deserves a comeback? Vulcan insisting that the goofy animal gimmicks that he builds into his tech are all super cool and serious. That kind of bizarre, character-specific humor is something Fire Force excels at, and it doesn't even rely on sexually shaming a teenage girl to get its laughs!
• I cannot express enough how much I love the idea that Inca's Ignition powers are reliant on solving a kind of puzzle. I'm a sucker for esoteric magical mechanics like that.
• The title of next episode is also a reference to Shinra's potentially explosive technique, “Corna," which is the name for the “rock-and-roll” sign of horns that he makes with his hands. I don't remember if the name was established last season, but it is a nice touch.
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