by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 29 of
Fire Force ?
“Corna (Sign of the Devil)/A Secret Plan” may have an awfully unwieldy title, but it's focus is laser-sharp and trained on an exceptionally straightforward scenario. As the split nomenclature suggests, we have here a single battle that is being fought on two very different fronts: In one half of the story, Shinra has to figure out what to do with Charon's seemingly limitless strength; in the other half, Company 8 and the rest of the allies that showed up last week need to figure out how to put down the Demon Infernal that is threatening to burn down a whole section of the city. If plot advancement is what you were hoping to get from this episode, you'll only find disappointment. It takes the entire episode for Company 8 to figure out how to take down the anonymous Demon that stands in their way, and Shinra spends his portion of the runtime trying to figure out how to land a single punch. If you're willing to go along with Fire Force as it indulges its penchant for brilliant spectacle, though, then you'll find that this episode ranks amongst the series' best.Surprisingly, Shinra's fight is what I would call the “lesser” of the two halves of this story, despite containing some positively bone-crunching cuts of animation from Studio David. Whatever aesthetic flourishes might have been lacking last week have thoroughly been accounted for here, and the only real drawback to this fight can be applied to the whole of the episode, which is that it feels like a relatively small step forward for the story given all of the excitement. Really, besides Shinra landing that one glorious Corna strike on Charon, the episode ends with Shinra largely in the same exact place as when the episode started: Ready to kick Charon's ass. The only difference is now he's figured out how to go about doing said ass-kicking.
It's the “figuring out” portion that makes this episode so damned fun though, as it takes the route I almost always prefer in big shonen-manga style battles and focuses on the cerebral elements of the bout just as much as the combatants' strength, if not more. Both of the episode's main plots also provide a much-needed refresher that 2nd Gen Pyrokinetics play in Fire Force's dynamic. We get a very straightforward reminder from Karim that 2nd Gens can only manipulate fire, not create it, and Shinra realizes that Charon has been doing just that the whole time: Capturing and reversing the heat energy that Shinra is producing instead of creating his own. So the trick of Corna is to basically cause Charon to overdose on raw, unmitigated fire power, which is exactly what Shinra does, once he finally builds up enough “hype”.
It's in the Company 8 battle that this renewed focus on the power of 2nd Gen flame manipulation comes in. Licht draws up a scheme that you don't quite see the scope of until it's finally unfurled, but it is ingenious in how it draws upon the 2nd Gens' need to be creative with how they use their enemies' power against them. It's also the kind of drawn-out setpiece that can only be properly appreciated if you follow every step in the plan, so here's the breakdown: By strategically placing the many 2nd Gen Fire Force members across the city, Licht is able to redirect the blazes that have spring up all across town. Now only that, but his keen understanding of the different air currents that flow above, under, and through a city based on the placement of its main roads and high-rises allows the mad doctor to chart their path to a patch of dirt in the center of town. That is where Maki is able to nudge those air currents together to form a giant whirling firestorm, which they use to trap the Demon Infernal.
But that's just the start! With the Demonic Infernal spinning about at ludicrous speeds within the firestorm, the Lieutenant is able to step in with a high-caliber explosive round and fire it directly into the inferno. As Licht helpfully explains, Hanizawa's powers and the firestorms own momentum increase the weapon's velocity exponentially, as if it were travelling through an electromagnetic rail gun, and it proceeds to straight wreck the Infernal's afternoon. Then Karim arrives with his handy sonic-freeze-vacuum-trumpet-thing and converts the entire blaze, including the thoroughly busted-up infernal, into a giant pillar of ice.
The whole process is, to put it mildly, insanely goddamned cool. It is also proof that, for as willfully stupid and juvenile as Fire Force presents itself most of the time, it can be really freaking smart when it wants to be. The story might have been stuck in neutral this week, but the action ripped and roared with the kind of precision-engineered badassery you'd normally expect to see in a big-budget Hollywood extravaganza. Now, if you excuse me, I'm going to do what every self-respecting anime fan does when they see something that gets the hype train a-rollin': I'm going to throw this specific episode at everyone I know who will make the mistake of giving me their precious time, regardless of whether or not they even know what the hell Fire Force is, and impatiently ask them, “Did you see that!?” Wasn't that cool!?” over and over while they watch it. Works every time.
Odds and Ends
• I really liked the quieter flashback to when Obi taught Shinra about the Corna, aka the “rock n' roll” horns. It's easy to forget that this is basically a post-post-apocalyptic society, and then you realize that these characters have basically never seen or heard of things like rock and roll music, or most of the animals that once inhabited the earth. I'd love for Fore Force to dig into that aspect of the world even more.
• Another great Obi moment: When presented with Vulcan's state-of-the-art self-targeting projectile weaponry, the Captain totally freaks out and can't even begin to operate the joysticks, and Vulcan has to scooch their vehicle way up close to the infernal so Obi can hit it. You kiddos with hip and cool parents that already played video-games likely won't get it as much, but this was basically what anyone from my generation could expect when they tried to show their parents the latest newfangled Xbox shooter, when the most experience they were likely to have with game consoles involved controllers with two-buttons and a jumping Italian plumber.
• Obi explains that, despite having the only members who have successfully defeated a Demon Infernal in one-on-one combat, the 7th Company didn't return his call for help. I figure this is basically Fire Force answering its version of the “Why doesn't Ant Man just call the Avengers” question.
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