by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Fire Force ?
In the wake of last week's terrible attack on Kyoto Animation, it made total sense that Fire Force would be delayed, but I'm glad to see the show back in action this week. Despite its perilous subject matter, one of this story's best qualities is how it celebrates empathy, self-sacrifice, and heroism. This week, Shinra and the other rookies participate in the titular “Rookie Fire Soldier Games”, which isn't exactly the dive into a fighting tournament arc some might have expected. Rather, it's the kind of training simulation that makes a lot more sense for these firefighter-soldiers, which gives them the opportunity to show off their skills as Pyrokinetics while still demonstrating the basic wherewithal and sense of duty that the job requires. It should come as no surprise that things go wrong the moment that the Games kick off.
Before that, we get some of the prerequisite character and world-building, including the introduction of new heroes and villains. On the antagonistic front, the most interesting fellow is definitely “Joker”, the fashionably dressed terror who we got a glimpse of last week, as well as a mysterious man who has some manner of Big Evil Scheme brewing underneath his mop of hair. Joker falls into a recognizable trope of anime villain, the kind of snarky and arrogant trickster who makes sure to have some fun when he torments our heroes, but he fills out that trope remarkably well. A solid 70% of this episode is just Shinra and Joker battling and trading barbs, and the reason it works so well is because Joker is such a fun villain, so I hope the show doesn't waste his potential
The two new Fire Force members we meet in this episode are Commander Leonard Burns of Company 1, and his subordinate, Tamaki Kotatsu. Leonard was the man on the scene when Shinra's family died in the fire from 12 years ago, but his connection to the larger story is being saved for future chapters. Tamaki is a new heroine who's clearly going to be a bigger part of the ensemble going forward, and my feelings on her are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, she's a fun character with powers that manifest in a cool Nekomata-inspired fighting style, but she's also the kind of female character that feels unfortunately predictable for an Atsushi Ōkubo manga. Her character design emphasizes showing skin above all else, and she has some kind of curse/gimmick called “Lucky Lecher Lure” that constantly sees her being accidentally groped by the men in the cast. It's a gross, lame gag that isn't funny the first time Shinra finds his hands shoved under Tamaki's bra, and I doubt I'll be enjoying the bit any more by the time Fire Force has dragged it out for the 700th time. My hope is that, however much the manga likes to indulge in these ill-begotten jokes, this anime version of Fire Force will tone them down somewhat.
On a more positive note, once the obstacle course begins and Joker worms his way into the proceedings, the episode fires on all cylinders until the end credits roll. Joker and Shinra's battle is expertly animated and choreographed, giving Shinra a lot to do with his Capoeira-esque Pyrokinetics, while Joker gets to chew the scenery with cigarette-smoke theatrics and a vial of explosive ashes. Arthur and Tamaki don't get quite as much to do when they eventually arrive to back Shinra up, but the episode's second and third acts remain as riveting as anything Fire Force has produced. Not only does Joker toss out the usual vague tidings about the bad guys' master plan, he sows the seeds of Shinra's mistrust in the Fire Force itself when he reveals that not only are they hiding secrets about the Infernals, but that Shinra's brother Sho is still alive and connected somehow to the events at hand.
Again, this is typical shonen manga plotting, but Fire Force's execution is exemplary more often than not. The final scene, where Shinra confronts Captain Obi about whether or not the higher-ups should be trusted, the Captain reveals that he doesn't trust the rest of the Fire Force much himself. Not only did he suffer a reprimanding that has yet to be explained, the whole purpose of Company 8 is to investigate the secrets and corruption being hidden by the other seven Companies. That hook, combined with Shinra's personal stake in the villains' scheming, seems like more than enough to keep the plot moving apace with Fire Force's excellent visuals and direction.
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