by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 33 of
Fire Force ?
Given that I'm also currently reviewing The God of High School, it's fascinating compare its failure to establish even a baseline of narrative quality with an episode like “The Core”. Fire Force hasn't exactly been the most consistent anime, but this second season has considerably elevated the series' quality overall, and this week's episode has a similar approach to GoH's usual routine: Take maybe two or three minutes' worth of plot development, and then pad out the rest of the episode with goofy humor and incredibly animated bloody-knuckled brawls. Where God of High School sinks, though, Fire Force soars, as “The Core” proves that you can totally get away with what is essentially flamboyantly produced filler when your audience gives a damn about your characters and story.
Let's get the story out of the way first, because there honestly isn't much to recap here: Pan, Licht, and Arthur continue to investigate the mysterious Tabernacle, discovering some intriguing implications for the reactor's origins and purpose. Meanwhile, Shinra appeals to the Woman in Black who has been powering the Tabernacle with her pyrokinetic energy ever since she brought life to the desert all those years ago. She is weak, her motives are still unclear, and all she has to offer Shinra is a single second's worth of Grace.
That's honestly all there is to the plot of “The Core”; the remaining 90% of the episode is all about the gang stalling for time against Tempe while both Shinra and the Tabernacle scouting team do their thing. In other words, what we've got is a thinly veiled excuse to tell a bunch of dumb jokes and give the minor characters a chance to kick some Demon ass before the credits roll, and Fire Force can get away with such low ambitions by making sure episodes like this are stupidly entertaining from beginning to end. We start with a great gag about Arthur's obsession with Round Table lore convincing him to do enough “checking into circles” to memorize an unreasonable amount of the infinite digits of pi, despite not fully knowing what either The Round Table or pi even are. Then we get another hilarious bit where Takeru proves himself to be comically unkillable, because he's apparently able to shrink and twist his insides around inside of his ridiculous outfit enough that it somehow explains his ability to survive being impaled through the chest and then immediately having all of his limbs torn off. On the basis of surreal humor alone, “The Core” would be a winner.
The real centerpiece of the episode, though, is Tempe's fight with Ogun, which sees Fire Force rolling up its sleeves for a good old-fashioned bout of sakuga braggadocio. His “Flamey Ink” ability is the classic anime power-up that allows him to overclock his whole body and pull off some devastating combos on the unwitting Tempe, with the drawback naturally being the massive energy expenditure this requires. It's an absolutely stellar sequence as far as the show's animation and direction are concerned, as in addition to the usual badass explosions and hard-hitting punches, we also get playful shots of Ogun's fleet footwork and infectious grin. Ogun isn't just wiping the floor with Tempe — he's having a damned good time doing it. That alone that makes this one scene a better example of character development than what some other series are able to manage over the course of a whole season, and he's not even a main protagonist!
I'm also eternally grateful that the show had the good sense to not just reduce Takeru and especially Tamaki into bit players, even though it seemed like it was going to play the “Nobody else could even keep up with the badass” card at first. Sure, Takeru and Tamaki aren't the unmitigated powerhouses that Ogun, Shinra, and Arthur are, but they're still members of Fire Force goddammit, and they at least deserve to get their own chances to show off their powers and get a hit or two in on Tempe. This is how you make sure that every character stays relevant in a battle shonen like Fire Force, by making it clear to the audience that every fight counts for something. Without the emotional attachment and humor that episodes like “The Core” inject into the action, the action ceases to matter. More than ever, Fire Force's action matters, and now that the suspense for the arc's climax has been sufficiently built up, I can't wait to see how Shinra plans on making use of that single, solitary second of Adolla Grace he's been given.
Odds and Ends
• To my complete and total shock, Fire Force managed to get through Tamaki's first action showcase in who knows how long without nary so much as a butt or boob shot, and she didn't lose even a scrap of the fabric in her ensemble. Hell, if anything, she's the only one of the fighters whose outfit stayed intact this week, and this was one of the few times where Fire Force would have even been able to try and justify Tamaki's clothes being destroyed by way of battle damage. You all know what this means: I have an impossibly expensive (and presumably stolen) bottle of Moët & Chandon to open! Somewhere, I'd like to think the Unseen Oracle of Anime Boobies/Booze is looking down and smiling upon this bright new future…
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