by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 35 of
Fire Force ?
“Dark Hero” is just the kind of episode Fire Force has needed for a long time now, but not quite the one it deserves. This will be the only Batman reference I make in this review, I promise, though I also ought to mention that I appreciate the irony of the character named Joker being framed as the titular “dark hero” that acts as an ethically grey vigilante figure who is willing to go where the official authorities won't for the sake of Truth and Justice. Oh, and I guess that makes Licht his Alfred?
No more Batman comparisons, I swear, and I have to admit that I'm glad Fire Force is finally paying off the weird foreshadowing they've been doing with Licht and Joker since the very first episode of the series. With Joker having had such little screen time over the last thirty-five episodes, it's easy to forget that he was framed much more antagonistically in the beginning, and Licht's place in the story has been muddy ever since he joined Company 8. While the increasingly suspicious actions of the Holy Sol Temple have cast Joker and Licht in a much more positive light, and Licht's contributions to the team's success have made it clear that he's probably a decent guy, “Dark Hero” is the first time that we've gotten a real grasp on what either character is motivated by outside of causing chaos. The answer, it turns out, is simple: They want the truth.
More than anything, what I appreciated about this episode was how it continued to interrogate the questions about the role and function of faith in a broken society, which are complicated by Fire Force's standards. As Emperor Raffles III conveniently muses in his lengthy mid-episode monologue, the post-Cataclysm world is one wherein all of the governments and religions formed over humankind's many thousands of years of civilized existence were quite literally burned away. In this ruinous absence of order and purpose, Raffles says, The Holy Sol Temple was forged so humankind could find peace in salvation once again. Being a hodgepodge of leftover symbols and traditions, the Church's flimsy foundations are easy for us to see, but you can also understand why characters like Captain Obi and Iris are so willing to put up with ridiculous decrees like needing to wait a full three years for the Church to release the findings of the Chinese Peninsula Expedition to the public. Even if they are willing to question their own deeply-held beliefs, they understand that to suddenly undermine their society's entire way of understanding reality might have consequences that nobody in the Fire Force is prepared for.
This is where Licht and Joker come in, as the former recruits the latter to poke the bear that is The Holy Sol Temple, since the Company 8 crew is bogged down in red tape. Joker himself recruits Benimaru to help out with the bear poking, since Benimaru is no fan of the Temple, who consider him to be a demon in the flesh for his proto-nationalistic rhetoric. I wish I could say that this grand team up between two very fascinating side-characters was a blast to watch, but honestly, this is where “Dark Hero” fizzles out instead. The animation takes a very noticeable dip in quality here, with janky character models and clunky movements abound throughout the entire second half of the episode. Characters' faces are frequently reduced to featureless blobs, and the pacing of even the scant few action cuts we do get is just off. Even the cliffhanger is awkward as hell; I mean, nobody thinks Benimaru is actually dead when he gets hit by that dart from the Holy Sol monk, but Joker's nonchalant reaction to Benimaru's poisoning lands with a thud.
It's a terrible way to end an episode that was already going downhill alarmingly fast. With circumstances in the industry being what they are, I'm not necessarily blaming the studio for having to cut corners, but it's a real shame that “Dark Hero” ended up being so lame when it could have been a badass reintroduction to Joker, the laughing vigilante. Maybe next week will provide a better chance for the guy to flaunt his time in the spotlight.
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