Fire Force
Episode 4

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Fire Force ?

“The Hero in the Princess” settles Fire Force into the rhythm you'd expect a multi-cour shonen series to hit by its fourth episode. It's about as “business as usual” as you could expect from an Infernal-of-the-Week story. We're introduced to a cackling villain who teases just a little more about the threat the Infernals face, our heroes are called upon to kick some butt with their Pyrokinetic skills, and some more conspicuously designed higher-ups from the Fire Force arrive to act suspicious and set up whatever mysteries Company 8 will be solving throughout the series. There's nothing wrong with having some fun basic episodes tossed into an otherwise serialized story, and “The Hero in the Princess” falls squarely into that role. What matters most is execution, and Fire Force has so far proven that it can usually get the job done — until it decides to start thinking with its fire hose again.

The Infernal we meet this week is Setsuo Miyamoto, a former firefighter turned serial killer whose trial is set to be concluded on the day Shinra and Arthur find themselves working the “saving hapless mascot characters from a tree” beat. The system is screwed up enough to get Miyamoto acquitted, but the man is consumed by flames before he can properly celebrate his freedom, though his Infernal form somehow manages to retain his personality and conscious will, which makes him an even more malicious villain than before. The existence of Infernals that can hold on to their identities has been suggested before, according to Takehisa, though Miyamoto has exceeded any of his predecessors.

Miyamoto sports yet another slick character design courtesy of Atsushi Okubo, which is to be expected at this point, but as a character he's mostly filler, a maniacal and bloodthirsty murderer who exists to give Shinra something to kick with his flaming feet. And kick he does, in another well-produced action scene that takes advantage of the rainy scenery and the animators' skill for drawing gorgeous fire. I'm sure someday I'll get tired of seeing so many similar cuts of Shinra's capoeira-flavored fire flips, but today is not that day.

On the Fire Force conspiracy-theory front, the show introduces us to the titular “Princess”, Company 5's Captain Princess Hibana. On a plot level, she serves to show how untrustworthy Company 8's fellow firefighters can be, as she blatantly ignores orders to pursue her ambiguous aims and decides to take in Miyamoto herself, since such a valuable specimen of an Infernal can't simply be disposed of. On another much hornier level, Captain Hibana serves to indulge in Fire Force's adolescent fantasies, where the female characters all go out of their way to show off their skin and flash their unmentionables at Shinra (though I suppose it's a small blessing that our hero doesn't end up accidentally groping her multiple times). This is a woman who's introduced sitting on a throne of her own firemen, and she later makes a big show of stepping on people and demanding Shinra lick her heels. Princess is a perfectly fine character as far as her place in the plot is concerned, though it's irritating to see an otherwise excellent series constantly objectify its female characters. I guess I can't say I'm all that shocked, given that this is coming from the author of Soul Eater, another fun anime that got bogged down by too many stupid boob jokes.

Yet what keeps me in Fire Force's corner are the idiosyncratic small touches that keep it feeling fresh and engaging, in spite of its worst habits. I'm finding myself drawn in by the staccato rhythm of its direction, which gives the manga's most striking panels some room to breathe in between all the fire sakuga. I also love the character moments that make Company 8 feel so likable, even though most of them have been stuck in the background so far. The best aside of the week was how, after Maki decided to gut-punch a particularly annoying member of Company 5, Takehisa flashed her a stoic thumbs-up of approval. Beats like that are easy to include in a single manga panel or two, and they're often the first things to go when condensing a story for adaptation, so it reassures me that Yuki Yase and staff are mindful of how to balance character and tone with all of the spectacle. I don't think I'll ever enjoy Fire Force's lamer appeals to adolescent urges, but so long as it can keep a thoughtful head on its shoulders, things will hopefully end up balancing out in the series' favor.

Rating:

Fire Force is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation .

James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.


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