by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 44 of
Fire Force ?
At one point, while our heroes wander the abandoned underground shopping mall that they've discovered at the beginning of their latest excursion into the Nether, one of the doomed Fire Force redshirts compares their adventure to an unnamed zombie movie he watched recently (my money is on Dawn of the Dead, for obvious reasons). The comparison is apt for more than just the similarities in mood and setting, and that's bad news for our intrepid Fire Force members, because it takes only a few minutes for this mission to turn into a straight-up horror show. Not only is the small army of Infernals an unexpected threat that the Force immediately has to contend with, but the Pyro-Necro White Clad lady from the last arc is back, which means that every fallen hero is immediately recruited into a literal zombie horde.
I've been on a zombie media kick lately, which helped me tune in to this episode's particular frequency of horror comedy. At first, I thought giving all of the random Fire Force victims flashbacks to their loving children and pregnant wives was a bit on the nose, even for this show, but it all paid off with one of my favorite gags yet: One guy's life is so lame that the only thing he sees when it flashes before his eyes is a new pair of sneakers that he was excited to try on, and he thinks that this utter lack of an interesting backstory is enough to spare him from a horrible death…until it doesn't.
Really, “Weapon of Destruction” is surprisingly effective in evoking a horrific, character driven atmosphere, especially in its first half. The standout moment has to be the one that involves Hajiki, a comically forgetful crack-shot whose pyro powers basically amount to permanent thermal vision. He's teamed with Tamaki and Juggernaut, and we see throughout the episode that he is one of the latter's close friends. The death flags should have been obvious, and I probably wouldn't have been surprised if he got some kind of noble sacrifice within the next episode or two, but he meets his end almost immediately. After showing off his absent-minded gun-kata moves, Hajiki is the first one to spot Orochi, the White Clad Knight of the Purple Haze, who uses her flame blade to instantly slice Hajiki's head clean off of his shoulders. Even for a season that hasn't been shy about ramping up the gore factor, this is a sudden, dark, and very cruel end for Hajiki, and Juggernaut and Tamaki are left in utter horror.Speaking of cruelty, this is where we unfortunately get to Tamaki's role in this episode. Given that she has a natural resistance to flame energy that would make her a perfect fighter to stand up to Orochi, you'd think maybe she would finally get the chance to do, you know, something. Instead, what we get is nearly a beat-for-beat reenactment of her first major battle with Rekka, and it ends in exactly the same way, with Tamaki brutally beaten and nearly naked, calling on her strong hero man to save her. Only this time, it isn't Shinra to the rescue, but Juggernaut himself.
I'm not surprising anyone by calling out how much this sucks for Tamaki, and how bad of a look it is for the show, especially since this season has been comparatively generous with how much it has restrained from falling back on abusing Tamaki for cheap laughs and drama. Boo, Fire Force. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
That said, the resulting battle between Juggernaut and Orochi is quite the spectacle to behold, and it offers some of the most satisfying choreography and direction that we've seen since the big fights during the Chinese Peninsula arc. I especially liked how the episode kept playing into the absurd joke of Juggernaut's “layers”, and his impossibly regenerating outfit/body/thing, while still selling the drama of his fight against Orochi, which boils down to him throwing every single ounce of explosive energy he can muster at the woman, until he drops one final bomb that is strong enough to suggest that Juggernaut might get that big heroic moment of self-sacrifice that I predicted earlier.
Is Juggernaut actually going to die? I doubt it, mostly because Fire Force has shown a great disinterest in actually killing any of its main characters so far. This isn't a complaint, either; I don't think stories have to pile up the body count just to legitimize the drama. It also doesn't need to boil one of its only female characters down to the most cliché and off-putting role of a damsel in distress either, but I think Fire Force is long past the point of taking notes in that regard. Hopefully, the rest of this new Nether Investigation Arc will be able to keep up with the spooky spectacle, and maybe it can also dial back on all of the gross shit while it's at it. Please and Thank You, ahead of time.
Odds and Ends
• We get to see Juggernaut in his normal outfit, and it really does look like the guy is just very good at leaning out of the way of attacks, though that implies that all of the “layers” he is wearing are actually hollow…? You know what? I'm just not going to even try to question it. Keep doing what you're doing, pal.
• The second best joke of the season? The reveal that the rest of the Fire Force has to be given a literal “Arthur Care and Feeding Manual” in order to have basic interactions with the guy, which includes instructions on how to play along with his Hero Knight delusion. Never change, you stupid weirdo. Never change.
• The final shots of Juggernaut's killing blow, including the cut where Orochi gets the sense walloped out of her by his giant bomb, is low-key some of the best animation we've seen from maybe this whole season.
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