Fire Force
Episode 48

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 48 of
Fire Force ?

“Signs of Upheaval” is not an episode that feels very much like the finale to Fire Force Season 2, at least not until it tosses in an end-credits victory-lap montage at the last minute to reflect on how far the characters have come, all of the twists and turns the story has taken, and so on. Really, both this week's episode and the previous one, “Firecat”, serve as an epilogue and teaser more than anything else, with that 2nd Nether Investigation Arc serving as the closest thing to a proper climax that we'll get. The fact that the arc didn't even register as a climactic storyline until just now maybe speaks to the unfortunate stumbles that Fire Force Season 2 has taken in these recent weeks with regards to its pacing and storytelling, but we can get to that later. As far as “Signs of Upheaval” is concerned, both as an episode and a final note for the season (and possibly the series?) to end on, it is simply okay.

Maybe that is being a bit harsh? As a standalone episode, “Signs of Upheaval” is fun and surprisingly well-produced, though somewhat aimless. The bizarre and torturous training regiment that Arthur and Shinra got roped into continues this week, and while the boys are humiliated and brutalized for hours on end, we learn from Benimaru that this so-called “pronationalist hazing ritual” isn't just a time-honored (and possibly completely bullshit) tradition — it is how Benimaru intends to unlock the boys' individual “Hysterical Strength of a Fire Scene” powers. You might be asking, “What on Earth even is a ‘Hysterical Strength of a Fire Scene’?”, and the short answer is that it makes Arthur and Shinra's fire all blue and cool looking, which I guess means that it is the Fire Force universe's equivalent of them going Super Saiyan.”

I initially figured that this brief training montage, and the admittedly awesome sparring match between Benimaru and his two trainees that follows, would follow the typical Fire Force formula of taking up a small portion of the episode while the rest of it built up whatever plot details are going to be important for the show's future. This is kind of true, except that the foreshadowing is built into the psychedelic visions that accompany Shinra's descent into Hysterical Fire Whatever-it-is. You see, in addition to pushing Shinra's body to such a breaking point that he retreats into a strange dreamscape that forces him to confront his worst-ever memory — the transformation of his mother into a Demon, and Sho's kidnapping — Shinra also gets in touch with his inner Adolla Link. This happens just in time for him (and us) to witness the brutal murder of Captain Hague; remember him? He's that creepy masochist guy from the 4th Company who showed up at the beginning of the season.

I don't blame you if you forgot about him, but for some reason, Fire Force chooses this goody asshole to be the sacrificial lamb, whose death at the hands of the mysterious White Clad with The Golden Arm is apparently the Dramatic Twist that shows the Fire Force that the White Clad are a force to be feared. I'm not sure if the show genuinely wanted to play this off as shocking, or if it simply wanted to end the season on more than a rehash of the first time Shinra got a big powerup by training with Benimaru, but it's an odd punctuation mark on an already odd season finale.

As far as meaningful Plot Stuff goes, that is pretty much all that “Signs of Upheaval” manages to squeeze into this final half-hour. The rest of the training is more about flashy spectacle and eerie mood, which work okay, though the reminders of Shinra's complicated ties to Sho only serve to further remind us how our main character's personal conflict with his family and the Evangelist ended up being almost completely ignored all season. It's as if Fire Force also forgot about that entire story thread and wanted to assure us that it totally plans on eventually getting back to all of that, sometime, maybe, if a third season ever materializes. Poor Arthur doesn't even get any attention paid to his Hysterical Fire powerup; he just sort-of has the powers too, along with Shinra.

All in all, this was a weaker finale than I would have hoped for, especially considering that so much of what Fire Force Season 2 did this year improved upon the foundations of Season 1. The story became more ambitious, the world got a lot more development, and many of the side characters got opportunities to shine and contribute to the badass action scenes. If anything, Fire Force got a little too big for its britches, since all of the intriguing revelations we were given about the world, the White Clad, and the Church of Sol amounted to a lot of setup, but no payoff. As an advertisement for the manga, I suppose this makes Fire Force Season 2 a resounding success; since there still hasn't been any official confirmation of a Season 3 so far as I am aware, I'm very tempted to dig into the source material so I can see where Fire Force goes from here.

I think I will hold off though, at least for now. Much of what I have come to appreciate about Fire Force — its spectacle, its absurd humor, its cast of stupid and loveable weirdos — feels suited to the medium of animation, and specifically the talents of David Production. If we are lucky enough to see Fire Force fully adapted in the future, I look forward to reuniting with this gleefully stupid band of heroes with all of their world's vivid and glorious chaos-in-motion intact. Until then, we'll just have to trust that the final message we get in the episode's end-card holds true: “See you next time.”

Rating:

Odds and Ends

• Consider the extra half-star added on to this review as a bonus for how great some of this episode's cuts look, especially since the context doesn't especially demand greatness. Keep on keepin' on, David Production!

• There is one other major tease towards what is to come in the episode's post-credits scene, and I honestly have no idea what to make of it. We see Haumea, drooling in what I assume is some kind of religious ecstasy, as she gazes up to the moon and proclaims: “I see it…it's streaming in…The world under a new sun…The empire will become as it should be!” Then, flickering and glitching as if it is a hologram, the moon transforms into a grinning, mad-eyed crescent that anyone familiar with Atsushi Okubo's other hit series, Soul Eater, will immediately recognize. What does this mean!? Is Fire Force a stealth Soul Eater sequel? Do the stories exist in a shared universe? Will the multi-verse that Season 2 was hinting towards end up combining the two universes into one? Or is it all just an elaborate Easter Egg? I have not read or watched all of Soul Eater, so I have no goddamn clue, but it's a remarkably tantalizing image for Fire Force to go out on.

• I gave the first season of Fire Force an overall score of 3.5/5 last year, and I would tentatively give this season a solid 4/5. S2 was a definite step-up in quality and vision, even if the last half-dozen or so episodes of this run didn't wow me. Who knows? Maybe Season 3 will be even better!

Fire Force is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation . Save on Anime Streaming Subscriptions with 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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