by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Fire Force ?
The title for Fire Force's fifth episode may be “The Battle Begins”, but it takes about half the episode before any battling truly begins. Until Shinra and the rest of Company 8 slice down the doors of Company 5's nefarious facility, Fire Force takes its sweet time doling out exposition, gags, and fanservice in what may be its jankiest script yet. Thankfully, the team's playful dynamic and the show's consistently solid storyboarding hold this opening act together just enough to get us to all of the spectacular goodness in the back half.
The opening scene is the sketchiest, with Shinra going for an early morning jog and accidentally interrupting Iris in the middle of what the episode synopsis describes as a “purification rite”, which in Fire Force's parlance means that the nun was dousing herself in water thoroughly enough to get her thin white robes clinging to her skin in the most suggestive way possible. One of the elements that originally attracted me to Fire Force's premise was how how its heroes' goals are fundamentally entangled within the politics of this world's chief religious institution. I still find this tension to be irresistibly interesting, but scenes like this opening make me worry that Fire Force will be using its Catholic imagery primarily to service the incredibly tired “sexy Nun” fetish.
Still, for as much as she continues to be under-served by the story, what morsels of characterization we do get for Iris are among the best moments of the week. Some brief flashbacks elaborate on the fractured relationship she shares with Captain Princess Hachibana of the 5th Company, which has been alluded to every week in the show's end credits sequence. This gives slightly more texture to Princess, who is otherwise depicted as a mad scientist supervillain of the most cartoonish order. Not only has Princess abducted and interrogated last week's Infernal villain, Miyamoto, she's also had her diminutive cone-headed researcher experiment on him, so that his powers can be amplified and controlled. Outside of dishing out jokes about Arthur's stupidity and Takehisa's dorky sense of fashion, the main takeaway from these opening scenes is that Captain Obi doesn't trust Company 5, as if anyone needed any reminding.
All of that talk finally leads to some action once Iris decides to wander over to Company 5 in the middle of the night to confront Princess, which unsurprisingly leads to her being kidnapped. The episode does a good job of showing how Iris stands apart from the rest of her teammates as a non-combative arm of the church, but that emotional distance doesn't make her decision to just go and get herself captured feel any less cheap or silly. It sure doesn't help when Princess goes out of her way to burn away enough of Iris' clothing to make her habit look like something out of a kink-wear catalog – I cannot stress enough how hard it is to take Fire Force's story seriously when it consistently goes out of its way to get this character as naked and humiliated as possible.
For all of its failings, this gambit at least functions as an excuse to set up an extended action scene, wherein Company 8 assaults Company 5's compound. Interestingly, Shinra is absent for basically all of this episode's action, giving Arthur, Maki, and Takehisa some time in the spotlight. In particular, Takehisa gets to show off his 2nd-Gen Pyrokientic talents, which involve manipulating the micro-explosions inside of a gun barrel to get his bullets to do all sorts of wacky things. Chiefly, he makes sure that none of his gunfire is lethal, though he can also redirect his bullets in midair and use the sparks from their impact to maintain a seemingly endless chain of ricochets. While this week's animation isn't the strongest we've seen, with a lot of obvious shortcuts popping up throughout the episode, the storyboarding is clear and cool enough to stay entertaining.
Arthur's fight against a souped-up Miyamoto is also neat, although its big “twist” is incredibly goofy. Throughout the battle, Arthur is struggling against Miyamoto's attacks, and it isn't until the end of the episode that he realizes he's accidentally been fighting with the wrong hand. All of a sudden, he's able to slice the Infernal apart in one swift stroke, and it isn't even clear that he wasn't just showing off; he's honestly dumb enough to forget he's right-handed in the heat of the moment. It's an intentional gag, so it's hard to actually get mad at Fire Force for being so cheeky, but that doesn't mean the episode wasn't wasting its audience's time for the sake of a punchline.
What I learned most from watching “The Battle Begins” is that Fire Force has turned out to be a much sloppier and less serious series than I initially expected, though I don't necessarily mean that as an insult. I'm all for lackadaisical workplace comedy and flashy action scenes in a Shonen Jump anime, and when Fire Force isn't undermining its own credibility with its distracting horniness, it remains a reliably fun and exciting anime to catch up on every week. I miss the more visceral and artful storytelling that those first two episodes promised though, so I'll continue to hold out hope that Fire Force will go back to that well sooner rather than later.
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