by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Fire Force ?
The fight between Shinra and Princess Hachibana in “The Spark of Promise” is the kind of climax that's entertaining to watch in the moment, yet prone to faltering under scrutiny in retrospect. Visually, this episode delivers strong. Fire Force's tendency to prioritize capturing the manga's panel-to-panel framing can make for some stilted editing at times, but when the flames start flying between Shinra and Princess, many of those issues melt away. Princess' fiery flora are a sight to behold, making an excellent case for the villain on a purely aesthetic level; there's just something about the idea of a flaming cherry blossom tree with petals that burn to the touch that I find irresistibly neat.
The problem is, the dialogue that fills the gap between the fighting is clunky, falling back on some disappointingly familiar tropes to get Princess from Point A to Point B, which means that she goes from a cackling psychopath to a blushing partner of Shinra and Company 8 in the span of about 23 minutes. I always find it frustrating when an anime has its villains act cartoonishly insane from the moment they're introduced, only to have years' worth of personality-shattering trauma undone with a few well-timed punches from the tenacious hero. Fire Force makes it worse by dumping all of Princess' backstory and development into a single episode, making all of it feel fairly slapdash.
We've gotten hints at the tragic history Princess shares with Iris before, but “The Spark of Promise” reveals a payoff that I'm not sure was ultimately worth it. The two women grew up in a convent for the Church of Sol together, and Princess was a sweet and loving girl back then, until their sisters all perished in a tragedy of spontaneous combustion. The specifics of the event are still vague, so it's difficult to say if any of this will lead us to more compelling conspiratorial truths, but for now the crux of Princess' motivations is underwhelmingly straightforward. She saw her more devout companions perish in flames while she was left alive, which led her to abandon any pretense of faith and pursue a dangerous path of researching the Infernals, one that would make even the most sadistic of mad scientists blush. The idea is that Princess utterly lost her mind when the convent went up in flames, and yet she seems to be just fine again, once Shinra gets a few licks in.
The lack of strategy and stakes in this fight also dampen the episode's emotional impact. Princess and Shinra's bout is well-animated and contains some striking set pieces, but in the end its simplicity works against it. There's no grand epiphany Shinra needs to reach in order to overcome the Captain, who should absolutely be mopping the floor with our hero according to every other character in the show. Shinra doesn't need to apply much cunning or creativity on his side of things, either – it's merely a matter of whether or not his optimism will win out over Princess' nihilism. As a statement of Fire Force's thematic intent, it makes sense. As a climax to a brief and barely explored conflict between the two companies, it ends up feeling rushed and lazy.
This is something I see Fire Force struggling with for the foreseeable future, if the writing continues in this direction. We have these lovely little character moments, like Princess' fire show at the convent, that are held together primarily by the studio's keen production and Atsushi Okubo's stellar design work. But the writing is very inconsistent, and the basic dialogue and awkward plotting cause Fire Force to stumble when the gorgeous direction isn't at the forefront. That doesn't make Fire Force a bad series by any means, but there remains a great deal of untapped potential that's just waiting to be unleashed, if only the show would get out of its own way.
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