by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Fire Force ?
I've been covering shows for Anime News Network for almost four years now, so you think I would have learned my lesson about ending a review with any kind of specific hope for the direction a show's going to end up taking, because it almost never works out. Yet there I was, just one week ago, foolish enough to type the words, “while I hope the show doesn't blaze through things as quickly as it did with Princess' story, it also shouldn't spend too much time getting through the next arc.” Obviously, this meant that it would only take one week for at least one of Company 1's officers to be revealed as Capital-E Evil. Not only has Lieutenant Rekka been using the episode's titular “Infernal Insects” to create Artificial Infernals out of unwitting adult victims, but even children have been victimized, and it's heavily implied that he was directly involved with the blaze that destroyed Iris and Princess' convent. It's not even the rate of escalation in the Company 1 story that bothers me so much as its roughshod execution. Despite containing a number of plot revelations and villainous reveals, there isn't much going on here to get my blood pumping.
It was obvious from the get-go that Company 1 would be filled with bad eggs, save for Tamaki, who has been kicking bad guy butt in the opening for weeks now. Despite how easy it was to predict the nasty twist that was coming, Fire Force apparently couldn't be bothered take more time for Rekka's heel-turns to hurt as much for the audience as it does for the characters. There's one ill-conceived bid at getting us to gasp in horror (more on that later), but most of the episode is a simple game of connect the dots. Princess reveals to Captain Obi that there is some breed of insect being used to transform people into Infernals, and Shinra gets a glimpse of it himself while playing rookie out in the field with Company 1. He and Arthur do some sleuthing, Karim arrives to reveal the he's also spying on Company 1, and that Rekka is the prime suspect. Poor Tamaki is unlucky enough to get tricked into rounding up Rekka's latest batch of oblivious kids, and she's swiftly beaten into submission after Rekka becomes a screaming madman and transforms the children's guardian into an Infernal.This is the moment where the episode tries to force the audience into reeling in horror at Rekka's actions, with Tamaki serving as the most stereotypical of damsels in distress, unable to do much more than whimper for help through her swollen cheeks until Shinra shows up to crush Rekka's skull like a melon. The skull-crushing is a satisfying moment, but it doesn't save Tamaki's abuse from feeling downright exploitative. The girl already has to get molested for cheap laughs on a regular basis, with those dumb “Lucky Lecher” scenes making up at least half of her screen time. If we'd had more opportunities to see the depth of her relationships with Rekka and the rest of Company 1, Rekka's betrayal would at least hit harder emotionally, but he only ever comes across as a stupid and irritatingly loud psychopath. He may make for a cathartic punching bag, but that doesn't automatically equal being a good villain.
The visuals are also sloppy this week. Characters, especially Rekka, suffer from being off-model and frequently stiff in their animation. The show's editing, which I've often praised for feeling refreshingly off-beat compared to its genre brethren, hits a number of speed bumps too; several cuts simply bungle their transitions from one to the other, and the early investigation scenes have a choppy and unsatisfying flow to them.
But as usual with Fire Force, there are some standout gems among the rest of the middling content. Any scene that involves Shinra kicking someone with his fiery feet is as fun as ever, and the episode ends with a beautifully animated sequence. After Shinra takes out Rekka and rescues Tamaki, he asks her if she's okay. Tamaki pauses, her eyes swollen and welling with tears, and she fitfully shakes her head before pausing again, biting her lip to hold back the pain and reckoning with everything that's just transpired. You see every bit of pain and anger that must be swirling through Tamaki's head, and it's drawn in a raw and jagged manner that feels almost like it's from a different show altogether. It's an astonishing bit of animation and a powerful way to close out the episode after such an underwhelming buildup. But is it earned? Time will tell if the next chapters in Fire Force's story can close out this arc in a way that feels truly satisfying.
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