by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Fire Force ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Fire Force ?
Fire Force's premiere episode was an absolute knockout, accomplishing everything an anime's introduction should by marrying author Atsushi Okubo's idiosyncratic and whimsical art style with the confidence and polish of the production work by director Yuki Yase and the crew at David Productions. While the story of hot-headed Shinra's quest for revenge against the Infernal that killed his family is nothing new to anyone who's read an issue of Shonen Jump in the past twenty years, the premiere had such rock-solid visuals and direction that any gripes I had about familiar tropes and story beats went up in smoke. I'm sure I could fit another fire pun in here to emphasize my enthusiasm for Fire Force's first episode, but I digress. Going into Fire Force's second episode, my expectations were high, but a part of me wondered if show would even be able to match the power of that opening salvo without revealing itself as a one-trick pony.
Astonishingly, Fire Force's second episode is even better than its first in many ways, though it succeeds through a completely different approach. In “Shina Kusakabe Enlists”, Fire Force pulled off the double duty of setting up the story and the show's world, all while providing some gnarly set pieces that the animators could use to flex their muscles. We only learned the very basics of Fire Force's premise; in this world that worships the sun as its god, the Holy Sol Temple makes use of the Fire Force's Pyrokinetic Soldiers to do battle with Infernals, the beasts that are created when random humans spontaneously combust. Fire Squads like our heroes' Company 8 are part-clergy, part-firefighters, and part-superheroes – many of the Soldiers are even Pyrokinetics that wield fire as weapons of their own. Enter Shinra, a third-generation Pyrokinetic who's been accused of accidentally burning his family to a crisp, though he's convinced that an Infernal was to blame, so he's joined up with Company 8 to bring down the Infernals and prove to the world that he's a hero.
”The Heart of a Fire Soldier” is an excellent follow-up because it takes the straightforward angle of that first episode and complicates it, giving us a narrative that's more nuanced than we might have expected. The first half of the episode doesn't give any of this away, since the focus is on establishing more of the team's dynamics. We've already met Captain Akitaru Obi and Lieutenant Takehisha Hinawa, along with the Priestess Iris and the deceptively sappy ex-soldier, Maki. This week, another rookie joins the team: Arthur Boyle. He's a self-proclaimed “Knight King” and another 3rd generation Pyrokinetic who has long been Shinra's fiercest rival, though it's clear from the outset that the two might be perfectly matched in their level of dorkiness.
Maki gets to show off her moves when Lieutenant Hinawa instructs her to put the two boys through their paces, and we also get to see more of everyone's powers as well. Since Maki is only a 2nd-Gen Pyrokinetic, she has to have a source of flame to manipulate, but she's a natural talent at it, going so far as to make adorable little flame sprites (which can become quite threatening, should the need arise). We already know what Shinra's fiery feet can do, and Arthur has a special sword he's named Excalibur that channels his Pyrokinetic energy into a blue-plasma blade, which is just as cool as it sounds. Outside of delivering some agreeable gags and helping us get to know the team better, this first act seems like it's going through a familiar setup. We expect it to establish everyone's powers, give out a couple of new weapons, and then throw a tough monster at the group to test their abilities and force them to work better as a team.
Except “The Heart of a Fire Soldier” doesn't do that. Shinra and Arthur arrive ready to do battle at the site of the most recent combustion, but Captain Obi pulls them aside and tears into them for so readily brandishing their weapons. In a somber exchange, the Captain reminds both our heroes and the audience that, no matter how cool it might feel to battle a scary fire monster with your special superpowers, at the end of the day the Fire Force is about putting innocent people out of their misery. The friends and relatives of the unfortunate souls who become Infernals don't need to see the instruments that will be used to cut their loved ones down. When the Soldiers finally enter the house, the whole conflict ends up a perfectly directed anti-climax. The Infernal is just sitting there at the breakfast table, grinning his awful grin as his body burns to ash. When Arthur snuffs the Infernal out, its with a single stroke of Excalibur, and the moment isn't played up as cool or badass. It's just sad.
This being a shonen anime, of course there are still going to be bad guys at the heart of everything. A snazzy fellow with a look that just screams “I'm a villain!” appears to try and stoke the conflict with his creepy messages, but that's just table setting for future stories. When the episode ends, we see Shinra and Arthur connecting, not because of some battlefield bravado, but in how they both understand their jobs a little better. The problem of spontaneous combustion needs to be solved because it gets innocent people killed. The Infernals are victims as much as anyone else. Color me impressed that such a stylish and thrilling action show could prove itself just as adept in handling pathos and drama this quickly. Fire Force has set quite the bar for itself, and I can't wait to see where the show goes from here.
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