by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 23 of
Fire Force ?
How would you rate episode 24 of
Fire Force ?
“Smile” and “The Burning Past” wrap up the first two cours of Fire Force in about the best way we could have expected at this point: With a whole lot of exposition that probably should have been delivered sooner and cleaner, though all of it directed and animated with a sizzling, shiny polish. Because the conflict with Sho and the full machinations of the White Clad arrived so late in Fire Force's story, the show has set up a lot pins that needed to be knocked down in very short order. Given that, I never really expected this finale to feel particularly conclusive, and instead came at these two episode in the hopes that it would wrap up the Nether Investigation Arc and leave the plot in a good place to be picked up again should the series get its second 24-episode order.
I'm happy to report that Fire Force's final episodes (for now) do just that, giving us a decent send off to this phase of Shinra and Sho's reunion, and providing us with some much needed context so that all of this rigmarole can make sense in the long run. The action isn't half bad either, which is what makes all of this infodumping work as well as it does. If the show had just decided to have its characters all stand around in a circle and exposit about evil plans and shocking revelations – as plenty of anime have done in the past – then Fire Force's finale would have been a straight dud. Instead, David Production goes all out and delivers two of the most consistently gorgeous episodes we've seen since the series began; the sakuga isn't as eye-catching as it was a couple of weeks ago, but there aren't any noticeable dips in the quality of the art or character animation, either. From the wrap-up of Sho and Shinra's battle in “Smile” to the bout between Shinra and Captain Burns in “The Burning Past”, Fire Force has rarely looked better.
On the writing level, it isn't as stellar, since almost everything we get is a bunch of your usual plot and exposition dumps that we couldn't get over the last few weeks, on account of all the fighting. It isn't that any of the revelations we get throughout the two episodes are awful or stupid – they're just predictable. The furious passion that Sho and Shinra battle with are your basic shonen-style brotherly-bond type of conflicts: One brother was brainwashed, and no longer recognizes his family, and the other will stop at nothing to bring him back from the darkness anyway. Sho is a little turd with the capacity for good, and Shinra is going to keep fighting to bring that good back to the forefront. Of course, when Sho accidentally gores Shinra with his katana, it isn't much of a surprise either, because there was no way all of this drama was just going to be settled and done with in the span of a couple of episodes.
After the kooky Haumea takes Sho out reveals that the Evangelist's plans are indeed to course correct the failed apocalypse of The Great Disaster by turning humankind into Infernals. Later, Captain Burns stops by Special Fire Hospital 6, where a surgeon named Director Kayoko Huang, who specializes in treating pyrokinetics, operates on Shinra's very bloody stab wound. The operation scene is a little limp because we know there's absolutely no way Shinra is just going to keel over on the operating table with half of the story left untold, but the follow up with Burns is much better. He spouts a diatribe about how Shinra has to prove that he is strong if he wants to learn the truth about what really happened on the night his brother was taken from him, which is Fire Force code for “We really wanted to get one last badass fight in, and we couldn't think of a better excuse!” So, with that being the case, does this last action beat of the season make for incredibly compelling drama? No, but its damned fun, and a sterling reminder that Fire Force can deliver the goods when called upon to do so.
The scene also provides some useful exposition, though none of it is terrifyingly surprising. As Burns reveals, the White Clad have been in operation for years, and they were responsible for the creation of the Infernal that ruined Shinra's life, as well as the kidnapping of his brother. Also, the Infernal just so happens to be Shinra's mother, the same horn-eyed demon that he saw in the depths of the Nether. What I like about this final tease of information isn't just that it makes Burns an ever so slightly more interesting character, but it gives Shinra a renewed sense of purpose, one that could potentially reframe the whole direction of the plot. When this story first started, Shinra and the rest of Company 8 were out to discover the secrets behind the creation of Infernals. Now, with the knowledge that yet another member of his family is out there to be rescued, Sho has a new mission: Reverse the transformation altogether, and return Infernals to their human form.
It has been a long and sometimes uneven road to the conclusion of Fire Force's first run. Uneven pacing and some very unfortunate, annoyingly persistent jabs at humor often dragged the series down, and it remains a shame that the show's story and tone never quite lived up to the emotionally complex heights of those first few episodes. What Fire Force was though, more often than not, was thrilling and fun, and it could even be pretty damned funny when the humor didn't focus so much on lame fanservice. I certainly won't be championing Fire Force as one of the best action series of the decade - I don't even think it lives up to Atsushi Okubo's most famous series, Soul Eater – but in the end, I'd say it was worth watching. I hope director Yuki Yase and the good folks at David Production get the chance to finish the story of Fire Force, someday. Just please, for the love of all that is good and decent in the world, can we please tone it down with all the Lucky Lecher Lure nonsense?
Odds and Ends
• If I had to give this entire 24-episode run a numerical grade, it would be a 3.5/5. If future cours can cut down on the bad nonsense and play up the good nonsense, I could see the second half of Fire Force being significantly better than the first.
• Speaking of Lucky Lecher Lure, boy oh boy, Tamaki really got screwed over, didn't she? After going so far out of its way to exploit her being betrayed and beaten by Rekka, you'd think Fire Force would have had something more interesting planned for her, but nope. She's just been in the background, waiting to be undressed and embarrassed, and that's about all of the purpose her character has served all season. Lame.
• The excellent direction overseen by Yuki Yase is a huge part of what makes episodes like this work so well. None of the Sho/Shinra stuff would have been nearly as affecting were it not for the elevated quality given to the dreamlike flashbacks that we get when Shinra's doing his light-speed thing.
• DubTalk: One of the reasons I didn't really talk much about Funimation's dub for Fire Force this season was because there honestly wasn't a lot to say about it. It's fine, and it will likely please anyone looking for an English language option for watching the show. However, for this finale, I did check in with it again and found it strange how Justin Briner as Sho actually sounds older and more mature than Derick Snow's Shinra. I have no idea whether this was intentional or not, but the effect is a bit odd.
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