by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 25 of
Fire Force ?
How would you rate episode 26 of
Fire Force ?
Fire Force is back, baby! If you want to check out my full thoughts on Episode 1, check out the write-up I did for this summer's Preview Guide, because there isn't a whole lot to recap here. It was basically an excuse to reintroduce the crew with a badass fight scene, and then drop a whole bunch of stupid gags about the Fire Force's annual nude calendar competition. It was awesome.
”Flames of Madness," the second episode of the season, is really where Fire Force's story picks back up again, and damn if it doesn't hit the ground running. There's something about the pacing of this episode that just feels spot-on, managing to cram in a whole lot of action and plot without ever feeling over-stuffed or sloppy. This could very well be due to the series getting a new chief director, Tatsuma Minamikawa, who is also spearheading the writing of Season 2 as well. Fire Force's first season often felt like a mishmash of different tones and focuses that never gelled perfectly together, and while it is too early to tell whether Minamikawa's influence has solved that problem completely, “Flames of Madness” is a great first impression, at the very least.
Here's everything that goes down: Shinra heads to meet up with the Captain Hague of Fire Force Company 4, a group he is familiar with since they oversee the Academy where the new FF recruits complete their training, and the guy seems weirdly obsessed with Shinra's Adolla Link and Adolla Burst. By “weird," I mean he's literally a masochistic convert to the divine power of the Adolla, and he begs Shinra to burn him with his holy fire in a terribly creepy manner.
You'd think this is setting up Hague to be the newest antagonist to come within the ranks of the Fire Force, but oh no, the real threat is the demonic woman known as the First Pillar, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Iris of all people, and also happens to be filling Shinra's head with rage and fear (and the urge to burn things). I wouldn't have minded if this initial possession on Shinra's part was extended and foreshadowed more, since I liked how it played up the pent up frustration and anger that has been bubbling to the surface ever since he discovered just how truly screwed up his family situation is in the Nether, but Fire Force Season 2 isn't about taking the scenic route right now.
Instead, Shinra becomes a full blown supervillain threatening to burn the whole damned world down, and so Captain Hague has to join forces with Instructor Pan, a cool dude named Ogun, and Arthur to bring Shinra back to his senses. If the following action sequences weren't already a lot to throw on top of introducing a new villain and tossing Shinra straight into the deep end of near-Infernal madness, we also get an extensive flashback devoted to explaining why Arthur is, well, the way he is, and it is as sad as you might have predicted.
Here's the thing: All of this works, and it works really damned well. Shinra's brief flirtation with the dark side is thrilling and genuinely chilling, thanks especially to David Production cranking up its dark and surreal flourishes, allowing Shinra's character model and the artwork of the show itself to crack and burn apart along with our hero's sanity. The action cuts are equally effective, especially for Arthur, who descends so far into his Knight persona that he envisions his Company 4 comrades as party members in a fantasy themed gacha game, complete with item rarity rankings. As Ogun notes, though, the more delusional Arthur becomes, the stronger he is, which is the kind of goofy nonsense that I genuinely love from this show.
Then Arthur's flashback reveals where this whole Knight obsession came from, and, unsurprisingly from Fire Force, the answer is: Childhood trauma. Specifically, he grew up in an incredibly impoverished home, and while his mother and father apparently tried to instill a sense of imagination in the boy, they also used their cute little Knight fantasy to frame their goodbye letter when they up an abandoned him. So Arthur's whole persona is an attempt to live up to the vision of himself that was allowed to remain in the fantasy where his mother and father were still a part of his life, a way to take the thing that should have broken him and turn it into fuel that makes him stronger.
This, mind you, is coming from the same exact Arthur who strapped a nightmare Donkey robot-head to his crotch and named it his legendary steed, Silver. This is the same Fire Force that took the gag of Tamaki's Lucky Lecher Lure and beat that horse so dead that the only thing worse off by the end of Season 1 was the show's dignity. Yet, time and time again, the show has come back around with genuinely well-written and fantastically directed one-two punches like these episodes here, and you remember that Fire Force can actually be really freaking awesome when it wants to be.
At this point, I'm not so naïve to think that the show won't have some of the same bumps in the road that its first season had—I'm just waiting for that Lucky Lecher Lure to show up again and ruin my day—but there's just something about the vibe of this season premiere that's got my blood pumping and a big ol' grin on my face, all the same. I've been referring to Ash Ketchum as God's Perfect Idiot in my reviews for Pokémon Journeys: The Series, but Shinra and Arthur and the rest of these glorious dumbasses have returned to rightfully reclaim that crown. Hail to the kings and queens of Fire Force Company 8, baby.
Odds and Ends
• The First Pillar having the same face as Iris is an awesome twist if only because it means Iris really does have a point being in this show, after all. I hope it doesn't take twenty more episodes to figure out what it is.
• Shout-out to the season's excellent new OP, featuring the song “SPARK-AGAIN” by Aimer. It's a banger of a track, for one, and the slick animation in the OP is a huge step up from last season's extremely underwhelming 2nd OP. The new ED is great, featuring “ID” by Cider Girl, is great too.
• I don't think I gave the sound production studio Magic Capsule enough credit for the stellar sound design work on this show last season, which is just as much a key part of its appeal as the spectacular fire animation and off-kilter visuals. Fire Force has the coolest sounding fights around.
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