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The Fire Hunter
Episodes 1-3

by Lynzee Loveridge,

How would you rate episode 1 of
The Fire Hunter ?
Community score: 4.3

How would you rate episode 2 of
The Fire Hunter ?
Community score: 3.8

How would you rate episode 3 of
The Fire Hunter ?
Community score: 4.0

©Rieko Hinata, Holp Shuppan/WOWOW

The Fire Hunter is both wonderful and, like the convoy truck Touko finds herself aboard, seemingly impenetrable. The anime is the latest production from the acclaimed Mamoru Oshii, albeit as a scriptwriter. Junji Nishimura, who previously worked alongside Oshii on the off-beat vampire comedy Vladlove, directs the series based on Rieko Hinata's fantasy novels. If the character designs look familiar, that's because the novels' original illustrations are by Akihiro Yamada of Twelve Kingdoms fame. That's a handful of noteworthy staff attached to a strange production. The Fire Hunter looks like it was holed up in an anime time capsule from 2003, only recently unearthed. It's refreshing in its antiquity, but it wouldn't be an Oshii production without an obtuse narrative.

I'm dancing around the series' primary issue, and it's that The Fire Hunter is three episodes in and already needs a world primer. There are a lot of moving parts that could be called "world-building" but also risk getting the audience caught up in all the gears. I am desperately resisting turning this review into a giant explainer just for the sake of my own future reference. We have a post-apocalyptic world of sorts where a fire now causes humans to explode (note: this is cool). Humanity mostly lives in disconnected villages that specialize in various exports. These items are donated to the capital, which exchanges the new safe heating and power source to the outskirts. This heating source is monster blood. Fire Hunters and their dogs hunt these monsters (known as fiends) to extract their blood. There are other monsters, sky-fiends, whose blood is more potent and could potentially be used to create explosives.

It's also generally believed (or perhaps known) that the gods are real and curses are treated seriously. Each god represents a traditional element (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water), but they may be ambivalent towards humans, given the current state of things. Five clans within the capital make up the ruling class and are said to be able to manipulate the elements. There are murmurings of a rebellious uprising by the "Spiders."

This information is fed to the audience throughout three episodes in expository dialogue, either from the narrator, the people aboard the truck with Touko, or by the Okibi family head to Koushi, our secondary protagonist. Koushi, like Touko, is an orphan. He's always lived in the industrialized capital city, but the factory fumes poisoned his mother, and it's alluded that they negatively affected his now-ailing sister when she was utero. He's allowed to live with the wealthy Okibi family in exchange for finding a way to make a bomb to fight back against the upcoming Spider Rebellion (name unofficial). Meanwhile, Touko is traveling on a truck to return Kanata the dog and his dead master's sickle to the surviving family. This family is Koushi and his sister, but neither party know that. Koushi doesn't even know his dad is dead.

That's the gist of The Fire Hunter so far, assuming I parsed its world correctly. When it's not overwhelming the audience in a giant wave of history or politics, there's a lot to enjoy here, but some of it is stymied by an uneven production. This isn't a matter of how The Fire Hunter looks; it offers grounded character designs and a muted color palette. I previously thought it was attempting to invoke digipaint-era anime on purpose, but it's often more attractive, especially in the first episode. The opening and ending sequences and the premiere episode are outstanding with kinetic animation cuts. This starts to taper off in episodes two and three where animation shortcuts become more evident. There's a pretty prominent fight in episode two with Kanata that goes off the deep end into laughably abysmal action shots of the dog gliding through the air and picking up speed like a Dragonflight mount in World of Warcraft. The monster, having taken one of the passengers hostage, tosses her unconscious and stiff body like a cardboard cut-out.

It's frustrating because, ignoring poorly animated fight scenes and a strangely ominous CG intro of a courtyard, I like how the show looks and I am interested in its world. I haven't warmed up to Touko much as she's little more than an 11-year-old waif, but Koushi seems like he has potential. It was a good call to split the series' focus back and forth between both characters, since Touko can't hold her own (or the audience's attention) yet.


The Fire Hunter is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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