Playing with fire.
What’s the Story?
The flames took everything from Shinra, both his mother and brother perished in a house fire that most people think he started, but he knows there was someone else there that night, a horned demon. Determined to find out the truth of what really happened, Shinra learns to control his pyrokinetic abilities, which have flames sprouting out of his feet like rocket propulsion, and joins the Special Fire Force Company 8. Along the way he’ll have to face those transformed by flames into walking demons, as well as the other companies and the forces of the mysterious Evangelist, but is he ready for what he’s going to learn? We’ll just have to pray. Latom.
Strap in folks, this may be a long one. I’ve not been looking forward to writing this review. Not because I don’t like Fire Force, but more because I can’t decide if I like it or not. One minute this is the most infuriating series I have ever seen, the next it’s an utterly mind-blowing masterpiece! My emotions have spun around so much I’m pretty sure I’m suffering from whiplash right now. It’s been a roller coaster to say the least and I still haven’t figured out whether it was worth it or not. Do the few bad elements outweigh all the good, or vice versa? I guess my only choice is to ramble through things and see if I can decide by the end of this post. Let’s start on the negatives and then we’ll move on to the more positive stuff, which brings me right to the fanservice. Oh joy.
Now I don’t want to get into a long-winded discussion on the pros and cons of fanservice (especially since my views on fanservice within a show have been mellowing of late and there’s already plenty of great posts about this exact subject already out there, check out Scott HERE for example), but this needs to be talked about to a degree. I was expecting there to be some fanservice in this show, the manga was written by the guy who created Soul Eater, so yeah, I didn’t exactly want it, but I was willing to accept it within reason, and at the start of the series it was okay. There were a few shower scenes and such, but the shots never lingered and, honestly, moved on pretty quickly, which while not my ideal it’s at least not as distracting or intrusive as I feared. However, then we get introduced to Tamaki and she has the worst kind of fanservice happen to her on a continual basis. Thanks to her ‘Lucky Lecher’ syndrome her clothes keep popping off at random intervals and she’s forced into compromising positions that she clearly doesn’t want to be in. It adds nothing to the story or her character, in fact it detracts from both. It would be something if Tamaki had some agency in this, but she doesn’t and she’s clearly upset whenever it happens. Is this meant to titillate me? A young woman put in awkward positions against her will? No, just no. Bad show, you go into the corner and think about what you’ve done!
It doesn’t help that the show has some genuinely interesting female characters that are starved of attention in the show. Every time Tamaki popped up I just thought about all the minutes of screen time that could have been given to Maki or Hibana, heck maybe we could even give some character development to Iris! If this was the only problem with Fire Force I could probably bare it, Tamaki isn’t in the show that much and there are plenty of episodes without even a whiff of fanservice about them, but the series has a deeper problem too. It doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Here’s the thing about Fire Force, it’s plot meanders, a lot. At the beginning we’re dealing with Infernals, people turned into walking fire monsters and the tragedy around that. Cool, plenty of set up for epic battles and some raw emotional drama, great. Couple of episodes later, oh no actually we’re going to forget about Infernals all together and go around investigating the other Fire Force companies. Okay, fine, I guess there’s plenty of drama we can get from that and we get to see plenty of inventive uses for pyrokinesis. However that doesn’t last either. It isn’t until the White-Clad are introduced and developed that it feels like this series finally has a proper direction, we have a clear goal and mission for once.
Enough of the negative though, because this show has an ace up its sleeve, one I can’t criticise, it’s animation and direction. Jaw-dropping is the word. The way this series contrasts light and dark, as well as its use of bright, high contrast colours turns every episode into a feast for the eyes. There’s also a real passion and vitality to the direction, even scenes of characters just standing around talking are shot in a way that makes each scene endlessly interesting. Of course then we get to the action and things go up another level entirely. I wish some of these fights were longer, but only so that I could see more of this blistering, impactful action that just makes me want to punch the air with joy. Throw on top of that some brilliant fight choreography as well as an amazing soundtrack (I haven’t stopped listening to the main theme since it found its way on to Youtube) and I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.
Also, allow me to finish up by talking about some of the guys, because as much as I’m in love with Maki, I’ve fallen for the guys in this series too. Arthur is a complete and total idiot, but I adore him (he had me in stitches when the gang went to recruit Vulcan) and then there’s our cool-headed hero, Shinra. I’ve noticed this trend in shonen were a couple of series have started having a more, shall we say openly intelligent protagonists? (Looking at you Midoriya and Osamu), and while Shinra has his moments of being a typical shonen protagonist, as well as being terrible at coming up with names, he also has a tendency to analyse the situation around him more before he acts. He takes the time to stop and think about his action, which is more than I can say for a lot of shonen heroes. Honestly I’ll watch this series again just to see these characters and the fight scenes again, which I guess answers my question of whether I like this series or not.
In the end, Fire Force is an extremely flawed series. It has some major issues with one character in particular and spends a lot of its run meandering around looking for direction, but when this show is on its game it is one of the most spectacular experiences you will ever have. The direction and animation alone are worth the price of admission, but add on to that the music and some really great characters and I think this show is worth it. Also now that the series has finally found its Big Bad I’m hoping season 2 is going to be even better (if the Nether arc at the end is anything to judge it by, then I have high hopes). If anything that I’ve mentioned puts you off, then that’s fine, but if you think you can bare with the negatives, then give this show a shot.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.