Review for Fire Force: Season One Part One
There are two kinds of shonen series in the world of anime. The one we more commonly associate with the genre aimed at young males, are the long running, weekly adventure stories with plucky young protagonists taking on epic quests over series that run for 100s of episodes, with oodles of filler, and storylines stretched so thin that they can take a whole season to get to the point. But there’s something comforting about the constancy of a show like Naruto or One Piece. They become companions as we grow up and grow old, never-ending, eternal.
The other kind usually involve the same kind of story, epic quests, plucky young protagonists, grand adventures, but they are told far more economically, stories fitting a comparative handful of episodes, pure character and narrative, with no stretching, no filler, maybe the odd mid-season hiatus, and enough budget and time to make the episodes look downright cinematic. These are the Fullmetal Alchemists, the Attack on Titans, the My Hero Academias of the world, and while I’m wary of investing a lifetime or two in the former, I really look forward to the latter. Fire Force looks to be another example of the latter.
It’s a world defined by fire. In the Solar year 198, Shinra Kusakabe is starting work as a Fire Soldier at Fire Cathedral 8. His job is to find those people who spontaneously combust and turn into Infernals and put an end to them before they harm anyone else. He’s a fireman who fights supernatural fire with fire, literally. He’s one of the rare people who are pyrokinetic, he can generate fire from his feet, and with such intensity that he can literally fly.
However, this spontaneous human combustion may not be truly spontaneous. There are 8 Fire Companies set up to investigate the source of this phenomenon and put an end to it, but they tend to work in secrecy and often at cross purposes. The newest Company 8 has been set up to see if one or more of the companies knows more than its telling, whether there is actually a conspiracy behind the appearance of the Infernals. This suits Shinra, as he also wants to know the truth behind his tragic past, a fire that claimed the life of his mother and his baby brother.
12 episodes of Fire Force Season 1 Part 1 are presented across two Blu-rays from Manga Entertainment.
1. Shinra Kusakabe Enlists
2. The Heart of a Fire Soldier
3. The Rookie Fire Soldier Games
4. The Hero and the Princess
5. The Battle Begins
6. The Spark of Promise
7. The Investigation of the 1st Commences
8. Infernal Insects
9. The Spreading malice
10. The Promise
11. Formation of Special Fire Force Company 8/The Mightiest Hikishi
12. Eve of Hostilities in Asakusa
Fire Force gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution. The image is clear and sharp, the colours are rich and consistent, and there is little issue with compression and aliasing. However, in environments where smoke is prevalent, the image is prone to banding a little more than the average anime. I really like the character designs in Fire Force, they have the same kind of punk sensibility as those in Soul Eater, while the background designs, particularly the cityscape reminded me a little of Tekkonkinkreet. The animation is smooth and detailed, and with fire being notoriously complicated and a challenge to animate well, Fire Force really succeeds in making its fire sequences work.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English, and 2.0 Stereo Japanese with subtitles and signs locked during playback. I stuck with the Japanese audio this time, and was happy enough with the experience. The actors are suited to their characters, while the stereo does wonders with the action sequences, often placing you in the middle of conflagrations. The music drives the pace of the story well enough. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos.
The discs present their content with animated menus.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Funimation NOW.
There is a commentary on episode 1 with ADR Director Kyle Phillips, ADR Scriptwriter Aaron Dismuke, Derick Snow (Shinra), and Jeremy Inman (Obi). The commentary kicks off with a warning that it will spoil all twelve episodes in this collection, so save it till the end.
The rest of the extras are on disc 2.
Fire Force: Interview with Atsushi Ohkubo at Anime Expo 2019 lasts 8:45.
Fire Force: Atsushi Ohkubo Speed Drawing at Anime Expo 2019 lasts 1:28.
There are three Inside The Episode Featurettes.
Episode 5 (10:21)
Episode 8 (9:53)
Episode 12 (9:03)
Episode 10 gets a commentary with Kyle Phillips, Alexis Tipton (Iris), Eric Vale (Arthur), and ADR Engineer Matt Grounds.
Finally there are the textless credits with player locked lyric subtitles.
Proof positive that I have no time to read manga, let alone watch the credit sequences through; I made it to the end of this collection, prepared to lay into the show about its similarities to Soul Eater, and only then did I think to check who the creator was. It’s Atsushi Ohkubo, who did in fact also write the Soul Eater manga. Of course there’s going to be an aesthetic similarity! The similarities don’t just stop there. It’s another shonen series, so like all such shows, there’s a young protagonist, about to come into their power, on a mission to ‘save the world’ and with a personal axe to grind as well. That’s par for the course when it comes to the genre, but Fire Force looks to be just as good as Soul Eater when it comes to its story, and the variety of characters. This looks as if it will be fun, certainly on the strength of these twelve episodes.
The world building really is accomplished well here, presenting a rich and complex society that draws you in, tantalises you with its little quirks and differences. It’s a world that revolves around fire. While cathedrals and priests are evident, an undercurrent of pious belief; the trappings may seem Judeo-Christian, but it seems that this society worships the sun, or Sol, and the purity of flame is uppermost. It becomes clear that a literal eternal flame now powers the land, but fire has reshaped society, as well as the land, quite literally.
The problem is with Infernals, people that spontaneously combust, and become some sort of fire demon. It falls to the Fire Force Soldiers to ‘exorcise’ them, more literally destroying the Infernals before they can destroy all around them, although the more pious of the Fire Force will at least read a prayer before they extinguish the Infernals. However, fire is also a positive for the Fire Force, in that many of their number actually have the innate ability to manipulate and use fire. The show’s protagonist, Shinra generates fire with his feet, with such intensity and power that he can even fly.
Shinra joins the 8th Company, a misfit group who work from a more run-down cathedral. They comprise the ever exercising Captain Obi, the sadistic Lieutenant Hinawa, a musclebound girl named Maki, and a nun, Iris. Not long after Shinra, another rookie joins, Arthur, a boy with a knight complex, and who wields a plasma cutter (lightsaber) he calls Excalibur. He and Shinra have history, and are often butting heads. All of these characters have pasts that are explored in the story, and Iris’ history is most tragic, taking up the early part of this collection. Shinra’s motivation to become a hero began the day his house burned down, and his mother and kid brother Sho died.
There are questions that are still unanswered from that day, but the questions only mount up, when it transpires that it’s not just spontaneous human combustion that is creating Infernals; someone is doing it intentionally. It’s made more complicated, as the 8 Fire Force companies tend to work to cross purposes, investigating Infernals and trying to defeat them. Some have powerful and influential backing, and the motivation to keep what they learn secret. Some are even capturing Infernals to experiment on, maybe even control. And as the show unfolds, and the members of the 8th find ways to investigate the other companies, they learn that there are factions in the Fire Force linked to those creating Infernals. While there may be betrayal within, they also pick up allies along the way from the other companies, including a seriously sadistic captain from the 5th who has a shared past with Iris, and who takes an unexpected liking to Shinra. There’s also a sympathetic and overly literal priest in the 1st who joins their cause, as well as a hapless rookie from the 1st named Tamaki who has a talent for ‘lucky lechery’ which contrives to provide the requisite fan service that you’d expect in an anime.
As the show unfolds, Shinra encounters the antagonist on more than one occasion, a particularly evil looking character named Joker who has a facility with explosives and a knack for creating Infernals. He takes more than a passing interest in Shinra and his ability, and suggests that he may not remember that tragedy in his past the way it actually happened. There’s a hidden mastermind named Evangelist behind this whole thing, and the identity of Evangelist promises to make Shinra’s quest a complicated one.
Fire Force is a splendid action adventure show. Its story is delightfully intricate and has more than enough in the way of secrets and mysteries to keep you hooked. It’s got the balance between comedy and drama just right, and it has a rapidly growing cast of interesting and quirky characters that promise a long and rewarding show. To that end, it’s worth noting that a second season has been green-lit. If there is one flaw, it’s that the similarities with Soul Eater go beyond the art style and the sense of humour. There are structural similarities between both stories, and if you’ve seen one, you might feel the other hitting similar beats at the same time. However, there is the tantalising prospect that Fire Force may play out all the way to the end, and it won’t have to resort to filler halfway through as Soul Eater did. This is definitely a show to keep an eye on.