Fire Force – Mid Season Anime Review
Synopsis: Tokyo is burning, and citizens are mysteriously suffering from spontaneous human combustion throughout the city! Responsible for snuffing out this inferno is the Fire Force, and Shinra is ready to join their fight. Now, as part of Company 8, he’ll use his devil’s footprints to help keep the city from turning to ash! But his past and a burning secret behind the scenes could set everything ablaze. (Official Funimation Synopsis)
Mid Season (6 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Fire Force boasts incredible flare, with vibrant visuals showcasing the incredible action and spectacle this series is capable of. Unfortunately Fire Force visuals are about all there is to appreciate. Delving deeper, beneath the flare and spectacle, Fire Force is a mess of uninteresting, singularly quirky characters, grating fan service and poor plotting. Basically? It’s a mess.
Linny: For a show that isn’t an Echi, the fan service gets ridiculous and atrocious because of how it takes the accidental trip grope trope and one ups it to a whole new level. Our protagonist somehow trips so hard and specifically that his hands slide under a woman’s undergarments and literally grope her breasts and buttocks skin to skin. It’s explained away as a unique quirk of this female character, always falling into men’s hands in the most inappropriate of ways. That’s where Fire Force’s fan service stumbles into its other big issue: It’s handling of female characters. The women in the show aren’t the most inspiring. We get one physically capable female character in Maki, the tough, but kind girl of Company 8, who is immediately described as being air-headed and easily caught up and swept away by romantic thoughts in her introductory scenes, undermining her erstwhile capabilities. Also whenever anyone says anything remotely disparaging about her she mishears it even worse, playing into the idea that women are over-emotional, always at fault messes. Every other woman the series offers up is either a damsel in distress or fan service provider, further lowering this show’s appeal to only hot blooded young men.
Tom: And to be fair, Fire Force is a shonen, so its squarely aimed at young men, but other modern shonen have found ways to balance the blatant appeal to male audiences, while providing strong female characters, and there’s nothing preventing the series from doing so, besides a simple disinterest. That said, it’s not as if Fire Force has male characters worth a dime either. Most characters are singularly defined by superficial traits. Arthur, a sword wielding ‘bad ass’ is an idiot through and through, with little hints to greater character growth, making him feel wholly one note. Our main character, Shinra, is perhaps the deepest character of the lot, possessing TWO whole concepts to his persona. Shinra wants to be a hero, a character trait that feels only loosely tied to his past but forms the core of his identity, making him feel more superficial in the desire to play savior than anything true and weighty. Part of the trouble is Fire Force is so terrible at providing relevant, emotional flashbacks that give weight to our character’s in the present day. It’s so much more focused on pushing Shinra’s other defining quirk: His smile. When Shinra gets nervous he gets a devilish smile. But this, already more weird than comical, quirk gets pushed so hard it gets redefined from simply when he’s nervous, to really any upsetting emotional state. It’s contrived for the sole purpose of creating greater drama, when the simple idea that Shinra lost his family, perhaps due to his own fault, is already weighty enough. Shinra’s desire to be a hero could feel earnest if the show chose to visually and narratively tie that desire directly to the loss of his family, but ever opportunity is skipped over in favor of pushing his creepy smile gimmick.
Linny: None of the characters are helped by how awful Fire Force is at handling backstory. Often cast members regurgitate walls of exposition at the most random moments, failing to inject the information in a more organic manner. The characters absolutely need to be fleshed out, but it doesn’t make sense for Maki or Hinawa, Company 8’s second in command, to spew their reasons for joining the Fire Force right in the middle of battle. The problems don’t end there. It also employs convenient timing in an obvious manner, like villains being able to have long monologues without being interrupted as long as they need to or certain items working in one scene but then not in another similar moment simply so the hero can emerge victoriously/safely. To be fair, a lot of other shows do the same, but these things stand out more in Fire Force because of how poorly executed the series is across the board.
Tom: Fire Force is an absolute mess beneath the visuals. Characters are tropey, ideas half formed, characters abruptly introduced. Heck we skip over crucial world forming early episodes/plots most shonen hinge on to help define the characters and the setting before jumping into the grander narrative. So much of Fire Force’s issues hinge on the fact that the series is rushing. It’s not the anime’s fault, as its adaptation is extremely faithful to the manga, which rushed through all this stuff to begin with. If anything Fire Force feels like the cliff-notes version of a grander story, or perhaps the anime compilation movie version, where spectacle is put ahead of keeping the story coherent and gripping.
Linny: Moreover, Fire Force continues to stumble with its usage of popular Shonen tropes in regards to some of its ‘villain’ characters. Hibana, the Batallion Commander of the 5th Special Fire Brigade is introduced and shown to be a cruel and perverted antagonist. She’s sadistic and even goes so far as to strip the innocent Sister, Iris and uses her as a trap/tool to entice the 8th Special Forces. However, in episode 6, we get her Tragic Story™ and she goes from loathsome villain to someone the 8th quickly joins forces with/makes peace with despite all the crazy she let loose up to that moment. Shonen Heroes being able to forgive and/or forge friendships with their former foes is again a common trope so it’s no surprise to find it happening here in Fire Force but once again, Fire Force fumbles by having everything happen all too quickly and abruptly. I’m aware I have been denouncing this show non-stop so let me say what I think is good about Fire Force, besides its irrefutably superb animation. Fire Force quickly reveals its very obvious twists regarding Shinra’s brother, which is great because it makes the show seem intelligent and self-aware. Another positive note about the show is that it does have a solid joke ever so often, ones that are sure to tickle and land with all audiences.
Tom: I hate to prop up My Hero Academia as the ‘shonen standard,’ as if its infallible, but Fire Force could learn a lot from Academia. Shinra’s desire to be a hero is most easily comparable to Midoriya. The trouble is Shinra’s desire doesn’t feel intrinsically tied to who he is, unlike Midoriya where it’s such a central component to his character because of how integrated it is into what makes Midoriya, well, Midoriya. With Fire Force heroism seems thrown in solely for heroism’s sake, as if the series is merely capitalizing on what Academia made so popular. Ultimately it’s this shoddy nature, the inability to tie all the elements it plays with together, that makes Fire Force feel so superficial and weak.
Linny: Here’s the simple and honest truth about Fire Force: If you are a fan of Shonen, enjoy all the staple tropes and love a show with good animation; there are high chances you will love this series for that alone. But if you have never been fond of series aimed at a Shonen demographic or were expecting something truly innovative or unique with its story and narration, there’s not much to the series beyond its undeniably exquisite animation and visuals.