Wednesday 10 July 2019

First Impressions: Fire Force

Fire Force
Fire Force is available in streaming form via Crunchyroll

If there's one thing I admire about anime and manga above anything else, it's how its creators can seemingly take any concept and turn it into something completely off the wall. 2019 seems to be the year of fire fighting, as Trigger take to the big screen with their Promare movie while on television screens Fire Force also makes its debut. Adapted from the manga series by Atsushi Ōkubo. (most famously known as the creator of Soul Eater), the series has already caught the attention of fans due to its impressive production staff – animated by David Production (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Cells At Work!) and directed by SHAFT regular Yuki Yase.

It's Year 198 of the Solar Year, where humans spontaneously combust into fiery monsters known as 'Infernals'. Their threat is so great that special fire fighting forces have been assembled to combat them, including those with pyro-kinetic abilities amongst their ranks.

Shinra Kusakabe, a third-generation pyro-kinetic nicknamed the "Devil's Feet" due to his ability to ignite his feet at will, arrives in Tokyo to join Fire Force 8. Carrying a deep trauma from childhood due to his abilities, Shinra strives to become the hero he always dreamed of being.

If you're looking for a new show to pick up this anime season to fill your eye-candy quota, then look no further than Fire Force. While there's still plenty to say about its story the main appeal definitely lies in the visuals, and if there was ever a series that could potentially encourage someone to become a pyromaniac then its probably this one. The fight sequences are bathed in rich orange colours which strikingly clash against the drab palettes of the general scenery, coupled with flickering fire animation that’s so fluid in its movement that it almost feels choreographed. Against them you have the reflective blues of the Fire Force uniforms, painting an onslaught of colour that’s as dazzling as it is destructive. However there’s a great sense of control in the carnage, and it never feels like the show is going so overboard with its visuals that there’s simply too much to take in.

However in amongst that are the makings of a fantastic story, as well as a rather likeable lead character. The idea of humans spontaneously combusting into fire demons is hardly a complex one, the series gives a deeper feel with religious overtones and the notion that the victim's spirit is what's saved when the Fire Force defeat the Infernal. But more interesting is what little we get to learn about Shinra in this episode. Despite being rather skilled with his fiery footwork, Fire Force immediately portrays its lead character as insecure and vulnerable. From his fanged grin on promotional images I immediately expected a confident character akin to Soul from Soul Eater, but Ōkubo completely subverts that expectation by revealing that his almost demonic smile is actually a product of nervousness. Suddenly I'm looking at those pictures in a whole different light, and reading Shinra from his facial expressions alone has become a lot more interesting. The flashbacks to his childhood blend in well with the current events of the story, constantly flickering between happy and sad memories for maximum impact.

The name 'Fire Force' obviously suggests a team though, and in this episode we do get a somewhat brief introduction to the remaining members that even out Fire Force 8. Despite Soul Eater being a series that was particularly good with its female characters, so far Fire Force doesn't have a whole to offer in that department – as Maki and Iris are introduced through a shower scene and then go on to have minimal character so far outside of action scenes. The inclusion of a nun on the team is an interesting take that solidifies the religious parallels the series is obviously going for, and the combination of powered and non-powered members also makes for a dynamic with plenty of story potential. We’re also briefly introduced to the Force’s commanders Akitaru Ōbi and Takehisa Hinawa, who play off each other nicely with their conflicting adherence to proper decorum and procedure. Though no one here really makes a strong enough impression to choose an instant favourite, it does feel like the potential is there.

As a series premiere Fire Force does an excellent job of not only setting up what it's all about, but also showing off a visual flare that to help carry it through some of its more cliché shonen elements. With an engaging protagonist and slick animation it makes a wonderfully bold debut, invoking the kind of hot-blooded heroism a fire fighting anime should be all about while setting up plenty of intrigue for future episodes. As one of the most hotly-tipped (I make no apologies for all these fire puns) shows of these season, this is definitely one to check out.

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