Fire Force made it to my 12 Days of Anime for a number of reasons, and not all positive. While it certainly presents itself well on a visual front, other areas like timing and characters are memorable for more distasteful aspects. Regardless, I do consider the show among some of the most artistic presentations of the year with its cinematography and use of sound effects.
I can’t think of a more controversial and ill-timed show for 2019 than the currently airing Fire Force, whose debut paralleled an unfortunate arson attack on Kyoto Animation Studio. Before that incident, the premise of a world scourged by fire, fueled by it, and policed and terrorized by those who wield it sounded fascinating. I was particularly interested due to the creator’s past work on Soul Eater, a show that excelled in original style and performance despite lacking actual depth. His signature was apparent in Fire Force’s colorful and over-the-top character designs and combat. But after the attack on KyoAni, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy watching this show, a feeling which may have been the intended tone all along. The coincidence of actual events timed with this anime adaptation made the fires of each burn more painfully.
Similarities to Soul Eater aside, Fire Force stands high on its own as a work of art. Every episode brings with it amazing graphics that would lend themselves well to rotating desktop wallpapers. The framing, coloring, lighting, composition–I can’t help but feel like so many moments in each episode encourage viewers to pause and drink in the scenes in all their glory. It’s not often a show of this genre can capture this kind of flattery since most of the time I find myself more in awe of battle animation than in the in-betweens–another area in which Fire Force excels.
It’s not often I recommend a show mostly due to its style instead of its substance, but I honestly find the visuals of this anime more intriguing than the story itself, which I do still interesting, if not distracted. There’s a lot to unpack in the world building and plot development. We have a world-changing event, flames that damage yet also provide, people who use fire for good while others transform into monsters that destroy, and a religion centered on a god of fire who seems to command a couple of different sects. We spend most of our time with Special Fire Force Company 8, one of eight total companies granted authority and funds to battle Infernals. The power plays between Haijima Industries, the Holy Sol Temple, and the different fire brigades each with their own agendas and loyalties creates room for a lot of promising dialogue and plot development.
Despite all of these movements towards a successful story, Fire Force suffers from a pervasive inability to balance good writing with comedy. One of my biggest complaints about the show is its handling of female characters, literally and metaphorically. As was common in Soul Eater and other shows of the genre, females are tools for ogling and comedy. Whether they are friends or foe, they’re hard to take seriously because they inevitably fall for the clueless main character or take a hard side step to their more impressive male counterparts. Take for example, Maki. She has proven herself one of the strongest members of the team, yet we so rarely see her in action in comparison to Shinra and Arthur. And while we do get to see Hibana’s impressive use of fire, she inevitably becomes an idiot to love whenever around Shinra.
Then we have Tamaki, who is hands down my most loathed character of this entire series. If she were totally removed from the anime, nothing of value would be missed–she is that useless to the story. While you might argue her relationship to one of the moment surprising villains thus far was helpful for dramatic effect, I would argue any number of other characters could have filled that role. Tamaki’s Lucky Lecher Lure is never funny and ruins the momentum of every scene it follows. Her presence in this series smacks of forced fan service and terrible writing.
Notwithstanding these negatives, I do still harbor a fondness for the setting and its characters. I want to see Company 8 survive until the end all together. I want Shinra to save his little brother from his current path. I want to see their world cured of the fire that plagues it. I’m not certain we will see this all accomplished in 24 episodes since we’re already so close to the end; however, I am invested enough in the show to commit to a sequel should one be announced.