Fire Force

2 out of 5

Directed by: Yuki Yase

covers the first season

Fire Force sounds amazing.  For the slew of isekai variations and RPG-inspired anime out there, a story that spins out a fairly original mythology and then builds a logical extension off of that mythology for us to follow, episode by episode, is worthy just for not being something easily summarizable by a one word subgenre tag.  FF then goes a step further by actual making that mythology interesting: an event dubbed The Great Disaster occurred, during which humans, essentially, became varying degrees of walking fireballs.  Some can control flames indirectly, some directly, and some people… just combust.  Those that combust also do so to varying degrees, with ‘Infernals’ being the more volatile, rampaging degree, with different sectors of the Fire Force forming to put them down, peacefully.

Ranking of these degrees have been established; a religious order seems to also have sprung up, integrated into the Force, with tenets for giving the Infernals that peaceful put down.  And Shinra Kusakabe, just joining the 8th Fire Force regiment, is hoping to find out more about the fire that tore apart his family; as a ‘third generation’ fire wielder, he was blamed for the blaze, but there was something more to it…  As his investigation deepens, it’s mixed with the over-arching mystery of some clandestine club that seems to be purposefully triggering the appearance of Infernals.

All the ingredients are there for something pretty dang awesome: the fire basis gives us a unique element for animation; the wrapping of a personalized mystery within the context of a larger one is definitely a great setup; the world-building feels thought out thoroughly enough such that the world’s richness is inherent from the start, and we’re not backpedaling through retconned info.  And perhaps all of these ingredients do turn out positively in the manga… but in the anime, it falls flat, which is especially surprising as it was worked on by the usually dynamic David Production animation studio.

DP’s fluid character animations and detailed settings remain.  Fight scenes take place in realized spaces, and the sound design is pretty dang good, with the impact of fire fights blitzing through speakers with a good amount of oomph.  But all of the conceptually interesting stuff – the plotty stuff – is somehow relegated to the background.  We get some blurbs at the start of each episode that give us bit by bit info, and again, maybe that’s a tactic taken straight from the manga, but regardless, it means we’re expected to hang in there without a lot of context, and neither the characters – the 8th regiment, all with predictable personality quirks that end up making them similar instead of dissimilar – nor the pacing – stuck, undecided, between doing episodic rescues or larger world-building – really merit that.  Our initial point of view with Shinra seems ditched as soon as he meets his teammates, but that’s not at the cost of delving into their lives or anything; we continually just bounce around the firehouse and between missions without learning much (and thus coming to care about) anyone, and any “progress” made on the Infernals mystery is all through happenstance of a new character showing up and explaining something; it’s not “earned” through our leads actions.  This is the over-riding mentality for the show: nothing comes across as organic; it’s all at a stand still until a bad guy shows up and instigates a fight, and even then, it’s a toss-up whether or not that will provide any intel on which to follow up.

It’s very bizarre.  Watching episodes, I wondered if I was missing some chunk of the story – because as the team gets closer to the source of the Infernal-makers over the course of the first season, it didn’t seem like anything had actually happened except the forceful “go this way” sign-posting mentioned above – and I’d read some background on the show and think, again, that the concept sounds really awesome.  But then I’d put on the next episode and… not feel anything.  No thrill, no intrigue.  Which is certainly a shame.  A lot of anime ends up intriguing me despite its story, due to the way it’s presented.  And that’s why I like following certain animation studios around.  So matching a studio I dig – David Production – to an idea that already sounded cool had me eager to be taken for a ride, but alas, Fire Force’s creatives don’t seem clear on how to bring all that coolness together.