Fire Force – 02 – About All Any of Them Can Do

With the Rookie Fire Soldier Games coming up, Captain Oubi has high hopes for young Shinra. But he’s not the only rookie assigned to Company 8. That’s right, it’s the Rival/Friend His Own Age Who Is More Like Him Than Not, Arthur Boyle, the self-proclaimed “Knight King.”

Maki and Iris are enjoying the nice day on the roof when the two prepare to go at it, but Lt. Hinawa puts an end to both Maki’s idle fire manipulation (technically against regs, but he’s a stickler) and the attempted duel. Instead, he rearranges the fight so Shinra and Arthur have to go up against their senpai Maki.

While both third-gens are unconcerned about taking on a second-gen, Maki’s military training, experience, wonderful muscles, and most important, her ability to manipulate the flames of others means both guys end up taking quick losses.

Maki may be a little self conscious about her “ogre gorilla” alter-persona, but there’s no doubting her toughness despite not being the latest generation of pyrokineticist. If Shinra’s a devil and Arthur a knight, she’s a witch—and a very accomplished one, at that.

Taken down a few pegs, Shinra and Arthur shift their battle to see who can eat the ramen Oubi treated them to faster…which is not the point of eating delish ramen. There’s also a mention of how much gear a non-user like the captain has to wear (and Hinawa has to maintain) for the job, while Arthur’s Excalibur and Shinra’ feet and Type 7 ax are sufficient for them. Speaking of which, the alarm sounds and the now five-person Company 8 answers the call.

The scene is eerily quiet but the Infernal is inside, the father of a girl who already lost her mother to “infernalization,” and dreads being next as a matter of genes (though it could just be a coincidence). When Shinra and Arthur take out their weapons in public, they are scolded by Oubi. The Infernal they’re about to fight was a human, with family. It’s not a glorious battle, but a solemn funeral. If the rookies think otherwise, they can leave the 8.

Oubi is proven right when they enter the house and find the girl’s infernalized father just sitting quietly at the table, the shrine of his wife nearby. Shinra wonders why they should attack an Infernal that isn’t doing anything, but Arthur corrects him: the person sitting there is in tremendous pain, and they must put him out of his misery.

As Iris says the prayer, all it takes is a single quick strike form behind with Arthur’s plasma sword to send the father to rest. A quick and dignified end, but no consolation for his daughter as she never saw it.

Before they went in, a cloud of flames above the house formed into a smirk, and after they defeat the Infernal, the house inexplicably comes tumbling down; fortunately Oubi is tough and isn’t injured, but he and Hinawa immediately suspect a third party that’s messing with their duties. Indeed there is someone outside among the crowd, who leaves smoke letters in the sky reading “Joker.” Huh.

Meanwhile, Oubi completes his duties by doing what he can to comfort the surviving daughter in her time of greatest despair. He posits that because his parents protected her so thoroughly from the flames, she’ll be safe form now on, even if they’re gone. The fire soldiers didn’t fight a battle this week; the Infernals did, for the sake of their daughter, and they won, because she’s still alive.

Neither Shinra nor Arthur can sleep that night (obviously they were assigned the same bunk bed), realizing that the academy could not prepare them for the most terrifying part of being a fire soldier: getting accustomed to what they do. But as much as they snipe and sneer at nip at each other, they’ve perhaps started to realize that they’d rather have one another by their side than not, to help deal with those solemn times.

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Granbelm – 02 – Pretty. Bad.

Like we the viewers, Mangetsu begins this episode not sure why or how she ended up nude in Ernesta’s bed. Meanwhile, Mangetsu’s family panics and calls the police to report their daughter’s disappearance. While a literal hand wave (of magic) fixes the situation, I can’t help but feel like a more interesting plot line was waved away with it.

What follows is a by the numbers plot where Ernesta joins Mangetsu’s class as a transfer student, demonstrates or explains more about magic, and the source of Mangetsu power remains a mystery (and she continues to grow more powerful).

Side characters are developed a bit on the edges, such as a now magicless Rosa being kicked out of Anna Fugo’s mansion, and twins being introduced in Hong Kong, but those elements each felt isolated and inconsequential to the main plotline.

Granbelm’s broad color pallet, use of gradient fills, and subtle audio style make it pleasant to watch. However, these same qualities emphasize how frustrating its utterly incompetent narrative structure is at the same time.

Mangetsu has a Mary Sue quality, as seen by her natural immunity to magic and substantially higher powerful when casting magic. However, Mangetsu’s absence of personal flaws and lack of immediate challenges to overcome are more frustrating. She’s passive, too kind, and too removed from the magic world. The resulting character feels generic and the pairing narrative doesn’t have stakes. It’s underwhelming.

At its core, Granbelm is a show that could easily be a lot better. Replacing the short and scattered side character ‘check in’ scenes with a clear B-plot would have given the episode more focus.

Ernesta would make a stronger protagonist because she has stakes in the magic battle, relationships to build upon, and her point of view would structure the mystery about Mangetsu’s power as an actual mystery.

From Mangetsu’s dull characterization, to her lack of agency, to her lack of interest in her own mystery, to her apparent OP magic status, nearly everything  Granbelm idea feels wrong. Anna’s declaration at the very end of the episode gives me a sliver of hope — that Mangetsu is a demon could be an interesting twist on the demon lord and magic girl genre conventions — but it’s just a sliver of hope.