Fire Force – 04 – Infernal, Know Thyself

Many scenes of this week’s episode (and indeed previous ones) reminded me of the work of Akiyuki Shinbo, whose work in turn reminds me of live action directors Kubrick and Anderson. Sure enough, Fire Force’s director Yase Yuki is a SHAFT vet, having worked on Monogatari, Madoka, Nisekoi, even Koufuku Graffiti. That means there’s a generous amount of artistry to each shot, even if said shots aren’t really doing that much for the narrative.

The three balloon-holding mascots against an azure sky is one example; the scene of Company 5 Captain Princess Hibana and her man-throne is another, the latter evoking religious iconography that is reflected in the brief scene of Iris in a stained glass-filled chapel, looking at the burned photo of what we gather to have been her family. It’s just a really pretty, stylish show, but if you’ve been watching you knew that already.

Despite the flashy visuals, the episode starts out pretty harmlessly, with Maki dispatching Shinra and Arthur to help get a dog—later revealed to be one of the firefighter mascots—out of a tree. He was “hooray”-ed up there by college kids. With a firefighter (distinct from the fire soldiers) named Miyamoto on trial for a string of murders, the profession is not as respected as it once was.

However, just after Miyamoto is declared not guilty (by reason of insanity) he spontaneously combusts and becomes an Infernal, and not just any Infernal, but one that is self-aware and can talk (and also reminds me a of a hollow from Bleach).

Company 8 deploys to deal with the threat (though Maki leaves out the part about her sending the boys to get a mascot out of a tree, so Hinawa thinks they’re on unauthorized leave. Meanwhile, Princess Hibana moblizes her Company 5 in hopes of grabbing a rare specimen for Infernal research.

Thanks to Shinra’s rocket feet, he and Arthur get there first, and make quite an acrobatic entrance, with the force of Shinra’s kick knocking Miyamoto back the exact same distance Arthur flies before arresting his momentum and showing Miyamoto the back of his fist.

Mika and the rest of the 8th arrives, but her Sputter Comet attack is immediately neutralized. Even so, Miyamoto puts up his hands and surrenders—another Infernal first—before making a quick getaway. Only Shinra is fast enough to chase him. Oubi understands the difficulty of sending off a self-aware entity, but Hinawa tells Shinra not to listen to anything it says.

The ensuing fight between Shinra and Miyamoto!Infernal involves the former kicking a Peugeot 405 at him, showing the guy he means business. Again Miyamoto pleads for the mercy of a nun’s prayer before being sent off. Shinra forgets what Hinawa told him and listens to the Infernal, which immediately double-crosses him by trying to attack.

That’s when Princess Hibana and the 5th arrive and start throwing their weight around. Shirna says this is his job, but Hibana outranks him and her company outnumbers the 8th. Shinra manages to resist having to lick the imperious Hibana’s shoes, and uses his rocket feet to free himself from three of her “5th’s Angels”

The standoff continues when the rest of the 8th catches up to Shinra, and Hibana looks down on her fellow captain Oubi for having no pyrokinetic powers—not to mention low breeding. Ultimately, it is Oubi who caves, deciding letting a better-equipped company use Miyamoto in their research to learn more about human combustion is for the best.

Before the two rival companies go their separate ways, Oubi promises Hibana that the flame of the 8th won’t go out so easily. Kinda sounds like a challenge the princess would be all too happy to accept. In the meantime, she’s got a new specimen for her research department to mess with.

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Granbelm – 05 – Dejavu’ish

This week opens with Nene’s sisters commenting on Nene’s choice to reveal her identity to the alliance last week… and then skips ahead to the next full moon, effectively picking up where the last battle left off. What follows is an episode long battle between Nene and the alliance, then smaller one on one fights between each protagonist and her matching antagonist.

Anna traps Ernesta in a magic circle, only for that to fail for some reason. Dark Blue ambushes Kuon and implies that she knows who cursed Kuon’s sister. This leaves a powered-up Mangestsu to face a powered-up Nene. While Nene has the upper hand for most of the fight, Mangetsu appears to have the ability to capture her opponent’s feelings and memories. Since magic in Granbelm is entirely based on the mage’s ability to envision an outcome, and the strength of the mage’s feelings, things do not go well for Nene. What sharing these feelings will do to Mangetsu in the long run is left unsaid but it is doubtlessly going to weigh heavily on Nene. After all, Nene is essentially defeated by the strength of her own powerful feelings.

While the abrupt jump forward in time was awkward, fleshing out Mangetsu’s power makes for a substantially more interesting story than we’ve seen in the previous four episodes. Vamp’ing her opponent’s feelings also gives us a way of figuring out those same opponent’s motivations, without the heavy hand of exposition — and it gives Mangetsu a way to humanize her opponents in the process.

It was also helpful to see Nene’s memory of her mother not recognizing her, as that implies there are consequences for the mages who lose Granbelm. Stakes have been seriously lacking up to now.

The trouble is, Granbelm lacks focus. I enjoyed Nene’s arc, but the amount of screen time it took and the emotional investment it was given, rivaled that of a main character. Kuon and Ernesta have received similar treatment and it just dominates Mangetsu’s position… even though she is clearly the point of view character and who the viewer is supposed to most identify with.

Granbelm isn’t helped by its antagonists either. Anna Fugo is bland as they come and Dark Blue is a mustash twirling villain in every way short of having a lovely flavor savor on her face. Both will receive tragic back stories that motivate their actions, no doubt, but it is hard to care about them in the mean time.

In closing, this week expanded our understanding of the magic, rules, and characters battling each other, and it did so with visual flair and quality writing. Will it continue to improve or go back to being an unfocused mess with too many characters? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

Fruits Basket – 18 – Cry of the Tiger

While Tooru and Yuki are waiting under a shelter for the rain to stop, they encounter a soaked Haru carrying…a tiger cub. That cub is the Tiger of the Zodiac, Souma Kisa, and she ran away from home. She also doesn’t talk due to a “psychological” issue that locked her words away. Now she only bites.

Since her previous circumstances brought her to this state, Haru takes her to Shigure’s house for a change of scenery, and Tooru learns the silence is a result of bullying. Zodiac parents tend to either overprotect or reject their odd children. Kisa’s mom is more in the middle, but looks close to her limit.

So it’s Tooru to the Rescue! I’ll admit, any episode that lacked Uotani Arisa was going to be a slight letdown, but this isn’t the Uotani Arisa show, now is it? Instead we get the introduction of another zodiac member who is simply not coping as well with her differences as her older counterparts have (more or less) managed. Of course, the reason many of them can do that is thanks to Tooru.

Once again, Tooru can relate at least in part to Kisa’s situation, as she was once bullied too. Kyouko gave her the unconditional love and support and encouragement she needed to keep getting up, dusting  herself off, and going to school, and things worked out. She just needed to hear that “it’s okay.” So does Kisa, and she transforms back into a girl and embraces Tooru.

From that point onward, Kisa never leaves Tooru’s side and rarely lets go of her, save to let her use the bathroom. Yuki gets a little jealous of all the glomming and rests his head on Tooru’s shoulder. As annoying as this looks to, say, Kyou, Tooru is loving every minute of it, very much the Kyouko to the adorable Kisa’s young Tooru, who was also adorable.

Tooru, Yuki, Haru and Momiji discuss the nature of Kisa’s bullying, which involves her strange hair color and eyes, and later became a campaign of ignoring her and snickering at everything she said until she stopped talking. Momiji is overcome by sadness, having never experienced such bullying (as far as he knows) and thus being unable to imagine the pain that would lead to closing off your very words.

But like Tooru when she was bullied, only in a more concentrated state, Yuki can imagine all too well. As a result of Akito’s abuse, he too retreated within himself, and the more he did, the more he hated himself. When Kisa’s homeroom teacher writes her a platitude-filled letter that blames her for not loving herself as the reason no one else will, it’s enough to make Haru puke, and Yuki doesn’t much like it either.

What does that mean, “learn to love yourself?” It just didn’t work that way for him. He had to be told he was loved by someone before he could start feeling anywhere near like that about himself; enter Tooru. In actions and words, Tooru has demonstrated her love for Yuki, as well as Kisa. The kind of love that can spur someone to muster the courage to speak.

With persistent love and encouragement from Tooru, Yuki was able to face his fears, and learn that every tear he shed was purposeful towards that end. And so, following his own advice as Kisa decides to go back to school,  Yuki accepts the student council president’s request that he run to become his successor.

We don’t get to see what becomes of Kisa facing her fears, but the episode ends with her knowing even if it’s not great, and the tiger ends up feeling like retreating back to the jungle of darkness and silence, Tooru and Yuki will still be there to say it’s okay.