Fire Force – 01 – (First Impressions) – Exorcising Fire Demons

The premise of Fire Force is as bizarre as it is frightening: in its timeline, the “Solar Era”, spontaneous human combustion is not only a great hazard to Tokyo, but the beings that emerge from the flames, “Infernals,” are demons who must be defeated in order to put the souls of the victims at rest.

That’s the job of Special Fire Force Company 8, of which young newcomer and third-generation pyrokineticist Kusakabe Shinra is its newest member. He just happens to be a witness to the latest emergence of an Infernal, which Company 8 is dispatched to the train station to tackle.

In this way, Shinra gets a first-row view of how the Fire Force gets things done, and it’s as much a battle with a demon as it is a religous ritual; there’s even a sister, Iris, on staff to deliver the proper prayers at the proper time. While Shinra doesn’t participate in the battle, which is another success for Company 8, his quick thinking (and literally flaming feet) manage to rescue Iris from suffering a freak accident at the hands of a falling lamp.

From there, Shinra is taken back to Co.8’s HQ, a somewhat run-down but still very cool-looking cathedral (all of the architecture and mechanical design is very quirky and cool-looking, for that matter). He already met Iris by sweeping her off her feet like a princess, but soon meets Captain Oubi, Lt. Hinawa, and the first-class fire soldier Oze Maki.

Still, while his job is ostensibly to purify fire demons, Shinra clearly has some demons of his own, something he largely gives away every time he gets nervous and his mouth tightens up into a sinister-looking crooked grin. Those demons revolve around some kind of tragedy in his past where he was blamed for his mother and little brother’s death and subsequently ostracized by most other adults in his family and among their friends.

He doesn’t have time to contemplate how he’ll wrestle with those demons for long; the alarm sounds and within minutes he’s prepped and deployed with the rest of the company aboard the armored firetruck “Matchbox” to a factory fire caused by the manager’s wife combusting.

Another firsthand look at a scene of fire and destruction triggers his worst memories of the end of his mom, brother, and home, as he insists within his thoughts that someone else was present who was the primary culprit; it wasn’t a matter of his powers going out of control but someone causing them to.

We’ll see how that pans out, but his Captain and Maki work to keep him in the here and now, focused on the not inconsiderable task before them: the Infernal is one tough cookie.

Ultimately Shinra has to put aside the fact he couldn’t keep his promise to protect his family like a hero, but he decides to make a new promise never to let that happen again, and to protect anyone else affected by the Infernals. He delivers a devastating kick to the core of the Infernal, dispersing it, and Iris says the prayer. Mission Complete.

Outside, Shinra and the rest of the Fire Force gets its due congratulations, thanks, and adulation of the assembled crowd of citizens, not just for stopping the blaze but saving the soul of the manager’s wife. And for the first time since before his mother died, Shinra finally smiles a genuine smile, not the forced smirk with which he is so often cursed at the wrong times.

Fire Force, in a couple words, is pretty damn good. Stylish, fast-paced, and uncomplicated in its presentation of its protagonist, his motivations and goals, and the introduction of his new family and life among Company 8, which is definitely not your typical fire department. It’s a fun and imaginative setting that still feels grounded in reality and modern life.

The vaunted David Production studio provides a feast for the eyes, blending the reds and oranges of the flames with the ever-glowing blue of the fire soldiers as well as the eerie green aurora above Tokyo’s skies. The orchestral score also delivers the appropriate sense of occasion, peril, and excitement, particularly during the boss fight. I’m looking forward to this one.

Sarazanmai – 06 – Inside the Circle

As a dejected Haruka watches the real Sara pull the same fortune as yesterday (“sachet”, due to the zombie not being beaten), Kazuki resigns himself to being a kappa for the rest of his miserable existence, unable to be seen by anyone.

But Enta and Toi aren’t ready to let him give up on himself for Haruka, and Keppi seems game to assist where he can. As Kazuki laments being “outside the circle”, he’s really in the middle of two of them: his family and his kappa crew.

Then Reo, one of the cops who is currently separated from Mabo, his partner, encounters Haruka feeding Nyaranko. Haruka assumes he’s to be arrested for theft of Kazuki’s smile; Reo decides to roll the dice and extract his desire, if it is indeed desire and not love, tossing the cat aside.

The cat lands on Enta as he’s pleading with Kazuki, and Keppi reports that Haruka has been kidnapped by the Imperial Army of the Otters, long-time enemies of the Kappa, and of which Reo and Mabo are soldiers. Kazuki resolves to rescue Haruka at any cost.

After a brief history lesson from Keppi (including use of a modified Alexander Mosaic), he and the lads descend into the Otters’ vast industrial facilities dedicated to extracting desire from humans (now that there are no Kappas left other than Keppi) and creating Zombie Kappas.

Kazuki locates the box in which Haruka has been stashed, but it’s already part of the production line, and keeping up with it on its unrelenting path to oblivion is tough, even with help from Keppi.

Ultimately, Kazuki comes up a little bit short, and Haruka’s box begins its long drop into the matrix that will turn him into a Zombie Kappa. This means the end of Haruka, and the lads learn for the first time that the Zombies they’ve previously defeated are not only gone, but ceased to ever exist (hence their disappearance from photos and memories).

Keppi presents one last chance to save Haruka: a Shirikodama transplant, with Kazuki as the donor. That will mean the brothers will swap fates, and Kazuki is fine with that, since he feels he was always “outside the circle” anyway.

Obviously, neither Enta nor Toi will allow him to make that kind of sacrifice. Toi uses his gun to reverse the winch sending him down, and Enta shows him the miçanga Haruka never threw away, because he never gave up on his big bro.

As a confirmation Haruka never gave up, his box is blocked from conversion to a Zombie Kappa because it reads as “love”, not “desire”; Otters are only interested in the latter, so he’s marked for return. The bad news is, he’s headed straight for a giant shredder (evoking memories of the “Child Broiler” in Penguindrum).

Keppi rolls up into a soccer-sized ball, and Toi and Enta pass it to Kazuki, who uses a bicycle kick to knock Haruka’s box off its fatal course. A sleeping Haruka pops out of the box, and Kazuki is there to catch him.

We learn that Haruka had the sachet because he encountered Kazuki’s real mom shortly after Kazuki took his leave of her, and noticed the sachet had been left behind. He pleaded with her not to take Kazuki away, and she assured him he didn’t need to worry about that.

With that, the Sachet Zombie Kappa is defeated, and the lads regain their human form. No mention of a Dish of Hope, nor any tearful reunion with a newly-awake Haruka, just the three lads in the small Kappa plaza, and Kazuki suddenly feeling different than the last time he had his human body, no doubt because now he knows he’s not outside the circle, but in the center of it.

The Otter Cops don’t seem too perturbed about their latest defeat, and will certainly have their eyes on the Kappa boys henceforth. The episode closes with a flashback to long ago when the two of them stormed the Kappa castle to kill Keppi, only for Mabo to be gravely wounded, which may explain why his heart is clockwork?

Who knows…lots of blanks left to fill, but at least now we know for sure this is a war between the very well-supplied Otters and the last surviving Kappa. This was an episode that effectively departed from the usual monster-o-f-the-week formulae of earlier episodes, and was a thrilling adventure to boot. With Kazuki in a much better place emotionally, the Kappa triad looks better equipped to handle the next challenge thrown their way.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 09

In a change of pace both neat and foreboding, Girls’ Last Tour ditches its usual cute OP in favor of giving us a couple more minutes of “Life.” Chito and Yuuri enter another vast, city-sized facility, and while they assume they’re the only ones Alive for miles around, the facility is still “alive” with a lowecase “a” due to the lights, fans, pumps, and other various machines still working, even after the civilization that built them fell.

They also find a fellow “living thing” in a single, solitary fish, the last fish in a facility that probably churned them out in the billions in its prime. That single fish is kept alive by the one maintenance robot still functioning, much like the robot in Castle in the Sky, many of its not-so-lucky robot colleagues were not so lucky. Last tank, last fish, last maintenance robot voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi (I think?), and two of the last girls…it’s like a last convention, complete with pool facilities.

Free spirit Yuuri is all too comfortable skinny dipping, but Chito keeps her skivvies on in the presence of the robot, even though his “empathy” is just sophisticated software. But being in the presence of such complex electronic and mechanical systems that still function have Chito and Yuuri constantly wondering what “life” really is. That’s driven home by an effective fast-paced montage of all of the various patterns of sound that emulate the functions of organic life forms.

The fact that evolution bred from rebirth and change is required for life is also explored, with the only other robot at the facility being responsible for constructing or deconstructing parts of the facility as its programming dictates. When that includes the aquarium where the last fish lives, Yuuri spearheads an effort to stop the giant ‘bot.

While there was an early running joke of Yuuri constantly saying they should just eat the damn fish, she gradually develops empathy for it, to the point she’s pulling some Mission Impossible-type shit to strap explosives to the giant robot, bringing it down.

In doing so, Yuuri may have saved the fish and its attendant for now, but without the giant robot the facility will no longer change or evolve. The last robot will cease functioning, the last fish will die, and one by one the last functioning systems in the facility will shut down, in time. And since everything is the last of its kind, that will be all she wrote; no more “life.”

It’s a stirringly bittersweet close, as Yuuri and Chito themselves serve as “mutations” in a system that looked poised to self-destruct anyway (when the giant robot destroyed the fish’s home) before continuing their tour. They mostly agree that “life” means something that has an end…which this episode does with a classic credit roll with a haunting new piece of music.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 07

While attempting to follow Ishii’s route to the ration production facility, Chito and Yuuri find themselves utterly lost in a labyrinth of pipes. Chito’s intense fear of heights rears its head, and naturally Yuuri has a little fun with that, as she doesn’t fear heights in the least.

Still, Yuu takes pity on Chito, lets her tie them together with rope (so either one of them will keep the other from falling, or they’ll both go down), and stays close during the scary bits. Even so, they have to find flat ground at some point; they’re getting tired and it’s getting dark.

While Yuuri is the one obsessed with foot, it’s Chito whose slighter weight breaks through a weak spot of the pipe, revealing a bright light that makes Chito look like she’s glowing (in a way, a callback to Yuu’s belief Chito resembled the gods whose idols populated the temple).

They enter the pipe and are treated to a well-lit route with arrow signs pointing in the right direction. Yuu whimsically suggests they “explore” by ignoring said signs, but Chito isn’t having it; wandering aimlessly will only make them hungrier and more tired, and they only come upon one last measly potato in what looks like a vast airpoinics bay.

The arrows lead deeper into the production facility where Chi and Yuu encounter heavy-duty industrial food production machinery that’s still operational, a testament to the now-long-gone people who designed and built the stuff.

It’s been a long time since Yuu not-so-playfully pulled a gun on Chi, leading me to wonder the next time she’d play with her only companion’s life. That comes when Yuu switches on the gigantic potato masher…when poor Chi is on the conveyor. She switches it off…then on again…then off again, and Chi makes her pay by roughly handling her cheeks.

Still, Yuu proves particularly useful this week, both with her courage in the pipe labyrinth and the highly detailed memories of baking with Gramps. That knowledge is put to use as she and Chi gather powdered potatoes, sugar, salt, and water, and start mixing and kneading ration dough.

The dough is cut into bricks and popped in the giant oven, and a bit later they’ve got a decent supply fresh rations, which pass the taste test with flying colors, even calling forth the girls’ patented “headmelt of satisfaction.”

With the Kettenkrad and nearly all sight of the outside world sidelined, this was all about Yuu and Chi on their own, giving each other a hard time but also having each other’s backs. While the rations won’t last forever, they’ll last a while (unless Yuu goes to town while Chi sleeps).

adding a welcome measure of optimism to the conclusion of an episode on the heels of last week’s failed flight. Better still, it was packed to bursting with wonderful Chi-Yuu banter and interactions. Honestly, I could listen to Minase Inori and Kubo Yurika read the phone book together.