Before any narration, we’re thrust right into a battle in the forest, or rather the end of one. A hunter has killed a great black beast to protect a girl named Touko, but at the cost of his own life. His last words are to tell Touko the name of his dog: Kanata, who is wounded. Touko takes the dog, the hunter’s sickle and warding stone back home to her village.
It’s then we learn that the people of this world no longer use naturally-occurring fire; to do so would cause them to spontaneously combust. The fire they use is sourced from the beasts killed by fire hunters. Touko is also living with neighbors after a fire tore through the tiny village. Touko’s “sister” Rin rejects her as cursed.
Neither Kanata nor the hunter’s effects are Touko’s to keep. She must take them back to his family in the capital. To travel there she must board the collection truck that comes periodically to the town twice a year. None of this would have happened if Touko hadn’t entered the black forest, but her adoptive mother knows Touko did it for her sake: to find medicine for her eyes partially burned by the fire.
I’m glad for the little moment of tenderness between Touko and her de facto mom. This is a harsh world where every seemingly innocuous action could carry disastrous consequences that can affect the entire village. Touko has a good heart—and clearly good luck—but is regarded as a burden by her adoptive sister Rin: an extra body taking up space; an extra mouth to feed.
The heavily-armored collection train arrives and sets up a two-day bazaar, the village comes to life. The day both it and Touko depart it’s raining heavily, adding to the brooding atmosphere. This is not just a quick trip to the big city. It’s a circuitous odyssey that will take Touko away from the only home she’s known for a minimum of two years, with no guarantee she’ll survive the myriad dangers along the way.
But when Touko is told about these risks—both in sugarcoated mode by the kindly Enji and in cold-hard-truth mode from his boss Sakuroku—Touko simply says, in her slightly trembling yet resolute voice (deftly provided by Kuno Misaki), that she’s ready to go. She goes up into the turret to watch her village and her family recede away, possibly never to see them again. Rin wears a mask—is it one last eff-you to Touko, or to conceal tears?
From here the story shifts to the capital Touko is heading to, where a young man named Koushi resides with his sister. Their mother has just passed away, poisoned by the toxic waste at the factory where she worked. Unlike the village that has basically regressed to ancient times, the capital is still in a semi-industrial state, but without fire disease and short lifespans are widespread.
If you like bleak yet meaty stories in beautiful environs, The Fire Hunter is for you, as it is for me. I was reminded of Attack on Titan, and especially the wonderful, and dark-as-hell From the New World. There’s a Girls’ Last Tour look to the capital. This is a fallen world, but the people endured, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
With a veteran cast led by Nishimura Junji and Oshii Mamoru, there’s a great sence of both competence and confidence in the story being told, while the visuals are stark yet lush. Whether the following episodes will chronicle Touko’s six-month journey to the capital, or fast-forwards to when she and Koushi meet, I’m excited to see where this goes.