Fire Force – 07 – A Long Way to Go

In the wake of the nighttime “joint exercise” (read: heated battle) between the 5th and 8th companies, their commanders decide to hold a “job well done” cookout in hopes of fostering peace—and keeping their superiors off their backs.

There’s no clearer evidence that the two companies have put their differences aside than Princess Hibana feeding Shinra cuts of grilled meat, but she also agrees to assist Captain Oubi and the 8th in their investigation of the scourge of spontaneous human combustions.

The most likely culprit is believed to be someone from the 1st company, since most of the man-made infernals come from their jurisdiction. It’s logical enough, even if it’s almost as likely to be someone not of the 1st who just happens to operating there.

In any case, Oubi wants eyes and ears on the inside, so he makes use of the above-board, inter-company trainee exchange program to send Shinra and Arthur to the 1st. They’re accompanied by first-years from the 2nd and 8th to allay suspicion that the 8th is up to something.

When Maki escorts the trainees to the 1st’s Captain Burns (the fire soldier at the scene when Shinra’s family was killed), Shinra immediately challenges him to sparring, with the understanding that if he can beat Burns, the good captain has to answer his questions without reservation.

But as both the 2nd Company trainee and Arthur exhibit, these 1st dudes are no joke, and challenging them to a fight so soon, even under the guise of training, doesn’t so much help their investigation as show them exactly what they’re up against in terms of strength.

One of Burns’ lieutenants, Karim, can turn flame into ice with the use of some kind of one-man-band air compressor, while Burns is able to stop and extinguish Arthur’s vaunted Excalibur with one lazily outstretched hand.

When Shinra gives Burns his best shot, it’s clear no member of the 1st is breaking a sweat today, despite Tamaki’s needless worry that Shinra might be able to hurt one of them. Once Burns dispatches Shinra, he asks him why he became a fire soldier, and suddenly Shinra’s spiel about wanting to be a hero to stop what happened to his family to happen ever again, Burns simply replies that Shinra has a long way to go to achieving that goal.

Still, perhaps being among such scarily powerful fire soldiers will help Shinra learn a thing or two, even as he and Arthur investigate the possibility one of them is creating Infernals. One 1st soldier I’m reasonably certain is innocent in all this is Tamaki, whose main special skill seems to be accidentally tripping and falling on men…her superiors have even adopted a habit of catching her in mid-air.

Fire Force – 06 – Wherein Opposite Paths Converge

As shounen heroes tend to do, Shinra struts into Princess Hibana’s lair and prepares to go a second round, despite having learned nothing about how to defeat her ability that had him flat on the ground. He’s confident that between his talents and determination he’ll figure something out and rescue Iris. Hibana is ready for him, but because she’s a shounen villain, she explains what her ability does, which enables Shinra to resist it.

Of course, heating up her opponents so they become lightheaded ragdolls isn’t Hibana’s only trick. She conjures up scores of flowers to launch at Shinra, and finally releases her featured attack, which bears more than a passing similarity to Captain Kuchiki’s Senbonzakura.

Hibana is convinced that the world is made up of the burned and those who burn, and ever since all the sisters but her burned in the convent, she’s dedicated herself to…herself. Burning whoever and whatever she needs to to get ahead. It’s how she became a successful researcher, and it’s how she became Captain of the 5th.

But here’s the thing: Iris survived too, and Iris is still around and kicking despite not becoming “the devil” to the god Sol everyone prays to. Which means there were obviously more than just the single evil path Hibana took. Iris continued her sister training and became a good and caring person who helps comfort people both during and at the end of their lives.

As we see in the expanded flashback, Hibana was unique among the other sisters in her ability to manipulate flames into beautiful flowers, and change their colors with chemicals. Iris and the others loved her flowers, but the nuns in charge discouraged her, warning that she was, well, playing with fire.

But Iris never forgot their promise: that if she overcame her shyness, Hibana would show her her flame flowers once more. This time, defeated by the flames she believed only served her, and by someone she deemed just more “gravel” to be trod upon, the hard crust that those old flames created around her heart shattered, revealing her heart wasn’t hardened to the core.

Princess Hibana is redeemed, the 5th and 8th cease hostilities, and she even develops a little crush on Shinra, who after all managed to defeat her, making her reconsider whether his prattle about heroes and saving people without getting anything in return was just empty BS.

As for Captain Oubi, after the credits he calls Hinawa, announcing he’s finally ready to join the fray, only to be told that it’s already over, and the dramatic battle music stops abruptly.

Fire Force – 05 – Captured Princess

Both Iris and Princess Hibana were present for the events of the end credits sequence when someone presumably combusted and burned all of the nuns and the church—except for the two of them. But while Iris’ faith in the Church of Sol seems to have strengthened since that tragedy, Hibana has all but abandoned hers, and has pursued a life of inhumane, heretical research.

The gulf between them is weighing on Iris, who wants answers but won’t tell anyone in her company, including a curious Shinra. That means Iris leaves the safety of Company 8’s station to pay a visit to Hibana at the 5th. The mere sight of Iris’ holy raiment enrages Hibana, and she burns most of it away, mocking all FFS nuns as mere “window dressing.” Shinra, Hinawa, Maki, and Arthur are quick to mount a rescue; hey’d been planning to raid the 5th anyway; Iris simply accelerates their timeline.

Hibana’s eclectic collection of pyro-weirdos don’t really cause that much trouble for the outnumbered 8th; one 5th soldier who blows explosive gum bubbles is outdone by Hinawa’s ability to control the speed and course of bullets from his guns, the “Three 5th’s Angels” are no match for Maki, and Arthur is able to deal with the souped-up captive Infernal when he realizes he was using his wrong hand. He’s an idiot, but a strong one.

All of this allows Shinra to slip behind Hibana’s defenses and reach the front door of her central mansion. Perhaps, when she’s rescued, Iris would be so kind as to fill in those who saved her on why exactly she did something so reckless as entering enemy territory alone, as well as why her smiles look so forced. The 8th is a family, after all; there shouldn’t be secrets.

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.

Fire Force – 03 – Hero or Devil

Enen no Shouboutai took a week off out of respect for the victims of the Kyoto Animation fire. There was probably never going to be an ideal way to return to regularly scheduled programming, but it felt particularly awkward to frontload the first episode back with repeated accidental gropings of poor hastily-introduced Kotatsu Tamaki, the show’s new resident Revealing Outfit Girl. I could forgive the empty fanservice if the episode had better points to focus on…but sadly, it didn’t.

What this disjointed episode did have was a whole lot of plot and table-setting. The Rookie Fire Soldier Games begin with all the fanfare of a quaint high school sports festival, but the episode abandons the games almost as quickly as it introduces them, by taking a sharp right onto the tired “Evil Clownlike Villain” road, introducing “Joker,” a name I think we can all agree is not the most imaginative.

When Shinra enters the building, Joker is assaulting two fire soldiers. He also threatens to kill Shinra, but also offers him the chance to join him, becoming a “devil” instead of a “hero.” This doesn’t fly too great for Shinra, partly due to his lifelong dream to become a hero (not a devil) and partly because the Joker assaulted two of his comrades. The two duel (Shinra’s no match for Joker), Arthur and Tamaki pitch in a bit (neither are they) and Joker fills the building with highly explosive ash.

Shinra grabs Arthur, Tamaki and the two injured soldiers and flies out of a hole in the roof. Tamaki’s captain praises Shinra, but doesn’t offer any more info on the circumstances of the fire twelve years ago. Joker hoped to lure Shinra to his side by sharing “the truth,” including the claim his brother, just one year old when he died, is actually still alive.

Some lengthy still shots filled with exposition from Captain Oubi later (seriously; the last five minutes are barely animated), we now learn the 8th Company has a mandate to investigate the other seven as part of an effort to uncover the truth of spontaneous human combustion, the explanation for which may already be known. Whatever their mission, Shinra wishes to remain on the hero’s path. We’ll see how hard Joker makes that.

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.

Charlotte – 05

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This week’s Charlotte begins with a rather unpleasant scene of Nao being dragged out of class and beaten behind the school by a mob of other girls. Yuu follows but doesn’t interfere, but what’s unclear is whether Nao is disappointed or glad about it. He presumes it’s what she gets for messing with people with her invisibility. He knows what it’s like to bear misdeeds; he’s perpetrated plenty of his own with his body-swapping.

And yet, while Yuu doesn’t play the role of the shining knight swooping in to save Nao from her tormentors, with or without his ability, Yusa and Joujirou both agree they’re “not an unpleasant couple to be around” due to their natural chemistry and spouse-like interactions. If they didn’t care about each other one way or another, they wouldn’t fight; that kinda thing.

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Nao believes the Council’s next target is up in the mountains near the city practicing his flying ability (the downside to the power is never mentioned). The best way she believes to do that is to set up camp and stake the place out indefinitely until they either spot him or he comes to them.

In the process of camping the group participates in typical group-bonding activites that take place during camping, like starting a fire, roasting corn, meat, and vegetables, playing video games, and stargazing. The latter is something only Nao and Yuu do, with the latter finding her alone listening to a group called ZHIEND, whose lead vocalist and composer is blind.

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In another indication Yuu and Nao are a somewhat fated couple, he gets the same feeling from the quiet music as she does: that of being in a vast, gorgeous, lonely open space. She even gifts him her music player, excited as she is to find a fellow fan. The music makes Yuu remember the face of girl who looks a lot like a younger Ayumi but who he doesn’t know, but he’s woken from the dream when it’s his turn to keep watch.

On the second night of the camping stakeout, Yuu and Jou bathe in the river, where Jou tells Yuu it’s best if he set romantic plans aside until two years from now, when they’ll lose their abilities. It makes me wonder if this show will let us see that future and how it changes these classmates and colleagues who are gradually becoming friends.

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It really is a journey-not-destination kind of episode, as the flying kid mission is wrapped up extremely easily. Yuu swaps bodies with him and ends up several thousand feet above the ground (an awesome sight, to be sure), and when he comes down softly but slightly banged up, less than a minute of convincing from Nao persuades the guy to stop using his ability.

Back home, there isn’t much pizza sauce left, and so Yuu gets his first tolerable meal frmo Ayumi in a long time. He also manages to convince her not to put it in everything, finally. But then Ayu starts coughing, and her temperature is 37.8, prompting Yuu to get her under a futon. Hopefully Ayumi doesn’t get sicker as a prelude to the awakening of her own power; but I’ll admit that’s not outside the realm of possibility.

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Charlotte – 04

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I don’t dislike baseball, and while I probably wouldn’t watch an anime exclusively devoted to it, I do enjoy the occasional baseball episode (it was one of my favorite DS9 episodes, simply because it’s so fun and feel-good).

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This week’s Charlotte was one of those, and it turned out a lot like “Take Me Out to the Holosuite”, which featured a ragtag team of Sisko’s crew (many of whom never played baseball) against a superior team—or in the case of Charlotte, a team with an ace who uses telekinesis to pitch perfect games.

They’re not just playing for pride, either: Nao gets the pitcher to agree never to use his power again if they lose; warning him that to do so would invite unwanted attention and ultimately capture by evil scientists. She also points out that he’ll lose the power, and thus any change of getting to the Bigs, once he grows up, but he seems undeterred.

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The game that unfolds is a bit of a circus, what with new Hoshinoumi transfer student Yusarin transforming into Mika, who has above-average athleticism baseball “game sense”, but is limited by Yusa’s weaker, slower body. Joujirou is predictably an asset in getting to first in record speed, but Nao has to record his at-bat with a high-speed camera to prove to the ump via instant replay that he was indeed safe. And, of course, Yuu switches bodies with an opposing batter while manning first base, with his repeated fainting confusing the ump to no end.

Finally, Nao calls upon Yuu in the most important at-bat; one in which a base hit will give them the win. Unlike his usual M.O. of sneaking around and swapping bodies, Yuu must face something head-on. He goes down 0-2 quickly, but realizing the gravity of his position, he valiantly fouls off pitches until the pitcher tries a new angle that results in a passed ball, scoring the two runs they need to win the game and the bet.

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This week’s challenge for the Student Council turns out to be a little more interesting than the one-dimensional producer targeting Yusarin, because the pitcher wasn’t cheating for personal gain; he wanted to take his team as far as he could because he wanted his friend, the catcher, who has excellent natural ability without the use of powers, to be noticed by scouts. Nao respects the guy’s selfless motives, but tells him there are other ways to do that; ways that won’t get him locked up and experimented on.

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Perhaps Yuu also learned the benefits of facing problems head on, which would serve him well in the unending battle to get his sister to stop putting pizza sauce in his meals. This is getting pretty ridiculous: I know he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, but if he really doesn’t want pizza sauce in everything, he needs to confront her directly and tell her to please stop. I’m sure he could figure out a way to do it tactfully. Or better yet, have Yusa tell her for him! But not Mika. She’d probably spit in the food. ;)

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Charlotte – 03

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After another incident of Joujirou injuring himself while procuring lunch (the show already spent that nickel last week!), the StuCo gets a new lead: someone who can not only channel the dead, but also has the power of pyrokinesis. It turns out to be the idol we saw Ayumi watching, whom Jou is also enamored of: Nishimori Yusa (voiced by Uchida Maaya). With some more Yuu and Takajou teamwork (in which Nao gets cold-cocked and Yuu takes the brunt of Jou’s attack) they manage to find one of Yusa’s protectors, who take them to her.

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When Yusa goes into channeling mode she’s unaware of what’s happening, and the girl she channels is her late older sister, Misa, who was once an delinquent with Yusa’s present bodyguards. It’s Misa, not Yusa, who is able to control flame. But Yusa is in trouble: she accidentally ended up with an incriminating smartphone, and a producer is looking to wipe her off the map to protect its secrets.

Nao devises a plan whereby Misa takes over Yusa and acts tough like she’s killing all of the producer’s henchmen left and right, but all she does is lightly singe her two buddies in flame-resistant suits, while Jou, Yuu, and an invisible Nao make it seem like she also has The Force. The producer is scared off, almost too easily, but at the same time, after that demonstration, I’d be pretty freaked out too!

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After that, Nao insists Yusa transfer to Hoshinoumi; it’s only a matter of time before her powers manifest in public and she’s taken away by scientists and used up like just another human “battery.” Misa agrees it’s what’s best for her little sister, even if it means one day she’ll no longer be able to possess her. One of her buddies also takes the time to confess his feelings for her; feelings he wasn’t able to confess when she was alive. And of course, back home, Ayumi is over the moon that her brother is now classmates with “Yusarin.”

This was an alright introduction of the fifth member of the main cast as displayed on the official promo art, and Uchida Maaya does a good job differentiating between the cutesy Yusa and the tough-as-nails Misa. But to be honest, there wasn’t much in the way of danger this week; everything just kinda worked out perfectly. for all involved Also, after just finishing the lovely Yamada/7 Witches, yet another instance of two people in one body feels a bit passe.

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