Welcome, one and all, to the first of my new season of weekly episode reviews. This time, I’m looking at the first episode of Fire Force, Shinra Kusakabe Enlists. The series is based on the manga by Atsushi Okubo, and is created by David Production. This particular studio is perhaps most well know for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, but for me, my favourite by them is Dogs: Stray Dogs Howling In The Dark.
Now, I’ve not read the manga, but I have been excited for this ever since it was announced. I enjoyed both the manga and anime version of Okubo’s Soul Eater, and was hoping for similar here. As it turns out, I wasn’t disappointed.
The story itself was set up well with this episode. We were thrown right into the action with a man combusting on a train and becoming an Infernal, then met our main hero Shinra shortly after. Before we could see him in action though, his soon-to-be peers in Special Fire Force Company 8 show up and we get to see what they can do in a fight, before Shinra gets to show off a little too, saving one of them from a falling monitor. The whole thing was quick, exciting, and set the tone for what to expect from the action.
From there, we got to learn some key points to drive things forward. Worldbuilding wise, the speech from SFF Captain Obi gave us a run down of what the world knows about Infernals; they’re basically humans that have spontaneously combusted and need their souls to be put to rest. I did have a minor problem with this insofar as everyone in the squad likely already knew all of it, even new recruit Shinra, so it felt a little too clearly-for-the-audience. I can forgive that though.
Our introduction to the squad members is also kept quick but makes their personalities quite clear. Captain Obi has no powers and is a strong leader with a sense of humour. Lieutenant Hinawa is a second generation pyrokinetic and very straight-laced. Sister Iris has no powers but is a nun, and tries to keep to the expected way of presenting that role. First Class Fire Soldier Maki is a second generation pyrokinetic and her helmet looks like a witches hat, she’s both a strong soldier and described as ‘girly’ when it comes to romance.
The one we need to care about most is Shinra though, and so he’s the one we get to learn the most about. He has a twisted smile that manifests when he’s nervous, a fact that has led people to view him as evil. He was blamed for the death of his mother and little brother, as the combination of the smile and this third generation pyrokinetic abilities make it seem like he burned them all to death. In truth, there was something else there the day it happened, and so while he couldn’t keep his promise of being a hero and protecting his family, he still wants to be a hero and protect others. In a way, he’s a typical Shonen protagonist; he has the youth, the powerful natural abilities, the need to be a protector, and a tragic moment in his backstory that drives him. How he develops from here will be key to whether he’s a likable hero or not.
In terms of visuals, the character designs are very clearly Okubo. He has a certain way of drawing teeth on main protagonists, and Shinra’s smile certainly falls into that category. Maki’s witch hat too wouldn’t look out of place in Soul Eater. Overall though, even putting that cool stylized familiarity aside, I do think he’s done a great job here. Everyone has a unique look, with slight modifications to their standard uniform that allows you to tell them apart. Meanwhile, the action scenes are excellent, featuring both a bunch of flashy moves and some interesting designs for the Infernals.
Overall, this ticked all the right boxes for me. Shonen series tend to have a lot of cross-over in terms of core themes and character types, and this isn’t any different in that regard. Where it stands out is that the setting is quite unique, and the story set-up leaves plenty of options open for where it’ll take us. Fire Force has opened strongly, and I’m looking forward to more.
So, those were my thoughts. But what about yourselves? Did you enjoy this episode? Do you agree or disagree with any of my observations? Let me know in the comments below.