If there’s one thing I’ve been missing from that first batch of Fire Force episodes more than anything else, it’s the pathos we felt when Shinra first joined up with Company 8 and learned the emotional toll the job takes on both the soldiers fighting the Infernals and the loved ones left behind in their fiery wake. Though it might lack in big twists or earth-shattering revelations, ““Formation of Special Fire Force 8/ The Mightiest Hikeshi” earns plenty of points simply for dialing things down and hearkening back to the series’ best episodes. When we first flash back to young Takehisa Hinawa’s time in the Tokyo Imperial Armed Forces, he’s a colder and more detached man. He scoffs at seeing young Maki, the daughter of General Oze, who he thinks is too soft and kind to make a proper soldier, no matter how hard she trains. When his friend Toji admits to having some reverence for the Church of Sol and its rituals, Hinawa balks. Why would anyone need to baptize a gun? His lack of faith in the Church aside, Hinawa doesn’t see the value of the ritual itself, though Toji retorts, asking “Between a gun that was baptized and one that wasn’t, you’d rather be shot by the baptized one, right?”
Things change when Toji transforms into an Infernal, and the brief sequence does a great job of reminding us of how tragic and terrifying the fate of the Infernals really is. The cartoonish villainy of the Company 1 Investigation Arc fell back on easy clichés with how Rekka was threatening to kill a bunch of kids; Toji’s death is much simpler and more human. He just begs Hinawa to kill him while he’s still conscious, so he doesn’t go out as a monster, but Hinawa can’t bring himself to shoot his friend with his unbaptized gun. After the other soldiers take Toji out with clinical efficiency, Hinawa claims his friend’s sanctified firearm, and the crux of his arc comes into focus. He isn’t becoming a true believer in Sol, but he is acknowledging the power these impossibly large forces have in the lives of everyday men and women. In other words, he’s learning empathy.
This is where Obi comes in, as a rookie fire fighter who has to stand by while the actual Fire Force members get the job done. We’ve not seen much from Obi since his standout moment in episode 2’s emotional climax, but in his meeting with Hinawa, we are reminded of what makes him such an inspiring leader. As Hinawa observes the aftermath of two simultaneous Infernal combustions, Obi seethes at how the Fire Force has essentially gamified their profession, assigning a point system to the Infernals that determines which threats they address and how seriously they take them. They have no concern for the Infernal’s surviving loved ones, who have to bear the knowledge that their former family and friends are enduring the most unimaginable pain. Obi won’t stand for it, and Hinawa immediately recognizes a kindred spirit in the man – it only takes a minute for the two of them to throw regulation to the wind and deal with the “lesser” Infernal themselves, so his widow may know some peace.
This is another quietly effective scene, using its simplicity and lack of spectacle to its advantage. Much like in episode 2, we bear witness to a resigned Infernal, who is simply waiting to be put to rest. Obi’s ethos is much the same as what the fire force has in the present, valuing empathy and dignity for the Infernals above simply basking in the glory of killing monsters. Hinawa’s arc is also wonderfully simple. There is no breaking down, no screaming or grandstanding emotional breakthroughs; Hinawa simply takes the time to utter the Infernal’s last rites before putting him down. Obi reminds Hinawa and the audience that these rites serve as “salvation” for the living as much as the dead. This is my favorite line from the series so far, and proof that Fire Force can be a smart and affecting series when it tries.
After this, Hinawa and Obi decide to form their own Company 8, which will dedicate itself to carrying out Obi’s mission of empathy and unlocking the secrets behind the curse of the Infernals once and for all. The end of this half is admittedly a little rushed – Hinawa recruits Maki because he finally sees the value of her own perspective, Iris joins up at some point, and then the Company gets to work. Their first mission in Asakusa is barely covered, feeling almost like a full sequence that was chopped down into a few still shots to clumsily bridge this first half to the second half, which takes us back to the present day, where Company 8 is returning to Asakusa to pay a visit to Shinmon Benimaru and Company 7 in Asakusa.
If the “Formation of Company 8” was all about reinforcing the series’ neglected thematic heart, then “The Mightiest Hikeshi” is all about world-building and spectacle. Asakusa is like a time capsule of Edo-era Japan, which Benimaru highlights when he has to bust out his explosive matoi flags in order to explode an Infernal that emerged within the city. It’s a badass fight scene, and Benimaru acquits himself as a force to be reckoned with. Though this second part feels very different from the first, there’s still a thematic link to be found with Benimaru showing some respect to the Infernal who used to be known as the “ever-ostentatious Kantaro.” This story might not feel as substantial as the first, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun where it counts.
It feels too early to declare that Fire Force is back on the right track, but this is the most I’ve enjoyed the series in a long time. With none of the recent episodes’ excessive fanservice and slapdash writing holding it back, the show is able to dig into the worldbuilding and deceptively simple storytelling that made its first weeks on the scene such a blast. I don’t expect the show to abandon its foibles entirely, but I’ll consider it a huge step in the right direction if it can be more consistent in doling out the good stuff.
Odds and Ends
– Maki’s teary-eyed reaction to Hinawa’s account of how she was brought into Company 8: “I thought I was only a meat shield because of my ability!”
– Two of Benimaru’s companions at Company 7 are a pair of twins that parrot Benimaru’s antisocial attitude, speaking and laughing in sync. Some choice lines: “These daifuku are delicious! The last glimmer of a dying old biddy!” “The light of a dying hag sure is tasty!”