First Look: Fire Force

Alternative title(s): Enen no Shouboutai, PROMARE
Manga Adaptation by David Production
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

In an alternate universe Tokyo, spontaneous human combustion is real and turns people into monstrous fire creatures. The young Shinra – a third-generation pyrokinetic – joins the Fire Force’s 8th Squad in order to save people and discover the truth hidden in the flames.

Iro’s verdict: Visually Impressive

If you’re making a show entirely about fire, you’re going to live or die based on whether the fire actually looks good. I’m happy to report that Fire Force‘s first episode looks extremely good, with some truly spectacular action sequences and excellent 2D effects throughout. Everything else – plot, characters, the substance upon which the style rests – is more stock standard shonen, which (while not necessarily a bad thing) is certainly less immediately exciting. The show has definitely earned the chance to continue to impress me, but if the writing itself doesn’t pick up, it’ll join Demon Slayer on the list of shows I watch for the spectacle and not because I actually care about what’s happening.

Zigg’s verdict: Burning Rangers

So far this season I’ve knocked Astra Lost in Space and Dr Stone for relying too much on hoary old shonen tropes, but Fire Force shows that you can still teach an old dog new tricks, because while it’s not revolutionary it’s fun, solid pulpy action with a secret weapon that really makes it sing.

While we’ve seen a lot of the elements here before, Fire Force assembles them in a manner that still makes the premise intriguing. The idea of people spontaneously combusting is actually pretty horrifying, and the writing here does a good job of walking the line between campy action adventure and serious business drama. Even the religious angle is just underplayed enough to spark my interest. While Shinra is a pretty stock hero (tragic backstory, eager kid out to prove himself, rare powers), he’s not unlikable and while the surrounding cast don’t have much chance to show off range we get a good sense of comradeship right off the bat. These are small things but they’re important details to lift a show up out of the doldrums and get us excited.

The aforementioned secret weapon is of course the absolutely ballistic animation, which crucially sells the danger and ferocity of battling through a firestorm. Paired with some very slick fight choreography and some nifty camera sweeps, it just makes the show a pleasure to watch, and sharp directing means even the more relaxed scenes convey some great stuff through visuals alone. Plus, Shinra Rider Kicks a fire demon’s heart out. What’s not to like?

 Gee’s verdict: White Hot

Let it be said, Fire Force is a visual feast for the eyes. Boasting some real A-list talent (largely poached from Shaft) and an uncommonly generous production schedule, Fire Force is one of the most visually impressive debuts I’ve seen since the likes of Mob Psycho 100, rivaling the sort of quality you only see in movies or OVAs. I could go on and on about specific moments but what really stands out is just the consistency of the show’s visual spectacle. Perhaps most importantly, the flames that are so much the focus of the show are largely hand animated.  There’s such a richness to their movement I’d almost go as far as call the fire a cast member in its own right. Overall, Fire Force is definitely some of the best in its class of Shounen action.

As for the show itself, I think Fire Force will be my new go to example of how much a good adaptation can improve shoddy source material. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the original manga, in fact I stopped reading it after it largely failed to impress me with its flat characters and generic presentation. Comparatively, Fire Force the anime is so aesthetically impressive that it goes a long way to help paper over the show’s less compelling elements. To put it another way, the Fire Force anime hasn’t convinced me to go back to the manga, but it sure as hell has me excited for the next episode. Of course time will tell if those visuals will be enough to carry us through its less exciting moments, but for now, I’m more than willing to let it try and convince me.

11 thoughts on “First Look: Fire Force

  1. I have no doubt you’re all right that Fire Force has is visually amazing, but… could you explain how can you *tell* these things? I’m not a very visual person, never have been. Still, I do try to pay attention to the visuals in anime. I thought Fire Force looked good but not great. How do you tell if something has good art and/or is visually spectacular? There’s probably no one, simple answer, but I thought maybe if I asked, it might at least start a discussion.

    • Hey there, I ain’t exactly an expert on the fundamental nature aesthetics or artwork, but I think I can come up with a few reasons why I find Fire Force’s visuals appealing. Keep in mind I’m kinda making sweeping generalizations here, though.

      Since animation is a medium made up of single frames stitched together to create the illusion of movement, generally speaking more frames means a higher quality. The “movement” will be smoother, more fluid, and thus often more visually pleasing. Of course, it’s almost never financially feasible to draw an entire show at 24 frames per second 100% of the time, which is why with anime tends to look a certain way and then kick things up a notch during action sequences, where it’ll matter more.

      Most of the effects in Fire Force appear to be hand drawn, and that means there was a lot of work put into actually drawing the frames and making the visual style of the show cohesive. Computer-generated effects are a tool like any else that can be used well or poorly, but unless you put in a lot of work, I find they can clash with the rest of the hand-drawn anime style.

      For example, in the post I directly compared Fire Force to Demon Slayer. Demon Slayer has a bunch of cool effects for the special moves, but you can also tell when the water becomes CG, right? They look fundamentally a bit different than the rest of the show. But UFOtable has kind of made CG effects part of their “house style” over the years, and I think the effects are actually quite well integrated. Compare that to something like the bear in the first episode of Golden Kamuy, which was blatantly a (rather poorly made) CG model superimposed on a 2D image, with little-to-no effort put in to make it look like it “belonged” in the scene.

      Now of course there are plenty of all-CG anime, and I don’t like most of those just because the kind of cartoons I grew up with and learned to love were in an era of almost completely hand-drawn animation, so they often just don’t look right to my eyes. But that’s a personal preference thing, and there are certainly a few CG shows that I like.

      So the slightly-reductive answer to why Fire Force looks good visually is:
      hand-drawn effects + cohesive art style + fast action sequences = visually impressive.

      …or something like that, anyway.

      • That was very informative! Thanks for taking the time to answer. I need to try to learn how to recognize those things. A lot of people said the art in Fairy Gone was bad, but I thought the action scenes were fast and good, the drawing style was one I liked, and the CGI Fairies looked, not exactly amazing, but well integrated compared to what I was used to seeing. Have you seen that by any chance?

        • At some point things do just come down to personal taste. I watched a few episodes of Fairy Gone, and felt like the art was serviceable. I actually quite liked parts of the aesthetic, but something about the fairies gave me the same vibe as, say, a PS2 game cutscene. It wasn’t the worst CG integration I’ve seen, but I wouldn’t call it particularly good either.

          • I see, that makes sense. I wish I was better at noticing the fluidity of movement in anime, though. Like, I’m aware that Shin Sekai Yori is low budget and my graphic design/artist friend told me it was very low fps, but just by looking at, I can’t tell. I guess you have to train yourself to see it by watching lots of high and low quality anime?

            • We have certainly suffered a lot of trash over the years. This blog has given us a wide sample size to hone our critical perspectives.

      • “For example, in the post I directly compared Fire Force to Demon Slayer. Demon Slayer has a bunch of cool effects for the special moves, but you can also tell when the water becomes CG, right?”

        That happens in far too many shows… Suddenly CG pops up, and it’s painfully obvious that the animation style has changed. And then it pops back, jarring the viewer once again.

        • Honestly I do think UFOtable makes it work, if only because they’ve trained my eyes over multiple shows to expect CG effects from them. Like I said, it’s kind of their house style at this point.

  2. To be honest I’m kind of scratching my head at the overwhelming praise Fire Force seems to be receiving. This is perhaps the first blog I see where the reviewers are not raving about it. Sure, it looks good (so far) but otherwise it’s just bog-standard action/adventure shounen. I can see why people who are into this genre would enjoy it, but I’m not really seeing what’s so praiseworthy about it other than the animation. (Extra eyeroll for 1. the two female characters who not only fail the Bechdel test right from the start, but do it while naked in the shower being cute, and 2. that gratuitous shot of the lead girl’s butt in the ending. I mean okay but in the year of our lord 2019 it’s kind of annoying to see a mainstream show still assuming its primary audience to be straight dudes. At least offer equal opportunity fanservice.)

    • After last season I think we’re all kinda in a state of famine for good anime and Fire Force’s amazing visuals definitely cover up a lot of the generic aspects.

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