Anime

Review: Fire Force Episode 9: Thinking on his Feet and The Bell Tolled

Quick Summary

In Fire Force episode 9, "The Spreading Malice," Shinra Kusakabe discovers that Rekka Hoshimiya wasn't even mostly dead. In fact, he was very much alive. He was also highly displeased with how Shinra had driven his head through the floor. With Tamaki Kotatsu still unable to fight, and with Arthur Boyle nowhere to be seen, it's all up to Shinra. Can such a young man, even though he's a Third Generation pyrokenetic, stand up to one of the 1st Special Fire Company's finest? Will his lack of experience prove fatal? And can Tamaki keep the kids out of harm's way during the fight?

Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious.

What's in This Post

3 Favorite Moments

Moment 1: So, This is Going to Get Real

Review: Fire Force Episode 9: Shinra and Rekka's fight was intense

Defensive moves? In a shōnen fight? Oh, this is going to be fun... Capture from the Crunchyroll stream

How many shōnen fights have you seen? If you're like me, I've seen so many that I've develop certain expectations, like hyper powerful punches resulting in near zero damage. Or two over powered (OP) characters standing and pounding each other for minutes on end while the environment around them disintegrates -- and both of them remain essentially unharmed.

It's against that backdrop that I watched the fight between Shinra and Rekka, and as it started and Rekka sucker-punched Shinra, I thought the best I could hope for os an OPed slug-fest with really, really pretty animation.

Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when just after Shinra took the punch, he used his flame powers to arrest is momentum and regain his footing. Rekka landed a punch in Shinra's gut, but he managed to counter Rekka's next punch with a fire-foot to the hand (05:06). Shinra spun, summersaulted, and landed a knee on Rekka's head. Rekka lashed out, punching Shinra in the gut again, but Shinra managed to wrap his leg around Rekka's neck and drug him to the floor. He twisted Rekka's arm in an attempt to hold him (05:17).

In the space of 9 seconds, I'd seen more attacks and counters than I usually do in a whole fight. This is one of my favorite moments because I realized this was going to be a much more dynamic fight than I was used to -- and I have to say that I loved it!

Moment 2: Shinra Thinks with his Feet

Review: Fire Force Episode 9: Shinra continues to grow as a fighter

Shinra continues to grow as a strategist. Getting Rekka up into the air was an effective tactic. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream

Okay, he doesn't really think with his feet, but he thinks on his feet to use his feet...

Let me explain.

After a nearly fatal mistake where Shinra let himself be distracted by his realization that Rekka might have been behind his infant brother's death (which in and of itself showed that Shinra's not perfect; he's still inexperienced and loses focus), Shinra rededicated himself to the fight. He'd had some time to get a feel for just how powerful Rekka was, and I give Shinra credit again for his maturity: he realized Rekka had the edge in terms of raw power (09:12). He also realized raw power wasn't the only factor in a battle.

"But where I do have him beat is with my feet" (09:17), he thought just before launching in an arial battle against a ground-based foe. Rekka was no push-over, but Shinra leapt from wall to wall and made maximum use of his mobility. Once he blasted Rekka into the air, the battle was firmly on Shinra's turf, and he made maximum use of the home-field advantage. The battle certainly wasn't over; Shinra was exhausted, and Rekka had significantly more reserves. But it was a decisive moment based on Shinra's growing maturity as a fighter. 

It also made the fight so much more interesting than two characters just slogging away at each other. 

Moment 3: The Bell Tolled for Shinra

Review: Fire Force Episode 9: Karim arrived just in time

Karim showed up just in time. Another tenth of a second, and things would have gone differently for Shinra, Tamaki, and the children. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream

You just (patiently!) listened to me go on about how I don't like cliches and how my favorite aspect of this battle was its dynamic and original execution. You might think, then, that a moment like Karim Flam showing up to save the day would feel cliche.

Nope. It felt like relief! Shinra was nearly spent. Tamaki had just told him he'd burned too much oxygen between the battle and flying to find her. Rekka, though, still had some strength left, and he was about to burn all of them, including the remaining children. As he intoned "Látom" and let loose his flames, we heard the sound of a bell (14:00). It was Karim arriving, and he used his sonic attack to freeze Rekka's flames.

What made this particularly cool is that they foreshadowed it in a flashback told from Tamaki's perspective earlier in this episode. Rekka had done something rash, which he justified by saying that Karim was always behind him to protect him. 

"Didn't I always say I was there at your back," Karim asked (14:10). 

I'm pretty sure our heroes would have been glowing embers if Karim had not arrived.

Thoughts

Can we take a moment to appreciate just how beautifully animated Shinra and Rekka's fight was? The sound effects, the tactics, even the sound track just seemed to be spot on. Of all the series I'm watching this season, only Demon Slayer's nineteenth episode exceeds it. Of course, I'm not watching every series, so you might have some candidates for greatness, too. The point is, I think Fire Force's animation is very satisfying.

I wonder what it means that Rekka thinks Shinra is (06:43) "the undefiled flame, the Adolla Burst?" This episode trickled out a few facts similar to this. I'm getting the idea that there's a cult behind this. Part of me would love to dismiss as extreme and unrealistic a cult bent on killing all life on Earth. Unfortunately, real life has a way of defining "unrealistic" differently...

Review: Fire Force Episode 9: What's Adolla Burst about?

Rekka thinks that Shinra might represent the Adolla Burst. Will that idea die with him? Or is Shinra's life about to get even more interesting? Capture from the Crunchyroll stream

This show...

Remember how last week I defended Tamaki's portrayal? How I said she was more than a damsel in distress? How what she went through, and Shinra's arrival, were worthy dramatic moments?

In this episode, as Shinra's fighting, the camera cuts to Tamaki, who says almost in shock (05:58) that "Kusakabe is fighting toe-to-toe against Lieutenant Rekka..." That was a neat little moment. Tamaki, herself a Third Generation pyrokenetic, is frankly amazed at how well Shinra is doing. Not only was she offering a professional opinion, she seemed to contribute something interesting to the plot.

So far, so good, right?

Then Shinra loses his temper because he thinks Rekka and the cult he's following might have been behind what happened to his little brother and mother. He attacks too aggressively, and Rekka lands a monumental punch (07:47). Shinra flies through the air -- to land, face first, in Tamaki's breasts. When he apologetically gets up and tries to return to the fight, he finds he's somehow holding her skirt. As he's gazing in disbelief at the skirt in his hands, Rekka launches a distance attack. The flames flow right over Shinra and plow into Tamaki -- just enough to burn off most of her clothes (08:07). 

Review: Fire Force Episode 9: Why is he holding her skirt?

I mean, logistically, how does this even happen? Capture from the Crunchyroll stream

Damn it, Fire Force, give me something to work with here. I'm trying to defend you against a charge of trivializing a traumatic event that Tamaki went through -- of undermining the powerful and emotional moment you went to all the trouble to set up -- and you go and burn off most of her clothes? In the middle of an otherwise amazing battle? Criminy, read the room!

And I can't believe it, but I'm actually going to defend the show again. Not the scene I just described. That's well beyond my abilities! There's pretty much nothing I can do there! No, it's a moment just after that. Tamaki is pushing Shinra back into the fight after Rekka's attack knocked him into her -- again. He's embarrassed, she's embarrassed, and I'm wanting to get this moment behind us so we can get back to the right. Then Tamaki did something that I found endearing and sweet. She paused, put her forehead on his back, and said (08:41), "Please, Kusakabe. Defeat Lieutenant Rekka." 

Her voice was a little broken. After all, she was still emotionally reeling from what Rekka had done to her, physically and emotionally. She knew she was in no shape to take him on, so that left one candidate: Shinra.

All trace of embarrassment in Shinra disappeared. He instantly snapped back into his hero form. "Leave him to me. That's why I'm here" (08:55).

Review: Fire Force Episode 9: Tamaki trusts Shinra

An emotionally intimate moment like this is best set up... Well, not with fanservice, that's for sure! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream

There's something deeply hard-wired in male brains. Maybe it's in female brains, but a) I've never been a female so I can't say and b) the females I know keep it a closely guarded secret. So, I'm speaking only from personal experience. The deserve to protect is one of those circuits. It's gotten a ton of bad press in recent years, and for an unfortunately good reason: the deserve has been behind too much physical and emotional abuse. 

But it's not always a bad thing. In this case, in terms of its position in the narrative, in terms of what it meant to Tamaki and to Shinra, I thought it was a beautiful moment. She trusted him with protecting her and the children. He accepted the responsibility. I don't think it's a coincidence that his fighting improved after that moment. I don't think Tamaki's gesture was an indication of innate weakness on her part, especially given what she's just been through.

Even making the case, I'm aware of one glaring problem: Everything I said would have carried a lot more weight if Tamaki had still been dressed, and if Shinra hadn't spent so much time thrown into her. Seriously, Fire Force, you've got to make defending you a little easier!

What did you think of the fight in this episode? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!

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7 thoughts on “Review: Fire Force Episode 9: Thinking on his Feet and The Bell Tolled

  1. At the start of this ep, I remarked to my wife that I wasn’t really enjoying Fire Force any more… and she agreed with me. So, we’ve dropped it. Tamaki was a HUGE part of that.

    1. “Tamaki was a HUGE part of that.”

      I am really trying to like this show, and there’s still a lot I do enjoy about it! But — my goodness! — are they making it hard by how they’re treating Tamaki. Few things frustrate me as much as missed potential!

      So I completely get why you’ve dropped it. No need burning time watching something that’s not fun!

  2. Loved the fight, not so much the unneeded fan service for Tamaki. I would say that Tamaki’s willingness to accept punishment for part in the events was a good sign though. That showed some maturity on her part, I thought.

    1. “I would say that Tamaki’s willingness to accept punishment for part in the events was a good sign though. ”

      That’s a good point. I really hope they do something with the character. Her attitude when we first met here was intriguing — now she’s reduced to being a gel-filled mouse pad novelty item.

      1. When *hasn’t* she been a gel-filled mouse pad novelty item? That’s kinda the point I was making above. They keep trying to make her something more, but invariably circle back to the same gag.

        1. “When *hasn’t* she been a gel-filled mouse pad novelty item?”

          That’s a fair question.

          Remember her introduction in episode 3? When she first met Shinra? There was like 5 seconds where the exuded this badass “don’t mess with me” attitude.

          Then the whole lucky lecher thing kicked in.

          But for those 5 seconds, there was some real potential coolness there!

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