In Fire Force episode 1, "Shinra Kusakabe Enlists," Shinra Kusakabe was on a train when alarms went off. A passenger had spontaneously exploded and had turned into an Infernal. Strangely, Shinra doesn't panic, despite everyone else in the train station running for their lives. He even seemed offended when the members of Special Fire Force Company 8 asked him to get to safety. To the sounds of Sister Iris' prayers, the team went to work. Takehisa Hinata hit the Infernal with a fire extinguishing shell and Maki Oze blocked its projectiles, preventing it from attacking the train station. This gave Akitaru Oubi time to get close enough with his core-annihilating pile bunker to finish it off. What they didn't notice was the light fixture, flames having damaged its brackets, beginning to fall -- right on top of Iris. That's when Shinra ignited the flame power in his feet and moved her out of harm's way. He hadn't been afraid because he was a new recruit for Special Fire Force Company 8! After such a brash introduction, will the team accept him? Can his new career help him overcome the shadow of his past? And why in the world does he get such a big grin whenever he's under the most stress?
Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious.
What's in This Post
3 Favorite Moments
Moment 1: Shinra's Nervous Grin
Akitaru could not resist making Shinra nervous enough to trigger the smile. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Do you have any friends or family who are firefighters? Obviously, i don't mean in the sense of Fire Force (thank heavens we don't have to contend with Infernals!). I mean in the traditional sense. If so, then I'm pretty sure what I'm about to say will sound familiar to you.
I want to preface this by stressing that firefighters are some of the most brave and resourceful people I've ever met. They routinely put their lives in danger to protect folks. It's important and dangerous work.
Maybe because of that, many of the firefighters I know have a sense of humor that borders on sadistic. Practical jokes and hazing are way more common than I thought, and anyone showing weakness can become a target. Newly assigned firefighters often have to prove themselves before they're accepted.
The strait-laced (and tightly wound) Takehisa brings Shinra to captain Akitaru's office. The captain, looking at Shinra's picture on his resume, asks why he's grinning so broadly. Shinra answers that when he gets stressed or tenses up, his facial muscles force him to grin. It's obvious he felt embarrassed, but that only made things worse. Akitaru put himself nose to nose with Shinra, who tried valiantly not to grin. And failed (6:51).
Akitaru apologized (after he finished laughing), but this moment struck me as so authentic that it drew me even further into the world.
Moment 2: Shinra's Terror
The team gave him immediate support; between that and his own store of courage, he was able to master his fear. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Bravery doesn't mean not being scared. In fact, I quickly abandon any fiction that tries to show me a hero who charges forward without feeling any fear. If a hero doesn't feel fear, where's the drama? From the character's perspective, if there's no fear, can there be any bravery?
That's why this is my second favorite moment.
Special Fire Force Company 8 arrives a the scene where a warehouse manager's wife combusted into an Infernal. They enter to find the the internal ablaze. The Infernal has surrounded herself with a wall of particularly intense flames. Faced with such intense heat, understanding the danger, Shinra's memories of his mother combusting froze him in his tracks. All of the fear he had felt as a child gripped him; he couldn't move, until he fell to his knees (15:04). Maki asked if he was okay; Akitaru reminded him that "When one of us delays, we're all delayed."
He went on to say that the reflective blue stripes on their coats "are the ties that bind friends together in the world of flame and smoke. Never break them!"
Shinra took a deep breath to get himself under control (15:42). Wearing his nervous grin, he assured them he was back in the fight. The team encouraging but not coddling him helped, but Shinra's own courage was the key. That's the kind of hero I can respect!
Moment 3: Shinra's Smile
Even as it setup the longer term arc of Shinra finding out what really happened to his mom and brother, he got to resolve another: He can smile again. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
"Ever since that say, I haven't been able to smile genuinely," Shinra said (17:18) after blow-back had slammed him into some pipes. When he regained consciousness, he found that it was his tasks to deliver the purging blow while Maki and Akitaru distracted the Infernal. Until I saw what came after, this was the highlight of the episode. It was everything I want from an anime: Lush animation. Cinematic soundtrack. Dramatic juxtaposition of heart-breaking elements from Shinra's past with his present determination. Collision of thematic elements that brought a painful gravitas. Shinra launched himself at the Infernal. With a cry of rejection against the unjustly given title of devil, Shinra released the Infernal's soul with a single kick to its core.
Afterward, Shinra stood beside Iris as she ministered to the manager whose wife had become the Infernal. In a broken voice, he asked if she was now at peace. Iris answered that she was, and that "Shinra put her to rest without her suffering" (21:37). Shinra was torn. On one hand, he was grateful for the credit. On the other, he was terribly nervous facing the man whose wife he had, for all intents and purposes, just killed. He unconsciously adopted his nervous smile.
In tears, the manager grabbed his hand and thanked him.
Moments later, he stood with the rest of Special Fire Force Company 8 in front of the crowd who cheered for them. Akitaru observed that he'd taken his first steps to becoming a hero.
For the first time since his mother and little brother had burned, Shinra wore a genuine smile.
It looks like Atsushi Ōkubo wrote both Soul Eater and Fire Force. I can see a lot of the same attention to character and tightly-woven plotting in both shows. And though the studios were different (Bones for Soul Eater and David Production for Fire Force), there's a strong visual association, too, especially in the faces and eyes. It's a look that I really like.
I think that's a good thing, because I really liked Soul Eater!
There were a lot of little interesting details in this episode, too. For example, in Christianity and some other faiths, the faithful use "amen" to close prayers. Here, they used "látom," which in Hungarian (according to Google Translate) means "I see." As in enlightenment? Something more prosaic like, "Oh, I can see that by the light of the flames?"
The religious symbols in this show are very interesting. It's familiar enough to be accessible, but different enough to make the world feel real and different. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
One of the things that I liked about Soul Eater was its ability to balance short-term plot arcs with long-term plot arcs. That kind of thing gives me an immediate sense of progress while at the same time whetting my interest for the next episodes. I see signs that same kind of thing will happen here.
Take Shinra's smile, for example. This episode gave us a wonderful introduction to a physical trait of his -- when he gets really stressed out or nervous, he couldn't help but wear an almost rictus grin. All his life, people, even his family, misunderstood what that grin meant. They thought he was mocking them or making light of a situation as serious as his mother and brother being burned to death. In reality, he couldn't help it. The emotional damage their attitudes inflicted were still with him when he joined Special Fire Force Company 8.
While showing us Shinra's history, they also let drop a hint that something else is going on: "There was something there, during the fire" (16:53) he said to himself, recalling when his mother had combusted. So even as they built the knowledge we'd need to appreciate Shinra's genuine smile at the end of the episode (see my third favorite moment for this episode), they were setting up what looks to be a longer-range (probably season-level) arc.
We were able to enjoy his honest smile at the same time we're wondering who was really behind his mom and brother's death. I like it when plot details pull double duty!
What did you think of Shinra in this episode? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!