First impressions for volumes 1-3 of Atsushi Ohkubo’s manga series “Fire Force,” initially published in 2016 by Kodansha Comics.
Heroes, Devils, and the Inferno
Shinra Kusakabe’s enlistment in the Tokyo Fire Force was by no means an accident. After losing his mom and brother to a household fire, Shinra sets his sights on becoming a hero of the flames so others do not have to go through what he did. It’s a noble goal for sure, but not one without its difficulties. For one, he’s got a creepy little smile that appears whenever things get too intense, which often sends mixed signals to the people he saves. Additionally, his unique pyrokinetic ability shoots fire straight from his feet, leaving behind a literal wicked streak wherever he goes, the so-called “devil’s footprints.”
The Fire Force isn’t just responsible for squelching household fires, though. To fight the inferno in this elite force also means releasing the souls of those who ignite from spontaneous human combustion, a rare dysfunction that can cause an ordinary person to burst into flames on the spot. It can be hard to purge someone who was perfectly fine and healthy just a moment ago, but better to put out the flames quickly than to draw out their suffering. Thankfully, the special force is equipped with many other talented pyrokinetics who also use their powers for good.
The concept of spontaneous human combustion certainly brings with it its pathos, which the Fire Force respects with a humble prayer, “látom,” and a swift, efficient termination of the victim. However, it is certainly odd that the Sun God would punish his own subjects with the flame. As Shinra and his Company 8 comrades start investigating the other companies and their research, they quickly find that while fire brings light, it can also cast terrifying shadows.
Explosive From the Start
While the world and story of Fire Force is full of potential, it’s the quirky characters that make the series shine. From the same mind that created the equally wacky Soul Eater (which I thought was mediocre at best), I honestly love everyone I’ve met in these first three volumes. Shinra’s got this natural charisma to him, a chiseled edge that I find more captivating compared to other shounen protagonists. At the same time, he’s a little doughy boy whose just trying to do his best, and I like him for that.
His friendly fire rival and bunk-mate Arthur Boyle is a delusional dunce who’s convinced he’s a knight. Arthur’s antics get a little annoying at times (HOW DOES A MAN NOT KNOW WHICH HAND TO HOLD HIS SWORD IN I–), but like Shinra, he’s a lovable idiot, even if stupid to the core.
The rest of Company 8 is shaping up to be an entertaining and endearing bunch. Obi commands the squad with overwhelming authority and love for his crew, despite not possessing any fire abilities himself. (Perhaps that makes him even more commendable.) I’m sure we’ll find out more about him as the series goes on. His second in command, the sharp-eyed Lieutenant Hinawa, seems to share a past with Obi. The same goes for Maki, a talented second generation pyrokinetic who can manipulate the flames into cute little fire sputters, but could also squat Shinra and Arthur with her strength. I hope we learn more about Company 8 as the series goes on.
Lastly for noteworthy characters, the first three volumes conclude the Princess Hibana arc. A leading research force into human combustion, Hibana rules over her subjects with a much colder hand than Obi does. Ohkubo has this tendency to give characters certain speech quirks that get annoying fast, and Hibana’s use of the word “gravel” to describe every single human she comes across gets old quick. However, Hibana’s encounter with Shinra changes her perspective a little, and as she joins Company 8’s goal of uncovering the secrets of human combustion, Hibana becomes a beautiful ally worth having.
Saved by the Flame
My only big gripe with the series so far is the strange fanservice timing. I know it was an apparent problem for those watching the anime, but the manga has it too. Most of these unfortunate scenes revolve around a Company 1 cat girl named Tamaki, whom which Shinra or Arthur constantly stumble into through weird action stunts. For example, Shinra goes to raise his hand for a greeting, but “accidentally” slips it IN HER BRA. Like, WHAT?? I don’t get the appeal, but thankfully it doesn’t happen too often.
Where this quirky fanservice has be annoyed, I can at least admire Ohkubo’s iconic character art style. Again, maybe it’s just a matter of subject, but I am enjoying this series TEN times more than I did Soul Eater. With their shimmering blue reflective tape and puffy coat, the signature Fire Force uniforms are what first caught my eye. This design choice has me absolutely LIVING, and I can’t wait to cosplay it someday soon!
Fun, intense, and fast-paced, Fire Force depicts the great wonder of the flame with artistic fury and creativity. The world is crafted with immense intrigue, and I’m dying to know what secrets the top dogs in Company 1 are holding. Given Shinra’s fiery spirit and determination, I bet it won’t be too long before we find out.
It doesn’t matter who you are–it doesn’t matter if you broke the law. If someone’s in trouble, we go to help. The Fire Force isn’t like the military. Isn’t that what heroes do? — Shinra Kusakabe
So, where do I stand on Fire Force after three volumes? Guys, it’s great. Tons of fun. My only concern is whether to continue reading the manga or to just watch the anime. I had impulsively bought the first NINE volumes in a sale a while back (I know, you’d think I’d learn . . .) but I did this because I didn’t think we’d get a second season. Well, now it’s a thing, and from what I understand, the anime does a pretty good job at staying faithful to the source. If anyone who has dabbled in both has any recommendations, I’d love to hear them. For now, though, I’ll read what I have, and who knows, maybe I’ll find the answer for myself! Thanks for reading, and until next time!