Fire Force #01: Breaking the Mold of Shonen Manga Adaptations

The first episode of Fire Force made gigantic waves in the community, becoming the center of many discussions this past week with the quality of the animation at the center point to all that enthusiasm! In these weekly posts, we will shed light on the individuals who made this -hopefully- amazing adaptation possible, as well as analyzing their approach!

While it’s undeniable that the animation quality stole the spotlight, I would like to start by highlighting the script, and more importantly Yuki Yase‘s vision as the director. Fundamentally, the anime doesn’t change the content of the first two chapters of the manga, however a certain number of very important tweaks have been made. Unlike the crude manga, the anime goes for more a efficient tone at the start, setting an oppressing atmosphere with faceless and kagenashi (litt. shadowless) mobs rather than tasteless fan-service. In merely the span of a few seconds, the anime’s tempo changes drastically as a catastrophe is happening and it’s reinforced by the quick cuts that go back and forth between the explosive combustion and the loud panic, as seen in the video below. Meanwhile, the manga starts with an exposition page and even during what are supposed to be tension-heavy scenes, characters are constantly explaining things. But here we have the anime scraping that part entirely, and achieving the same result by letting the events unfold in a much more natural pace.

Since the adaptation gets pretty much straight to the point, it needed something to make up for the lack of breathing room. And that thing is certainly flow. I find the Fire Force introduction scene to be the best example of Yase’s mastering of flow in this episode. The group is presented in wide shots, walking confidently and proudly toward the camera. Yase never breaks the flow of the scene as several events are unfolding all at the same time. In the action piece that follows, he reuses the smoke from the first cut in the next two, keeping that same sense of continuity the whole time.

That level of continuity is ever-present throughout the premiere and I do hope this will be a recurring approach under other storyboarders and episode directors, since it’s clearly quite the improvement over the pacing found in the manga. Speaking of upgrades, Yase’s sense of colors proved to be quite useful to get the tone of many scenes on the right track (in this case, the oppressive nature of the world is made clear through the use of the color red and again faceless and kagenashi mobs.) Like we said in the series preview, he isn’t afraid of using more abstract aesthetic and color contrast to make his approach as rich and evoking as possible.

As a prominent and proud member of the “kagenashi” fan-club, I cannot bring myself to not mention that aspect, especially since it was featured so much in the episode. I believe Yase really appreciates kagenashi as an aesthetic in and of itself, but that doesn’t prevent thematic application of it, notably the way it was so brazenly applied whenever the commander is on screen. To the point where he even keeps that same aesthetic going even in group shots with shaded characters. By erasing unnecessary details, there’s no room for misinterpreting his stoic expression. This is a man that very clearly means business!

They slowed down the pacing during the fun part,
going as far as to add original scenes to it!

While the nuanced directing side is lovely, the aspect that caught the attention of so many is likely on the more tangible side, that is, the animation of the action scenes! Ace animator Kazuhiro Miwa obviously stole the spotlight thanks to purely bombastic set pieces. The reigns to the series are entirely his to run with at this point. From his ever present use of smeary edges all over his effects, to having even the more static cuts maintain tremendous energy due to his adding of speed lines to portray the rising velocity. Excessive impact frames are the cherry on top, making every explosion resonate with the viewer, as well as achieving an abrupt and violent end to all that intensity before.
While Miwa is handling the most climatic parts, this episode offered so much more, nearly every instance of fire animation was delightful to behold. The main culprits behind that are the two main animators: Hiroyuki Ohkaji and Riki Matsuura. The former drew a number of insanely dense effects, showing a veteran understanding of appealing volume. While the latter actually didn’t get to animate as much fire but still impressed with Shinra’s awakening scene. The high number of lines and details makes the wind quite wild, befitting of the energy Shinra is going to deploy in the next scene! Those two unknown artists, (no pun intended), are already proving that they aren’t main animators of the show for nothing!

Nozomu Abe’s incredible participation on the OP is perhaps
hinting at him showing up on some episodes later?

Meanwhile, long time Studio Bones affiliated action expert Yasuyuki Kai also worked on the premiere, and I would wager he handled this fighting bit. Kai should be regular on the show (at least its first cour?), which is great news given that he’s a trusted veteran, enough to be action animation director on the likes of popular series such as, Haikyuu, or My Hero Academia. By all means a welcome addition to the main crew! I also find his participation to be quite sweet given that he was actually a key member of Fire Force mangaka, Atsushi Ohkubo‘s previous series, Soul Eater.
Kai’s scene also gives me a chance to talk about Yase’s action storyboarding. He self-admittedly wanted a challenge in uncharted territory with a shonen action series, focusing his efforts on making action exciting and flashy. One aspect I particularly loved is how spatially-aware said scenes are. Elements of the background become integral parts of the stage. Something as delicate as the choreography found in the presumed Yasuyuki Kai scene would be foreign to such an effects-focused anime, but Yase is making every effort to expand the show’s potential range as much as possible!

So with that said, it was quite an incredible premiere across the board and now the question becomes whether such an approach can be sustainable. Nothing is sure but I can say they at least secured a solid crew of regular animators, even beyond the known main animators, so I would stay optimistic regarding the future of the show!

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