It's hard to believe, but after two years of living in Atsushi Okubo's Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Fire Force is heading into its endgame. With just six episodes left to wrap things up, it only makes sense that the show would be exploring some long overdue subject matter, in an effort to (hopefully) tie everything together into one, cohesive package. Season 2 of the show has been especially good at pacing out its different narrative checkpoints, and building on everything that has come before it, so in many ways, the two stories we get in “The Holy Woman's Anguish/The Man, Assault” were inevitable. The first of them is not only a long time coming, but very welcome indeed. The second is…well, we'll get to that.
It's no secret that Iris is one of the most tragically underused ingredients in the entire Fire Force cookbook, and that is saying something for a series that hasn't ever been great at giving its female characters much to do to begin with. The last time she got a lot of focus was way back in the very beginning of season one, when we learned about her tragic past and the connection she shares with Princess Hibana. If she's done anything else of note since that one time she got kidnapped by the masochistic booby queen of Company 5 and treated like a literal damsel in distress from a fairy tale, I can't remember it.
With all of the hullabaloo concerning the recent revelations over the falsehoods being peddled by the Holy Sol Temple, though, I was really hoping we'd get something to address the crisis of faith that Iris and her entire order must be experiencing. After all, if there truly is no spiritual element to be found in combating the plague of Infernals, then her role as a conduit for emblazoned souls is entirely perfunctory. As Shinra notes in his philosophical conversation with Iris this week, the forces they are going up against might be the closest thing to God that anyone will ever meet, but they're a far cry from the benevolent deity that Iris has devoted her life to serving.
This is the kind of material that I would have loved Fire Force to explore more throughout its run, because there's just so much juicy thematic potential to work with, and I think the show does an excellent job here. The sudden combustion of the priest at the Baptism Church present exactly the kind of quandary that has been eating Iris up inside: If even so-called Holy Men are doomed to burn, what use is there in the traditional prayers? The conclusion that the episode eventually comes to, that Iris and her faith are a necessary beacon of hope for Company 8, is a little pat, but this is Fire Force we're talking about here. I'm not expecting it to provide any particularly profound answers; I'm just glad that it's asking the questions at all. Besides, Shinra's pep talk is a sweet moment, which reminds me that his affection for Iris is another element that I'm surprised Fire Force hasn't exploited more often.
Speaking of exploitation, I suppose I can't put off talking about “The Man, Assault” any longer. If you're like me, and completely forgot who Assault was, this is the guy that Iris and Tamaki fought down in the Nether back in Season One, who was foiled when his “chivalrous” nature got upended by Tamaki's Lucky Lecher Lure. This week's mini-episode is all about Assault's determination to break his own psyche by drowning himself in porn dungeons, up-skirt safaris, and other slightly less horrifying interactions with women. All of this, so as to never again be caught off guard by Tamaki's…good lord, are we going to call her abominable curse a superpower, now? Either way, even though Fire Force Season 2 has been exponentially less stupid about the fanservice this year, this was the other inevitability we've all been waiting for.
Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando, I've been biding my time in a remote cabin, hiding away from society and chopping infinite piles of wood with all of the masculine bravado that my soft frame can muster, knowing that someday I would get that knock on my door, and the good generals at Anime News Network would tell me that the war isn't over. So, after hearing the reports that Fire Force is back on its bullshit after so much time putting on a mask of basic human decency, I donned my armaments and warpaint, ready to take the show to task once again for being Too Horny To Live, and Too Stupid to Die.
Anyways, “The Man, Assault” actually ended up being pretty funny. I know, I know, and trust me, there is nobody here that is more disappointed in me than myself. Before you all try to burn my Critic Credentials for going easy on Fire Force after spending years railing against the show's exceptionally lame handling of Tamaki's entire existence, hear me out: There was never any chance of the show redeeming itself for Tamaki's treatment, not with so little time left on the clock. Despite going all in on parading her emotional and physical trauma around as a motivating factor for Shinra's heroism, which remains a gross thing for the story to have done, Tamaki's role in the show has purely been one of comedic relief, and almost always in context of her being stripped and groped against her will, which is also really freaking gross.
The one thing that has prevented this element of the show from being completely ruinous for me is that the situation is almost never played for anything other than juvenile yuks. Tamaki's increasingly absurd states of undress are so over-the-top, and everyone around her is so resigned to this just being a thing that happens to them, that there's never been anything titillating about the joke. If Fire Force were expecting me to get off with it whenever Tamaki is crying about her underwear randomly exploding off her body again, that would be a bridge too far. That hasn't seemed the case to me, though. Like with Danganronpa's Mikan, the comedy isn't derived purely from Tamaki's humiliation, but from meta-commentary that comes from the reality-bending circumstances that surround it.
Does that make the Lucky Lecher Lure gag any less tasteless and dumb? No, and everyone's mileage will of course vary, but what pushes “The Man, Assault” over the line and into the realm of actually being amusing to me was how the joke was, for once, not wholly at Tamaki's expense. In Assault, the universe of Fire Force has finally found a character who isn't just put off by the Lucky Lecher Lure; it is, in fact, the man's sole existential weakness. If female nudity is kryptonite, then Tamaki is the unwitting Lex Luthor to Assault's Superman, breaking him down and shattering his defenses simply by doing that thing where she gets her butthole involuntarily shoved into the faces of her friends and enemies.
In other words, Assault is perhaps the single most pathetic man in the entire world of the show, and I was happy to laugh at his patently ludicrous resolve, with Fire Force even treating his showdown with Tamaki as a proper, climactic battle. “Now that he has withstood the awkwardness of Tamaki's crotch just flapping away in the wind like it does, will Assault land a winning blow for the White Clad? Find out next time on Fire Force Season 2!”
Odds and Ends
• Wait a minute. Is the Lucky Lecher Lure thing all just one big narrative pun on the fact that Tamaki, the cat-themed character, is getting her bits and bobs right up in people's grill all the time? Goddammit, Okubo.
• We learn this week that Iris is actually pretty buff, on account of wanting to stay in shape enough to keep up with her comrades. Now if only the show would let her get a punch in on a bad guy at some point…
• Also, I know that Shinra's evil grin thing is some kind of involuntary response to stress, but our boy needs to maybe work taking off around five to ten percent of his Creep-O-Meter. When he learns of his date with Iris, his pervy-ass Grinch face makes him look like the kind of guy I'd need to call the cops on if I caught him trolling around the schoolyard.