Fire Force Vol. 1 - Manga Review

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It's your greatest fear you never knew you had: spontaneous combustion. In a world where such events occur frequently and transform humans into flaming creatures, it is up to the Fire Brigades to protect the population. But how can they keep the world safe when they can't even figure out what's causing such disasters?

The Lowdown

The world has recently come under attack from a new phenomenon: spontaneous combustion. Perfectly healthy humans find themselves suddenly engulfed by flames, and after death their bodies continue to attack and burn their surroundings. To combat this, new fire brigades are created. These brigades are made up of both fire fighters and newly emerging humans who have the ability to bend flames to their will. One such human, Shinra Kusakabe, is a fresh-out-of-training-school fire soldier, and has been recruited by the 8th Special Fire Brigade.

How Was It?

As Atsushi Ohkubo's (Soul Eater) new series, Fire Force has a decent amount of hype surrounding it. I actually always personally had a hard time getting into Soul Eater, but I found Fire Force to be a much more approachable series in the beginning than its predecessor. The world and characters are fairly straightforward and interesting, and the focus on fire powers fulfills my childhood dream of a book all about fire magic (because it's super cool, of course). 

The first element of the story that stuck out particularly to me in Fire Force was Shinra, mostly because I expected him to be the standard hot-headed (yeah, yeah) shounen protagonist. In other words, he would be a character with a tragic backstory, be desperate to be a perfect hero by saving everyone, and would constantly seek to be on the forefront of battle even if he had to blatantly disobey the commands of his superiors. What is amusing to me about Shinra is that he fits the first half of such a description but not the second. The tragic past and desire to be a perfect hero are there, but Shinra is actually a surprisingly level-headed and mannered guy, all things considered. In fact, he more or less plays the straight man to his teammate Arthur Boyle, who disrespects the lieutenant and dives headfirst into fights. 

Outside of this rather broad characterization, Shinra is an appealing character to me because of some of the slightly more specific details. In particular, I found the focus on his smile interesting in multiple ways. Shinra has a facial mannerism that he can't resist, namely a tendency to make an evil-looking smirk when he is upset or nervous. This creates numerous misunderstandings both humorous and somber about his intentions, from daily interactions to his own perceived reaction to his family's deaths. As much as this felt like a minor detail at first, Okubo is excellent at making such details very relevant and worthy additions to the story and characterizations. 

Of course, Shinra isn't the only relevant character in Fire Force. Thus far, most of the cast introduced are Shinra's fellow 8th Special Fire Brigade members. While it's still very early in the story, the basic background introductions of the other fire soldiers seems to hold a lot of promise. For example, Akitaru, an ex-fire fighter turned fire soldier, has no abilities to control fire himself but is captain of the brigade and seems to be a very respected leader. Maki, an ex-military soldier, is a second generation fire soldier and is very dedicated yet soft-hearted. This mix of personalities and fire-controlling abilities gives me strong hope for future character development.

As I briefly touched on earlier, the world of Fire Force feels very approachable, and this is both in initial complexity and room for future exploration. The outbreak of spontaneous combustion and the creation of brigades of soldiers to fight it is a fairly straightforward yet interesting beginning. However, the structure goes beyond just simply having brigades; there is an interesting element of religion with the nuns that accompany the soldiers, and we are already seeing more structural depth in the first volume with the beginning of the new recruit competitions. It seems that the relationships between brigades and individual members will be extremely crucial to the plot in later chapters. And of course, there is still the lingering question of what exactly is causing the spontaneous combustions in the first place. 

Final Thoughts

Fire Force is an excellent mix of both well-travelled and new story elements. The approachable setting and well-introduced characters make for an intriguing beginning. As a personal fan of fire "magic", seeing a series successfully focus around such powers is a personal bonus for me. If you are a fan of Soul Eater, or a shounen fan new to Ohkubo's works, then Fire Force is a pretty safe bet for an enjoyable read. 


Fire Force 1
By Atsushi Ohkubo

Fire Force is written and illustrated by Atsushi Ohkubo and currently serializing in Kodansha's Weekly Shonen Magazine. It is translated into English by Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley and published by Kodansha Comics USA. Volume 1 was released in the west on November 8th, 2016.

Verdict:

A-

Date of Publication: November 8th, 2016

Author: Atsushi Ohkubo

Translator: Alethea Nibley & Athena Nibley

Editor: Lauren Scanlan

Publisher: Kodansha Comics USA