Siblings reunite under terrible circumstances as recruiting efforts goes further south. Shinra and friends are in more trouble than ever in the eighth volume of Fire Force. Is it good?
After so many years, Shinra has come face-to-face with his younger brother. But what should be a joyful reunion only ends in heartbreak and the reality that what he wants more than anything cannot happen. A new ally is gained, training must be undergone, and our heroes must finally make a move themselves in this growing conflict. The stakes soar ever higher and the conflicts turn more personal in this newest volume.
The eighth volume of Fire Force closes out one story arc and leads us straight into another. After a terrible, nearly lethal encounter with Sho, everyone has no choice but to get better to prepare for the next inevitable encounter. Then, from there, our heroes storm the bad guys’ base and chaos takes off. Almost all of the heroes are split up and are forced to face down different opponents. These plotlines that split up the cast are familiar territory in the shonen action genre. The execution of it is what really matters, and it’s decent here for the most part. This new story arc shows a lot of promise for some exciting action, good character growth and focus, and interesting revelations and advances in the plot. The conclusion to Vulcan’s introductory arc is solid and ends perfectly, throwing in a surprise twist with Joker appearing. The endings and beginnings of these arcs work very well overall.
The problem lies in the middle when the series’s recurring problem–pacing–surfaces once more. In between the arcs, we get Vulcan settling in at Company 8 with everyone either upgrading their equipment or undergoing some training to get better. These in-between moments in shonen stories are actually some of my favorites, since they are usually used for character reflection, building towards the next arc, and giving readers some down time to relax. However, things go by way too quick here in my opinion. We barely spend time building up how Vulcan is getting along with everyone, all the character growth (outside of Shinra’s) is rushed through, and before we know it we’re off to the next long action storyline. It feels like things would be better if we had a few more chapters of non-high-stakes action and more character drama, like maybe Company 8 being concerned about Sho and Shinra’s desire to get him back.
As a whole, I do feel the character work makes up for weaker pacing and storytelling. Sho’s proper introduction is pitch-perfect, showing both how much of a threat he is and how little humanity there is to him now. He meets Shinra and seems to acknowledge that they are related, but cares nothing for his brother and only sees him as a means to an end. On the flip side with Joker, what once was a nasty, terrible threat is given shades of grey. He goes out of his way to save everyone under the cover of smoke, but for what reason we don’t know. Does it tie into his search for “justice” or does he see something else in helping the heroes? He’s certainly an interesting one to watch. Vulcan gets a pretty solid ending to his introduction arc, moving him from being completely against the Fire Force to officially joining them. He sees it as a way to help him achieve both his grandpa and dad’s dreams while also having the chance to reunite his new family. He’s still a bit torn on things internally, admitting that he may be betraying his family’s beliefs at their grave, but also saying it is for the greater good to do this. While I feel things move a bit too quickly with him, I find the character work surrounding him good.
There are a lot of smaller character moments that I like here as well. Shinra is still headstrong and damn determined to save his brother, even though it hits him hard with regards to what he has become. He keeps growing in different ways, becoming more observant to other beings, and his powers keep expanding, causing him to worry about what’s happening to him. It’s not much, but he’s not too bad. There’s Maki, who finally gets a chance to shine, showing off her strength and determination in an actual fight. While she has a love for all things cute and is easily frightened by the unknown, she bounces back when she realizes what she is facing and then shows off why she is one of the toughest, most experienced fighters in the series. I like the callback to Hinawa being confronted by his fallen friend, visibly shaking him for once. I also like the small moment of Lisa nearly reaching out to Vulcan when he is escaping, showing that she isn’t too far gone and was changed on some level by being around him for all those years. For her to really grow, however, she’ll need a lot more pushing in the right direction.
Besides the plot and characters, there are a few other tidbits to mention. The humor feels much better here than in the last volume, and there are some pretty amusing gags. For the second time, Tamaki’s unluckiness works. There are still some accent jokes and wordplay that aren’t really translatable to an American audience, but most of the humor lands. I like the implementation of Kata into series; it’s explained so that newcomers can understand what it is, and it’s integrated into the world rather well. Some of the worldbuilding introduced is pretty interesting and the new setting of the Nether is a memorable, intimidating backdrop for this new arc to take place in.
The artwork for this manga is as good as always here. The character designs, expressive nature of the cast, mood, and intense action are all well-done. What I want to focus in on are two key points: improvements and the layouts. This volume feels much better artistically than the last volume, lacking some of the poorer panel layouts and angles used previously. Things feel fresher and more thrilling to look at, especially in the first chapter. Again, Sho’s introduction is perfect in its execution due to the amazing layouts. It’s the first time I’ve seen this series really experiment with its panels, showing the speed of the action, its devastation, and the metaphorical wide gulf there is between Sho and Shinra. It’s beautiful and I hope to see the creator try something like that again. The rest of the layouts are also really good, especially when hitting some key, dramatic moments, adding to fresh and exciting feel of the book. While I may have said this before in the past, forget about it–this is truly some of the best art the series has ever had.
Is It Good?
Fire Force Vol. 8 takes the series back to its earlier rocket-like pace, zipping straight through what should be downtime to relax the audience and build the characters. Instead, it rushes us back into the fight almost right away. While the story and art certainly remain enjoyable, the manga could benefit from a slower pace and taking time to really flesh out existing story elements.