Fire Force‘s adaptation looks so impressive that we had to put some time aside to explain how the stars aligned for it – smart management, a crisis at a seemingly unrelated studio, and the vision of a certain team all added up to an anime that looks stunning. And this is how it happened!
While writing the season preview, we quickly reached the conclusion that answering the seemingly simple question of how come Fire Force’s anime looks so impressive would take longer than the format allows, so we’re dedicating this entire post to explain this phenomenon. Where’s this crazy spectacle coming from?
For starters, it’s worth noting that the series was quietly postponed from the initial plans – which were never stated out loud – of a spring 2019 season broadcast. That’s the reason striking footage emerged as early as 6 months ago, but more importantly, that’s what has given the staff enough of a production buffer so these cool sequences become a regular occurrence rather than isolated highlights early on. Plenty of anime starts with a bang and can’t follow that up with animation of the same caliber later, but add a comfortable schedule into the equation, and that becomes all the more feasible.
It’s worth noting that David Production’s pipeline has become rather efficient recently too, in what appears to be a direct consequence of adopting CACANi as a core tool for every title they produce now. The jury is still out on automated in-betweening, which may or may not become a widespread solution for this industry’s fundamental deficiencies in the future… but for now, assisted in-betweening does the job for studios that have invested in it as deeply as David Production. Its more extensive applications do stand out in ways that feel awkward sometimes, but the fact that most viewers don’t notice it for the most part – or ever – proves that the sacrifices they’re making in favor of efficiency aren’t all that bad. Regardless, the main takeaway here is that Fire Force has strong chances to remain consistent, so if you like what you’re seeing now, you can expect a lot of it.
As valuable as time and management are, though, those don’t paint the full picture. And neither does talking about David Production alone. Even if you take a reductionist, studio-centric approach to the situation, there’s an elephant in the room and it’s tilting its neck. Studio SHAFT… or rather not SHAFT, since Fire Force’s staff is chockful of people who’ve left the company. The situation over there is far too complicated to summarize it in a tangentially related article, but it’s hardly a secret that over the years they’ve been losing invaluable talent, and the phenomenon’s only gotten worse as of late. I’ve approached certain individuals and even though there’s not much that can be publicly disclosed, I can at least say the concerning rumors about SHAFT that were making the rounds months ago have some important truths in between the fan speculation. Additionally, the long list of creators whom people presumed had cut ties with SHAFT was pretty much spot-on – and that included a director who’d leave behind a real wound.
But how does that affect Fire Force? Many fans assumed that series director Yuuki Yase – SHAFT mainstay since 2010, rarely ever leaving the studio in nearly a decade – is the reason why other individuals who’ve left the studio are congregating here, but the truth is that David Production is gathering ex-SHAFT staffers on creative and management positions on a much more permanent basis. Did you know that the person who managed Jojo Part 5 as production desk was Shou Sugawara, who also left SHAFT after working there for many years? Now you do! Either way, the point is that Yase’s own influence and larger circumstances at play converged to have Fire Force attract tons of creators who used to gather at SHAFT.
To give more precise examples, that includes right about everyone in key staff positions. Yase himself is accompanied by sleek character designer and chief animation director Hideyuki Morioka of Kizumonogatari fame, who’d been a SHAFT regular ever since the mid 00s; though he’s had some projects outside the studio as well, after being in charge of designs and animation for a dozen of SHAFT productions it’s impossible to think of him as anything but a key asset in their works. His right-hand man in chief supervision duties will be Yoshio Kozakai, whose experience focusing on SHAFT titles comparatively “only” lasted about 5 years, but already acted as Morioka’s right-hand man in the aforementioned vampire trilogy.
And of course, if the generals commanding the army belong to a certain faction, then their trustworthy troops will as well. Even if we focus on the main animators who have already been officially disclosed like Hiroyuki Ookaji and Riki Matsuura, you’ll easily find that they also were tied to SHAFT until quite recently. Even those with more of a fully freelance background like ace animator Kazuhiro Miwa – conveyor of such magnificent effects that we caught his presence before anything was announced – arrived at Fire Force after having a major gig at SHAFT. A bit of a trend, as you can see.
The staff’s shared background would be a neat anecdote on its own, but the most interesting part of it all is the understated conclusion: a lot of these creators have a recent background of dubious management getting in the way of their artistry, so a project this well planned is as much of a breath of fresh air as something can be in this industry. Again, without intending to rub salt on SHAFT’s wound, it’s undeniable – and has been privately reported by staff members – that the studio is managed in a tremendously inefficient way, and that affects everyone’s output negatively. Be it projects taking longer than they reasonably should or getting rushed out while everyone’s work is still half-baked, it’s obvious that SHAFT’s environment has acted as a limiter for many of its creators, no matter how talented they were.
For a fairly high-profile, very relevant example, look no further than series director Yase himself. His first bout as series director with Hidamari Sketch Honeycomb felt particularly warm even by the franchise’s standards, and stylistic quirks he developed along the way regarding symmetry and reflections personally made me a fan of his. His understanding of “animation” as a broader field than we’re used to led to some iconic moments – most notoriously when he allowed Taiki Konno’s illustrations to come to life in Onimonogatari. Unfortunately, Yase’s output took a turn towards the workmanlike that even as someone who’d seen a lot of potential in him, it became impossible to remain optimistic at all. By the time of Zaregoto’s production, it felt like going through the motions was all he could afford.
And yet here we are, dedicating a whole post to Yase’s new project before it even begins, because the impression that its promotional material left is just that strong. The animation is gorgeous in and of itself, but there’s clearly more to this production, starting with its main theme: fire. The presentation of the flames has been given as much emphasis as you’d hope in a series that focuses on them. Ohkubo set the foundation with distinct fire abilities represented by very different shapes, and the anime’s taking it to a different level by granting them all their own fluidity, density of effects, painting styles, and further tweaking the degree of photorealism in the photography process. At its worst, a show that forces you to stare at fires to no end would have an indistinct red look to it, but this adaptation is already offering so much more.
And speaking of Fire Force’s visual identity, the setting deserves a mention as well. Ohnuki crafted a world with a blatantly obvious steampunk influence but retaining a more natural atmosphere to it, so the anime’s colorful interpretation feels like it captures exactly what he was going for. I’d be lying if I said that the sheer density of urban structures didn’t make me wish Shinji Kimura was the art director instead – imagine a more lively and down to earth Blood Blockade Battlefront – but I really can’t bring myself to complain about the work that studio Bihou’s Yoshito Takamine and Toshiki Amada (art director and designer respectively) have done here.
All things considered, it’s clear that Yase has a vision for this title, and that his team is realizing it in a stunning way. Being a director entails much more than ensuring things look nice, though, so we’ll have to see if Yase can tweak the material into something that’s truly outstanding. As someone who read a large chunk of the manga, I can say that I found the overarching mystery to be a good excuse to have fun battles, but the cast didn’t have Soul Eater’s natural charm, and I expect the tonal dissonance to frustrate many new viewers if the anime doesn’t do anything about it; regardless of how you feel about fanservice, a character whose gimmick is always ending up in provocative situations as a horny wink to the audience is the most fundamentally unsexy thing. Fire Force can be improved on, even when it comes to being racy.
Will this team manage to do it? That’s what we’ll see over the next 1-2 years, since you should be expecting 24 episodes followed by a 3-6 months break before the next set of 24 eps. Regardless of what the answer ends up being, it was worth recapping how the stars aligned for this production to have a SHAFT-flavored crew and lots of time to their disposal to produce such a fancy adaptation. A very solid first step!
You can’t imagine how I wish that getting shafted mean the exact opposite so that I could have used that in the title, though.