Touko with the three brides on the collection truck
Touko awakes to find herself sharing a sleeper compartment with three young women in the process of being exiled from their hometowns due to local superstition by way of marriage to parties unknown (at least to the audience). Hotaru is sweet but anxious, and seems to be trying to make the best of things; Benio is blunt, and makes no secret that she finds the situation annoying and frustrating; Kaho is moody and seems to be developing a death wish. This last is most apparent when, during a refueling stop where the on-board fire hunter is deployed to bring down a nearby fiend, Kaho sneaks out. Touko follows in an attempt to retrieve her, but both are caught up in the hunt, and must now face the consequences for disobeying the truck rules…
Meanwhile, Koushi makes his way to the author of the letter he received, a friend of his father Haijuu named Yuoshichi who is an industrialist of substantial wealth (and size). The man offers to essentially adopt Koushi and Hinako, sponsoring the boy’s education and funding care for his sister, both out of goodwill/obligation towards Haijuu and because he believes that Koushi has the potential to advance research and development of humanity’s new fiend-based fuel sources – both the blood of terrestrial fiends that we’ve already been introduced to and skyfire, which comes from aerial “fallbeasts” and is significantly more volatile. Koushi’s sense of honor dissuades him from accepting simple charity, but he may go along for Hinako’s sake, especially if he believes that his efforts will eventually culminate in appropriate compensation.
Mamoru Oshii (of Ghost in the Shell fame) and director Junji Nishimura have gotten together again to make a work that I find very reminiscent – stylistically – of their 2004 collaboration, the angular Windy Tales. Thematically, of course, the two are quite different: Windy Tales is largely episodic, and infuses the calm mundanity of modern Japanese life with just a touch of the supernatural, whereas The Fire Hunter establishes a strong narrative (or two) in a harsh world with humanity once again struggling to maintain civilization by carving out our own niche amidst the mighty forces of nature. Few anime, however, join these two in being so deliberately paced – heavy with dialogue spoken over nearby establishing shots, or slow pans of frames drawn in full background detail (see above), or views of the characters themselves quietly doing something or going somewhere either before or after the conversation. This can make both shows a little difficult to parse, but they offer unusually meditative experiences for dedicated viewers, and I’m glad to see the like again.
For its part, this episode largely continues establishing the world and characters, an effort which I very much appreciate, only stepping the plot forward at the tail end. Several new terms are introduced with accompanying text cards during Koushi’s conversation with Yuoshichi, which should give them room to breathe as we await the more direct integration of that which they describe (looking forward to seeing who the “Divine Clans” are). Touko doesn’t have the strongest protagonist aura, but her quiet commitment to see through her obligations despite her fears provides a good basis for what I hope will be some satisfying character growth. All in all, a very intriguing entry.
A slow ride, but definitely one to keep a close eye on.
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