A man armed with a sickle battles to overcome a vicious beast in the forest, saving the life of a little girl at the cost of his own. With his dying breath, he tells her the name of his dog, Kanata, who has fought just as fearsomely as his master. This is no simple, if profound, act of sacrificial courage, however. This rescue comes at a great price for the little girl, Touko, who must now undertake the perilous journey through the forest to the city from whence her hero came, to return his sickle and dog to his people. Why must she do this? Because this man was no mere woodsman or traveler. He was a Fire Hunter, whose sacred duty it was to track down and capture liquid lightning, the energy source that powers this post-apocalyptic world. Generations ago, human physiology changed—in such a way that approaching fire would cause a person to spontaneously combust from the inside out. (This seems to include electricity as well, meaning that, in effect, electronic devices decimated the world. Interesting…) Since that fateful moment of mutation, the world has become an exceedingly dangerous place, which is why young Touko’s commission to visit the city is in effect a death sentence, and everyone knows it: her auntie, her hateful cousin Rin, her grandmother, and the men who operate the armored vehicle she will travel on for the next five months. Meanwhile, in the city…
Talk about saving the best for last! This is it, people: the most stunning and intriguing series of the season. It is gorgeous and melancholy and action-packed and stuffed with emotion all at the same time. And I’m just talking about the opening sequence. Without a doubt, The Fire Hunter wins this season’s award for aesthetics—which is not all that surprising considering the stylish track record of studio Signal.MD, with its distinctive character and color designs in films like Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop and The (Birthday) Wonderland. But it’s really the shadowy world of Mars Red or Science Saru’s ink-painting inspired The Heike Story that offer the closest parallel to the delicate line-work and kagenashi or virtually shadowless, textured design on display here in The Fire Hunter. This unique aesthetic gives the artwork a timeless, earthy feel—which proves fitting when a mid-episode sleight of hand reveals that the ancient historical drama we thought we were watching is in fact set in the distant future. The reversal of viewer expectations here is accomplished in an understated way, with a demure wink at an audience that must now quickly reinterpret all that has gone before to fit it into a new paradigm. That is the kind of series I suspect this will be: a sweeping adventure with a steady stream of quiet revelations that gradually blow one’s mind until one gives up attempting to predict the outcome. (It comes to us from the powerhouse behind Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, on series composition, after all.) As for the characters, there is as much depth and dimensionality to them so far as the artwork, with Touko (the season’s sweetest cinnamon roll) and her gruff aunt Akari revealing hidden layers, and Rin conveying a shocking degree of viciousness through a mere glance of her eye upon a retreating Touko as she leaves the village far behind. Such emotion packed into so few frames is striking. There are more characters too, but I will leave them for you to discover as you watch this episode. Because that is what you should do right now. You won’t regret it!
The Fire Hunter is streaming on Crunchyroll.
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