I think it speaks to my mixed feelings on Fire Force that, when it turned out that Rekka wasn't taken out by Shinra's kick to the face last week, my reaction was a murky combination of interest and dread. I was interested mostly because, when Fire Force lets loose with its action scenes, it's difficult to deny the palpable sense of fun and playful artistry that the show's production team brings to the table. You can tell that the story-boarders and animators have a blast making each lick of flame look as cool as possible, and imbuing each flying kick and pyrokinetic blast with a weighty oomph. Most of “The Spreading Malice” revolves around this fiery flavor of spectacle, and I would be lying if I said it wasn't entertaining.
And yet I was also exhausted with the whole thing too, because I knew from the get-go that more time spent on the “Company 1 Investigation Arc” meant more time with Tamaki, and I've honestly come to hate the way her character has been treated in this show. In her very first appearance, the idiotic Lucky Lecher Lure thing was somewhat balanced out by Tamaki having amusing interactions with the rest of the cast, along with getting to be useful on the battlefield, but these past two episodes have really done the poor girl dirty. When she isn't getting beaten and emotionally wrecked so that she can serve as a literal damsel for Shinra to save, she's getting stripped down and awkwardly groped in the name of fanservice. This is neither funny nor titillating, which basically amounts to all of her time in the episode being a complete waste.
I've seen Soul Eater, so I didn't arrive at Fire Force naïve enough to think that Atsushi's Okubo's trademark horniness wouldn't appear, but Fire Force's treatment of its female characters so far has been puzzlingly, aggressively lame. The emotional core of this entire three-episode storyline has been Tamaki's reaction to Rekka's betrayal; it's the only reason we could even care about his villainous turn, since he's nothing but another bad guy to Shinra. This week even gives us a halfhearted attempt to double-down on the pathos when Tamaki flashes back to her better days with Company 1, though it isn't enough. Here we have a girl with her own set of shiny flame powers that she could easily use to at least help Shinra dole out some justice, but instead she gets all of her clothes burnt off so she can whimper with the kids in the corner.
I'm not kidding when I say Tamaki's only role in what should be her showcase episode is to have Shinra awkwardly land in her boobs. It's so bad that the main fight of the week, which should be Fire Force's saving grace, is randomly bookended by not one but two different instances of Tamaki being humiliated by her would-be hero. We even get another one in the post-credits scene, when Shinra learns that Tamaki has joined up with Company 8. Is there any hint of the emotional transformation she's undergone, or some kind of newfound resolve to help Company 8 dig out the evil that's been infecting the Fire Force from within? Not really, but there's definitely a freeze-frame ending of Tamaki falling chest first onto Shinra's face again.
As far as plot development goes, there isn't much else to discuss. We get a couple of lines that elaborate on the Evangelist's goals (turn the whole world into fire), and Karim arrives to shut Rekka down with his ice powers and pledge his help to Company 8, though some templar-looking mystery assassins take Rekka out with a flame arrow before he can talk. Also, if you were wondering why Arthur was a no show for the big battle, it's because he's out wandering the desert in an Obi Wan Kenobi hood for some reason that's yet to be explained.
It's hard to say what exactly Fire Force is trying to do at this point, and the reliable beauty of its boarding and direction is beginning to chafe under the story's rushed writing and irritatingly juvenile sensibilities. I'm more than happy to revel in some dumb fun; it's when the “dumb” starts to outweigh the “fun” that the problems creep in. Since the show is apparently running for another 39 weeks, there's plenty of time left for Fire Force to live up to the potential of those incredible first couple episodes, but until then, I'm setting my expectations firmly in check.