The Fire Hunters

At some point in the future, humans undergo a catastrophic transformation: they began to spontaneously combust in the presence of fire. As global civilisation collapses, Japan reverts to an insular society cut off from the rest of the world. In the capital city, power is held by the so-called divine clans; elsewhere in the countryside, isolated villages are connected to the capital by a precarious web of trade-routes. These routes snake through vast forests that have re-grown over the land; and in their depths lurk strange creatures called Fire Fiends. The blood of the Fire Fiends, however, can be used as a fuel and light source that won’t cause humans to burst into flames; and so a corps of brave souls knowns as Fire Hunters have evolved, dedicated to risking their lives to harvest this precious resource. Touko is a young girl living with her grandmother and sister in a remote village; one day she wanders into the forest and is confronted by a Fire Fiend. However, she is saved by a Fire Hunter, who is mortally wounded in the process. At the request of the dying Fire Hunter – and at the command of her grandmother – Touko sets out on a dangerous journey to return the Fire Hunter’s principle weapon – a sickle – and his hunting dog, Kanata, to his family, who live in the capital. Meanwhile, in the capital, a brilliant young teenager named Koushi is orphaned, forcing he and his ailing sister take shelter with the family of the wealthy and influential Youschichi Okibi. Okibi tells Koushi that the rule of the divine clans is coming to an end, and that a dissident group known only as the spiders are planning to march on the capital and wreak havoc; Okibi needs Koushi to manufacture a weapon that will enable both a change of regime and a successful defence of the capital to occur. Unknown to Koushi, his father is the Fire Hunter who died saving Touko’s life; and unbeknownst to them both, they are slowly being drawn into a culminating series of events at which much more than the rule of Japan is at stake – for approaching the earth is a relic of ancient human technology that could bring about a final, all-encompassing apocalypse…

Based on the manga by Rieko Hinata and Akihiro Yamada, and produced by studio Signal.MD, The Fire Hunter premiered on Japanese television channel WOWOW in January 2023. Featuring a realistic visual aesthetic and muted colour palette that will be familiar to the viewers of In This Corner of the World as well as the features of Satoshi Kon, The Fire Hunter is notable also for the soundtrack by Kenji Kawai of Ghost In The Shell fame. Languidly paced, in which moments of vigorous action are interspersed with periods of personal or philosophical reflection, the first series of 10 episodes ultimately does little more than establish the world in which the action takes place, introduces the main characters and principal themes, and then concludes on a cliff-hanger that whets the appetite for a second series. That said, there is plenty to look forward to, as the world-building is solid and the basic premise intriguing, with the gradually emerging meta-narrative slowly building on the series’ narrative horizon. There are glimpses and hints and suggestions; but for anyone who hasn’t read the source material and who thus doesn’t know what’s coming, the withholding of information is gratification satisfyingly delayed. Astute watchers will probably have an inkling as to what will be revealed vis-à-vis the source of the calamity that brought about this strange, post-apocalyptic world; even so, suspicions about what’s coming in no way deflate the tension of expectation. Possibly the only question viewers will be asking is: will there be a second season – and will it be delayed in the same disastrously procrastinating way that has characterised the later series of Attack On Titan? Engaging and rich in lore, The Fire Hunters is an intriguing opening to what could be one of the more promising anime offerings in recent years.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2023. All rights reserved.