All cinema is wonderful, but there’s a certain wonder that’s only possible through animation. We have almost grown numb to how realistic computer-graphic animation has advanced, but there are few things akin to the experience of being transported to a dreamworld that lets its colors wash over and swallow you whole. Similarly, anime has reached some staggering heights of what’s possible through traditional animation, and in many ways Promare sets a new standard in that area, delivering visuals that will be discussed for years and strive to be matched and surpassed. It’s a gorgeous, fun fever dream of a movie that captures the exact spirit of what makes anime so magical and powerful.
Promare is directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi and written by Kazuki Nakashima, the same duo from Studio Trigger who who are responsible for Kill la Kill and Gurren Lagann. However, this is notably Trigger’s first feature film, and it’s easily the most beautiful thing that they’ve done. There are probably at least a dozen moments where my hand was over my mouth in awe, and I was shaking my head in disbelief over the massive set-pieces that Promare brings to life.
The events of Promare are set 30 years after a cataclysmic event, known as the Great World Blaze, where spontaneous combustion becomes the new normal for society. As a result, firefighters are now more analogous to superheroes than ever as they’re the ones responsible for putting out these flames and maintaining the status quo. “Firefighter superheroes” wields a ton of potential as a premise (just ask the anime series Fire Force), but it’s a simple enough idea that easily lends itself to entertaining action sequences.
These firefighters pilot fancy mechs and giant robots as these predatory flames form into dragons and ferocious monsters. Promare treats the union of water and fire like it’s a fight between gods from another planet. The film turnssomething as mundane as a stern discussion between two opposing sides into a hectic sequence of persistent motion and high stakes, even if no one is moving.
The biggest obstacle that the Burning Rescue team faces is a group of terrorists known as the Mad Burnish, who all possess a variety of fire-based abilities. There’s a jailbreak sequence that’s particularly stunning that shows off what the Burnish can really do. There’s a real ecosystem to how this world works that’s easy to follow (there are definite shades of My Hero Academia here too, in terms of the rules that that the world follows and how heroes and villains function). The film establishes the futuristic take and then uses it to cater to its kinetic, unpredictable animation style
Galo is the film’s central protagonist and figurehead of the Burning Rescue team, but Promare contains an entire cast of enjoyable characters (including an adorable mouse sidekick). Galo and company also fulfill certain anime stereotypes, and it’s easy to picture this film extending into an anime series just due to how well defined its cast is and the affability of their group dynamic. Even the “flame terrorists,” flames that literally come alive, are given humanity and depth. Promare engages in a dialogue about why those that feel oppressed lash out and delivers a prescient narrative about the inevitable death of the planet.
The core dynamic between Galo and the film’s villain Lio feels very similar to the relationship between Kill la Kill’s hero and antagonist. In fact, Promare’s biggest detriment is that its story follows a rather traditional pattern where evil tries to corrupt good and none of it is terribly surprising. This is clearly a visual showcase more than it is one for storytelling, but that doesn’t mean that the plot can phone it in. Promare never reaches this level of laziness, but hopefully Trigger’s next feature film will try to defy conventions instead of directly play into anime tropes.
In spite of this, the narrative still works and does occasionally scratch at some headier concepts, like youth who lose their childhood to war (whether it’s to fight or to defend), the blurry line between hero and villain, and the strangely touching idea that humans and flames aren’t that different—they live and then die out. The film’s final act gloriously brings all these themes together and unites the hero and villain in a mad, heightened way that’s only possible in anime.
A lot has been said about what an aesthetic triumph Promare is, but the film’s use of music (Hiroyuki Sawano creates an infectious soundtrack), sound, color, and animation is seriously staggering. The film uses color in an inspired, unconventional way where it develops and then shatters its own color palette. There are no set rules here. Fire can be purple, water can be green, smoke is a rainbow mess, and a shadowy computer room can be bathed in pastel hues.
Light and color are always flying across the screen and splitting up the frame in some visually interesting way. Movement is rampant and beyond fluid, whether it’s the light, fire, or the characters themselves. Promare also finds a way to mix together and rotate between 2D and 3D animation with ease, which is where projects often struggle. You just want to melt into this world and fully submit to its colors and designs. It’s such a gorgeous movie that you will never not want it to be filling up your eyeballs.
It’s wise that Trigger refuses to hold back for their first feature effort. Insane action and lovable characters give Promare life and, at nearly two hours long, it’s a film that flies by. This is not just some visual extravaganza and orgasm for the eyes, but there’s enough substance here that this feels like a real film and not just some glorified animation project that got into theaters. It’s the perfect kind of escapism that doesn’t overstay its welcome but also makes every minute count. Promare will no doubt be one of the most beautiful animated films that you see in 2019, and it points toward a bright future for its studio.
Promare will have special premiere event screenings on Sept. 17 and 19 before its official release on Sept. 20.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, and Bloody Disgusting. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.