Review

by Kim Morrissy,

Promare

Synopsis:
Promare
30 years ago, a cataclysmic event destroyed half the world in a fire and caused a mutation that created a new race of people called Burnish. Burnish are able to create and control fire. The film centers on the members of the "Burning Rescue" fire squad, who put out fires caused by Burnish. The new rookie of Burning Rescue is Galo, a hotheaded man who wields "Matoi-Tech," named after the "matoi" banners that Edo-period firefighting units used. Galo's encounter with Lio, the leader of a Burnish terrorist group called Mad Burnish, sets the story in motion.
Review:

Right from the moment Promare was first announced, it was explicitly positioned as a successor to Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill. Trigger's output has branched out a lot since Kill la Kill, but the promise of recapturing that old-school Gainax charm captured fans' hearts right away. Trigger hasn't always lived up to that promise, but this film absolutely blew me away. If you're already a diehard Trigger fan, you probably won't need any convincing, but even skeptics should watch Promare for a perfect crystallization of Trigger's appeal.

Promare's visual style immediately stands out: bright colors with almost no gradients, a world full of geometric buildings and objects, buff robots, and near-constant action. It shares many aesthetic ideas that were developed in Kill la Kill, but the movie format has finally given the staff the leeway to apply those ideas consistently without any noticeable dips in the animation or drastic changes in style between scenes. Inconsistency was always a problem in previous Trigger works, so just being able to see these creative character and robot designs move around the way they were envisioned does wonders to strengthen the film overall.

The other thing that will leap out to the viewer is the ambitious 3D work. The modelling and rigging were mainly handled by XFlag, which is why the film was billed as a co-production, although long-time Trigger collaborators Sanzigen handled the 3D animation and direction. As a result, the visuals aren't a drastic departure from anything you may have seen before, but they have been taken to a new level. The film is filled with grand, sweeping shots that give the action scenes an epic sense of scale. Some closeup shots are more awkward in context, especially when it comes to the human characters, but the film wisely keeps the 3D animation focused on the robot action. The camera also moves quickly enough in these scenes that you're almost never made to linger on any particular 3D model, so the overall look should satisfy even an ardent CG hater.

I would consider Promare an above-average film on the basis of its visuals alone, but fortunately the story is pretty good too. It's not terribly original; after the nature of the Burnish is revealed early on, every plot beat after that point is predictable. Don't let that be a deterrent, however. Kazuki Nakashima's scripts have perfect synergy with the animation style, and it's not hard to see why he and director Hiroyuki Imaishi have maintained such a close working relationship. Despite the large cast and sci-fi setting, the story never tries to express too many ideas or bite off more than it can chew, instead channeling its focus into the three most important elements of the film: epic stakes, hot-blooded battles, and sentimentality.

Story-wise, Promare's biggest strength lies in its characters, all of whom are likable and charismatic. The comparison between Galo and Gurren Lagann's Kamina was obvious from the day the character designs were first revealed, but Galo immediately plays a different role in this story. For one thing, he's younger and fresher-faced, and his relationships with the other main characters revolve around what he can learn from them rather than what they can learn from him. The chemistry between Galo and Lio stands out in particular, and I'm glad they didn't go with the typical red/blue contrast based on their designs, as both characters are very similar at heart.

The escalation of the story's conflict is also satisfying. Not only is the fate of the planet at stake, the emotional development of the characters is pivotal to the plot. This doesn't just apply to Galo, who is confronted with the truth of the world in the harshest way possible. Lio's raw anger at the world is palpable, especially considering the weight of responsibility on his shoulders, and Galo's childhood friend Aina also receives a moving subplot in her relationship with her distant yet caring older sister, who will go to any lengths to save her. Interestingly, there's never any question for Galo about whether the world can be saved. The biggest conflicts revolve around convincing other people that there is a way forward. Promare is a ridiculously feel-good movie; by the end of it, you'll probably be in the mood to take on the world.

Hiroyuki Sawano's soundtrack goes a long way toward making every key plot development stand out, as every battle seems to be accompanied by an epic insert song. It may be somewhat overkill, but anything less than pure theatrics would probably have made this plot seem ordinary. I was also impressed with the voice acting, especially with Ayane Sakura and Masato Sakai's work, who played Aina and Kray respectively. Ken'ichi Matsuyama, who is best-known for playing L in the live-action Death Note movies, initially lacks crucial confidence in his voice performance, but by the end of the film, he nails the tone for Galo.

Overall, Promare is a refinement of the Trigger formula to the point where I honestly believe it has outdone the classics that inspired it. Being only a casual fan of Gurren Lagann and its like, I wasn't expecting Promare to blow me away, but it did. Interestingly enough, the experience reminded me of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. Every single shot was busy and full of color, to the extent that it was occasionally too much, but overall it's simply delightful. If you've ever had any kind of fondness for Trigger works or Gainax classics like Gunbuster, you owe it to yourself to watch Promare.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : A
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : A

+ Takes everything appealing about the Trigger aesthetic and dials it up to eleven, excellent 3D work
Plot beats are predictable, visuals and music can be overkill, Galo's voice performance starts out shaky

Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
Script: Kazuki Nakashima
Music: Hiroyuki Sawano
Original Work: Kazuki Nakashima
Character Design: Shigeto Koyama
Art Director: Tomotaka Kubo
Mechanical design: Shigeto Koyama
3D Director: Shinpei Ishikawa

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Promare (movie)

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