“Euphoric.” After leaving the theatre having just watched Studio Trigger’s first feature-length film, that’s the word that remains at the fore of my mind: euphoric. Promare is director Hiroyuki Imaishi at his most jubilant, composer Hiroyuki Sawano at his most brilliant, and Trigger at their most “Trigger” and, perhaps most surprisingly, their most intricate. Promare is a euphoric, immensely rewarding experience that, through its careful melding of visual splendour, aural wonder, and culturally pertinent storytelling, stands not just as an outstanding film, but a testament to passion in all its fiery forms.
Okay, let’s get the background out of the way first. Promare takes place on an alternate version of Earth where, thirty years ago, random individuals started mutating into “Burnish,” humans who can manifest and control flames. Flash-forward to current-day and Burnish are largely labelled as either terrorists or second-class citizens. The film’s protagonist is Galo Thymos, a Kamina-reminiscent self-proclaimed, but passionate, “idiot” and a member of Burning Rescue, a crew tasked with stopping Burnish attacks and saving bystanders. Lio Fotia, Promare’s deuteragonist, is the leader of Mad Burnish, a terrorist group with hidden motives. The film explores the fallout of Galo and Lio’s fiery first meeting.
Promare handles Garo and Lio’s characters extremely well, slowly but surely revealing their layers through a combination of show-don’t-tell storytelling and classic tell-don’t-show Trigger-telling. Lio, in particular, is incredibly rich in how the film explores both his gentleness in wanting the best for the Burnish and his frequently uncontrollable rage. He carries much of the film through how he elicits sympathy from the viewer right from the first time you see his face – at no point is he ever a complete villain. Both he and Galo grow throughout the film not despite one another, but through each other, feeding into the film’s primary themes.
And it is those themes that set Promare apart from Trigger’s other works. Where Kill La Kill offered an entrancing view of how clothing both constraints and frees us and Little Witch Academia balanced meeting one’s hero and becoming your own hero, Promare, despite its sub-two-hour runtime, manages to feel more holistic and well-realized in its exploration of both discrimination and climate change. I largely attribute this to the careful and deliberate melding of those aforementioned themes, primarily through the Burnish.
The Burnish largely stand as an extended allegory for those who have been discriminated against by the ruling elite, labelling them as terrorists or threats to the established order of society. However, they also come to stand as a symbol for climate change and the Earth itself fighting against the human-wrought accelerated destruction and heating of the planet. It is, perhaps more than at any other time in our history, a coalescing of two socio-culturally pertinent issues that astounded me with the care the film exhibits it. Even the film’s main villain, clearly a barely concealed allusion to the blind and hypocritical ruling elite and political powers too narrow-minded to see the irreversible harm they’re causing, are given due treatment and resist being purely unforgivable. The film veers towards being too on-the-nose at times, but when your primary themes are as immediate as these, it works.
I want to return to the film’s themes and messages near the end of this review, but let’s move on to what Trigger is known for: visuals. I can confidently say that Promare is their most visually stunning, technically brilliant, and elaborate work to date. Every single frame bursts with life and love for the medium of which it is a part. Colours are vibrant, the character designs are inviting and appealing, and movement is fluid and always visually engaging. Rarely, if at all, is there a sub-par frame or off-model character – everything feels and looks deliberate and stylized.
Of particular note is Promare’s extended use of CGI: it rivals Land of the Lustrous as the best in anime. Promare saves its CGI for the film’s extended action and fight sequences and, where other anime use CGI as a cost-saving maneuver, Trigger displays a confident understanding of the possibilities of CGI. Chief among those is the use of the long take, a filmic technique rarely seen in anime due to the extremely technical difficulty in maintaining shot and art consistency. CGI largely eliminates that difficulty – or at least Trigger makes it look easy – resulting in action scenes where the camera swings, dips, rises, and falls but rarely cuts away from the action. These scenes feel more involved, complex, and entirely more engaging as a result and were easily another highlight for me. The film’s 2D action scenes also pop with typical Trigger flair, so worry not anime traditionalists, there’s plenty of that to go around too.
Accompanying the film’s outstanding visuals is Hiroyuki Sawano’s flawless soundtrack. Every note and every crescendo are perfectly timed with the visuals, contributing to the film’s holistic feel. The near-constant smile on my face was largely a result of the music flooding me with joy and awe. This is Sawano at his most confident and triumphant, letting loose with a score that makes Promare the spectacle it is. Also, since we’re discussing audio, I watched the film dubbed and the entire cast was stellar with Billy Kametz, Johnny Yong Bosch, and Crispin Freeman all offering standout performances.
Before I continue, I have to mention where Promare falls short. Galo and Lio, as I mentioned earlier, are well-realized characters, as is Kray Foresight, Governor of Promaropolis, but the rest of the film’s large cast of characters are barely rendered as more than one-dimensional. Aina Ardebit and her sister Heris are in desperate need of more screentime, as is the rest of the Burning Rescue crew. The film moves at a breakneck pace that I largely enjoyed, but it is the sacrifice of the secondary cast’s depth that makes me think the film could’ve used a longer runtime or reworking of some scenes to better flesh out those characters. An exposition dump near the film’s final climax also stands out as in need of trimming, but it also serves to recontextualize its major themes.
Speaking of, it’s time to return to those themes. And here is where I plan on getting into general spoiler territory, so skip to the next paragraph if you wish to avoid spoilers! Promare resonated with me through how it feels in dialogue with itself. The Burnish are an allegory for those affected by racism and discrimination! Wait, no, they’re a symbol of the Earth fighting back against its destructors! Hold on, now they’re an allegory for who those in power step on to get to the top and achieve their goals? It sounds messy, and maybe it is, but dammit does it ever work. All these elements coalesce into a film concerned with both raising issues and then working to resolve them. Promare reminds us that dialogue is important for progress, and it ironically does so through Galo and his punch first, think second nature. Climate change? Punch it in the face! A dictator-like leader bent on saving his image by citing fake news? Punch him in the face! – but save him, too. And, most importantly, we must be in dialogue with the Earth. It speaks to us, in the film through the Promare and the Burnish and in real life through nature and the natural world. It breathes and lives and it is our responsibility to live alongside it, not above it.
Fire is a symbol of passion; Promare takes that core idea and builds itself around it. It burns with the passion of Trigger and Sawano and Imaishi all at their very best. It sparks with visuals that attest to the inherent life within the animetic frame and how it reflects our own life. It ignites us through a score that brings out our innate jubilance. After the Kyoto Animation fire, maybe this film is what we need: a recontextualization of fire as life-giving, regenerative, hopeful. Fire is characterized by movement and, as said in a roundtable discussion of Sawano, Imaishi, and two more of Promare’s staff following the film, the “pleasure of movement makes you cry.” That pleasure is passion, that passion is Promare, and it is euphoric.
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