Review: Promare (Blu-Ray)

Thirty years ago, half of the world was consumed by the Great World Blaze, a massive fire caused by the spontaneous manifestation of pyrokinetic abilities in a portion of the human population. Now known as the Burnish, those with the ability to wield fire find themselves the target of anti-Burnish sentiment, and tensions heighten further as a radical group called the Mad Burnish appear and start setting fires in the city of Promepolis. Galo Thymos, a passionate firefighter and rescue team member of Burning Rescue finds himself face to face with Mad Burnish leader Leo Fotia while rescuing citizens from a burning building. Their action-packed encounter leads to a series of events that result in the two uncovering secrets about the nature of the Burnish and even the fate of humanity itself.

Promare is Studio Trigger’s first feature-length film, and is directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, director of Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill. The film has the clean and sharp animation style and a bombastic sense of action I associate with productions from Trigger (particularly the recent BNA: Brand New Animal series), using a straightforward narrative as a framework from which to exhibit some cool concepts and stunning battles. As an original film, it is impressive how Promare is able to establish its world and characters so quickly. Galo and Lio are good protagonists with contrasting and clear personalities that carry the film well, and I found Promare‘s straightforward narrative and solid delivery of an original story and concept refreshing. There are definitely some hiccups in terms of how clearly the concept of the Burnish and their abilities is communicated and some stereotypical third-act wacky anime twists that aren’t to my personal taste, but overall Promare is precise in how it progresses its narrative, with a good balance of action, character, and reflective content to ensure the story feels complete and satisfying.

The concept of the Burnish in the film was intriguing but at times felt like it was handled clumsily. Promare reveals that the Burnish have an uncontrollable desire to create fire and burn things, which is framed as a sympathetic aspect of their tragic existence (although the film makes sure to have Lio state that the Mad Burnish do not want to hurt people and pride themselves on “always leaving an escape route” when they start fires – whatever that means). However, the Burnish shown in the film do not generally seem to struggle with this supposed desire and none of them are really shown to be interested in burning things outside of Lio and his Mad Burnish allies Gueira and Meis. Additionally, the film seems inconsistent on how it has its characters regard the Burnish. Galo and Burning Rescue seem sympathetic to the Burnish and easily differentiate between the Burnish as regular people and the radical Mad Burnish members. However, when Galo witnesses some tired and scared Burnish hiding in a cave, he still makes a cutting remark that questions their humanity. Perhaps this was Promare attempting to show a hypocrisy in Galo’s treatment of the Burnish and how caring for others is easier in theory than in practice, but it didn’t feel that way and just came across as another example of clumsy handling of the Burnish, and by extension, themes of oppression.

I won’t comment too much on the themes regarding the oppression of the Burnish because after watching the film it appears that Promare doesn’t put too much thought into it either. I get the impression that viewers are meant to be sympathetic to their plight, but there is very little exploration of this plight because it’s not the focus – which becomes particularly apparent based on how the “issue” of the Burnish is addressed at the end of film. If you want an animated film that intertwines the oppression of a people more complexly into its narrative, you would be better off with something like Maquia: when the Promised Flower Blooms. That being said, I will acknowledge that Promare is a film focused on displaying its technical prowess in colouring and animation first and foremost and really does not take itself too seriously, poking fun at itself and its various deus ex machina elements multiple times throughout its runtime. Once it becomes clear that this is the kind of film Promare is, and that the Burnish’s part in the narrative is mostly conceptual and plot-driven to lend itself to some neat story twists and cool looking fight sequences, it becomes easier to enjoy the film.

Promare‘s visuals are eclectic and chaotic, with each action sequence jam-packed with such speed and intensity that at times it feels like even the camera struggles to keep up. Paired with the film’s high-energy soundtrack, this makes Promare feel like a lavish, big budget AMV at times, with its visuals and music working in tandem to create visual splendour on par with a firework show. The colouring of the film is also excellent, with warm, cool and contrasting colours used in such a way that make each shot of Promare feel really distinct and memorable. This styling serves the film equally well in both its mech fights and emotional character beats, lending an explosive element to already impressive action animation and emphasis to more emotional moments through the use of stark colour contrast.

What was particularly impressive about the style of the film was that it kept things visually interesting throughout multiple action sequences and even character moments by using a variety of camera angles and shots to keep things feeling new and engaging from beginning to end. One of my favourite shots was of Galo and fellow Burning Rescue member Aina skating on a frozen pond, with the camera positioned under the ice as the two skated above it. There are a lot of shots like this in Promare that are memorable and impactful, including amazing panning shots that circle around characters during fights, contributing to the chaotic and action-packed vibe of the film. It has been a while since an animated film has surprised and impressed me on a technical level, and Promare is a master of the technical aspects of animation, using colours and camera angles in a way that is visually exceptional, exciting, and fresh.

Promare is an impressive first feature-length film from Studio Trigger with a solid story and concept that excels by giving the Trigger animators room to flex their impressive skills. While  the concept of the Burnish can sometimes be confusing and handled clumsily, it is hard to resist the film’s seemingly boundless energy and passion, which compels you to just sit back and enjoy Promare for the spectacle that it is. This is one for all fans of animation to check out.

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A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.