Japan (2019) Dir. Hiroyuki Imaishi
Global Warming is causing many problems for our planet at the moment, the main one being the rising temperatures. It is an issue that so far is only elemental and not likely to manifest itself in humans. Let’s hope it stays that way…
In a futuristic setting, the Earth has changed in the wake of a global calamity called the Great World Blaze – mass human spontaneous combustion caused fires that wiped out half the population. Some developed pyrokinetic abilities, now known as the Burnish and have become feared by the public. In the city of Promepolis, a terrorist liberation group Mad Burnish is causing havoc in protest of the government’s persecution of Burnish.
The local fire-fighting group Burning Rescue take on Mad Burnish, with headstrong rookie Galo Thymos able to defeat the group leader Lio Fotia, who is then arrested by Freeze Force, a police squad owned by city governor Kray Foresight. Lio escapes and frees the refugees in custody, again to be chased by Galo, but this time Lio reveals to Galo a terrible secret about how Kray treats the Burnish.
Approximately two months after Promare hit the cinemas in Japan, a TV anime with a similar premise, Fire Force debuted – people spontaneously combust and mutate into fire demons, fire fighters with the same powers combat them. But it is a “chicken and the egg” scenario as the Fire Force manga first appeared in 2015 whilst Promare had been in development since 2013.
You might ask “So what?” Well, comparisons made between the two will be inevitable and preferences will differ. I personally didn’t like Fire Force – now in its second season so what do I know – and after the high praise surrounding Promare, I was keen to see what it had to offer.
One crucial difference, aside from the medium they were released on, is that Promare is an anime original project from Studio Trigger, whose distinctive art style and quirky approach to their work means there is no chance of confusing Promare with Fire Force. It was written by Kazuki Nakashima and directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi of Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill fame, which is evident from the visuals the moment the film begins.
Following a brief prologue explaining the Great World Blaze, the first 20 minutes or so are dedicated to the almighty punch-up between Mad Burnish and Burning Rescue. The personnel of the latter are introduced individually, but no need to remember their names as only Galo and pilot Aina Ardebit feature in the remainder of the film; Aina’s relevance is that her older sister Heris is a scientist working for Kray.
Lio is also the only member of Mad Burnish to have any major presence during the film so he may as well be a one-man crusade – he is certainly powerful and capable enough to cause devastation alone. At first, the Burnish are made out to be a militant group with evil intent but when taken into custody, Lio reveals his actions are in protest against the mistreatment of the Burnish, for which he holds Kray personally responsible.
Deemed unimpeachable as a saviour of Promepolis and humanity itself, Kray is also a personal hero to Galo, who refuses to accept Lio’s slander about secret experiments on the Burnish, who are after all still human. Public opinion towards the Burnish is also unfavourable so even the brutish Freeze Force, who regularly butt heads with Burning Rescue over their aggressive handling of the Burnish, are treated with similar awe.
Naturally, Galo is appalled when he discovers Lio was telling the truth and Kray reveals his masterplan to him, which, if you’ve watched enough anime you’ve probably heard before – Earth is going to explode due to the rising magma in its core so Kray is building a starship to take a select few humans to another planet, using Burnish power to build a warp drive to get them there, and let the rest perish.
Unfortunately for me, the film fell apart at this point. The first half – manic action pieces aside – suggested a dissertation on climate change and institutionalised discrimination against minority groups. All the elements were there with Galo and friends standing up the Freeze Force as they bullied an innocent Burnish, but this was quickly dropped in favour of the clichéd “megalomaniac plans to save the world by destroying the world” plot instead.
Whether it was the sci-fi foundation of Kray’s maniacal scheme or Trigger’s trademark abstract presentation style that ultimately dictated the switch in story direction, I doubt many fans either noticed or cared since the epic bombast of the visuals is presumably the main appeal for them anyway. For those looking for character development, subtext, and emotional investment, this is the wrong choice of film for you.
If it is the esoteric eye-popping animation trigger are famed for that draws you to this film then prepare to have your retinas burned in glorious fashion. Like studios Ghibli, Shaft, and KyoAni, Trigger’s name is synonymous with a trademark look – lurid colours, geometric shapes in place of smooth lines, pop art aesthetics, and hastily sketched but outrageous character designs – all here in abundance.
At times this style can be overwhelming; the overpowering application of gaudy primary colours and sheer rush of the action set pieces is like a visual cacophony. It’s often hard to discern who is doing what during the battles since it is so frantic and never lets up, but you have to hand it to the animators for being able to follow it themselves and with such precision and consistency.
Maybe watching Promare on a hot day was not a smart idea but whilst it offers plenty of kinetic, OTT fun, the story lacks substance, and didn’t hit the highs I hoped it would. Visually inventive but feels more like a spin-off from a TV series than the big screen epic it wants to be.