Promare Blu-ray Review: Hyper Kinetic Superhero Firefighters

Studio Trigger's debut feature-length anime film is a high energy, colorful sci-fi confection.
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There's barely a still moment in Promare, a science fiction anime film about firefighters who not only put out blazes but fight down the human mutants that are causing them. The opening credits introduce the scenario: various people around the planet, in disparate stressful situations, suddenly develop the ability to channel fire, and use it to burn the people, places, and things that annoy them. A worldwide conflagration in imminent.

The problem is mostly suppressed, but these people, called the Burnish, are out there, and a special squad of firefighters have to be ready on a moment's notice to combat all the aspects of the blazes: the fires and the firestarters. The Burnish themselves have gone underground and some have been forming organized groups. One of these groups, Mad Burnish, is led by the fittingly Lion-haired Lio. They start the fire in the film’s opening, ecstatically energetic action scene. The firefighters, Burning Rescue, have at the vanguard their newest recruit, the brash and enthusiastic Galo Thymos.

Burning Rescue is a rag-tag set of misfits, who in strict comic-book characterization fashion have about one characteristic each: the engineer girl, the strong guy, the leader guy (who never really leads anything, since Galo is our main character) and the girl pilot whose main character point is that she has a sister who works for the bad guys.

Galo was nearly burned up in a Burnish fire as a kid, and though he was orphaned he was saved by Kray Foresight, the administrator of the city the story takes place in, Promepolis. Kray is Galo's hero, and Galo bases his philosophy of positive action and helping other on Kray's actions: Kray lost an arm rescuing Galo, so Galo is ready to sacrifice everything to fight the crazed Burnish arsonists.

Except not every Burnish is, in fact, a crazed arsonist. Many are people confronted with strange powers they don't understand and can barely control, and some are living peacefully, if covertly, with the regular citizens of the Promepolis. Burning Rescue fights to control their damaging fires, but a second group, the Freeze Force, led by the militaristic Vulcan, pelts the Burnish with freezing bullets and takes them prisoner and eventually into prison camps where, Galo eventually discovers, they are being experimented upon.

It's a fairly complicated story of factions with various shades of grey, but it is told in bright primary colors. Promare is a morality tale told mostly in enormous action scenes, with a camera that defies physics at every turn to move, dive and twirl amongst the various actors and vehicles in frenetic, wild action set-pieces.

How effective this highly stylistic approach is may depend on the viewer's taste for bright, flat colors and simple design - because that is Promare's style. Flat, mostly bright colors and minimal details on anything that isn't a main character or a machine. The closest cinematic equivalent I could come up with was, weirdly, the original Tron - except instead of mostly black with neon outlines, everything in Promare is made up of flat pastels. The Burnish fires are a shade of pink, instead of orange or red. When things explode they do so in basic polygons. It makes an odd contrast to the character designs which, while simple, are of a style that fits in with the basic anime template. Another visually unique aspect of the animation is the use of self-colored lines. The linework in most anime is black - in Promare, the outlines and detail lines are of the same color as the object, just shaded to create contrast.

It makes for an interesting visual experience: the wild kinetic camera work (and it’s clear, though this is a 2D anime film that many things, from the vehicle to the background were rendered with 3D computer graphics) flits about very simple, flatly colored designs. An interesting visual experience isn't always necessarily a satisfying one: Promare is decidedly cartoony. It's colorful, but the colors are flat mattes, and I found the overall look a little soft and, at times, somewhat monotonous.

As for the story, it's typical of this kind of anime science fiction story. The obvious bad guys turn out to have more nuance to them than is first suspected. People who seem to be heroes at first glance turn out to be villains. The characters mono-focused on their personal goals have to learn to see the larger picture and pull together for the collective, not selfishly focusing on themselves. Saying anything more would spoil some of the surprises of the plot, though those surprises won't be actually that surprising for anyone who has watched more than a few anime action films.

Promare is the first theatrical feature film created by Trigger studio, who before this were best known for the smaller scale but visually fun Kill la Kill and Little Witch Academia TV series. Promare continues the studio's tradition of hyper kinetic action and moves it to the larger scale of a theatrical production deftly. No one could call it boring, and despite its frenetic pace, the storytelling is clear enough that it never becomes a confusing mess. As a story, it's engaging without, to my taste, ever being so compelling that I was completely involved in the intricacies of the plot. To employ a cliché, Promare is a roller-coaster ride of a film: very exciting, occasionally disorienting, and ultimately a fun use of its runtime  but not something that will last much longer than the experience itself. It's fun. And then it's done.

Promare has been released on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital by GKIDS and Shout! Factory. Both the original Japanese language and an English dub are included on disc. Extras on disc include an interview with the director Hiroyuki Imaishi (3 mins), a pair of short films, "Side: Galo" and "Side:Lio" (10 mins each) which provide background to the Mad Burnish attack in the film’s opening action scene, Studio Trigger Roundtable (8 mins) where members of Studio Trigger discuss their visual style, Behind the Scenes with the English Cast (11 mins).

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