Anime has become a popular staple of pop culture here in the west – or at the least, it CERTAINLY isn’t nearly as obscure as it once was (I’m glad I don’t have to join a mailing list for a VHS tape or scrounge in the back corner of a Blockbuster). However, as prominent as Anime itself has become, Anime movies don’t always make it stateside with the same amount of fanfare and have retained a certain degree of novelty. Usually, one would have to either order a DVD or wait for a rare gem at your local con. As such, theatrical releases are always a treat. I’ve been able to see My Hero Academia: Two Heros and M*F*K*Z and recently got the pleasure of watching Promare.
Promare, an original animated film, is a joint effort between studios TRIGGER and XFLAG. It brings on board some familiar faces, with Hiroyuki Imaishi directing, Kazuki Nakashima writing, character designs by Shigeto Koyama, CG work by Sanzigen Studio and musical score by Hiroyuki Sawano. Hiroyuki Imaishi and Kazuki Nakashima have previously collaborated on other TRIGGER fan favorites Kill la Kill and Gurren Lagann. Hiroyuki Sawano’s catalog is rather large, spanning multiple television, video game and anime soundtracks – including composition work for Kill la Kill. Sanzigen is a animation studio specializing in 3D CGI and is part of the joint company Ultra Super Pictures with fellow studios Ordet, Liden Films and, you guessed it, TRIGGER. You’d have seen their work in Black Rock Shooter, Heavy Object, Bubuki Buranki and the such. The most readily recognizable aspect of this production would have to be the character designs, courtesy of one Shigeto Koyama. His designs can be found in a number of places, especially TRIGGER and GAINAX works – so Eureka Seven, the Evangelion reboots, Darling in the Franxx, Panty and Stock with Garterbelt, Diebuster and even a couple of more westerncentric works such as Baymax and Heroman, for starts.
But, moving on to the movie proper, Promare opens to a montage of interspersed, daily situations. A crowded subway car, a traffic jam on the Golden Gate Bridge, a case of domestic violence. It’s a messy mix of greyscale low fi footage, chunky distortion, thermal vision and triangles and squares. And as each situation continues, their focal characters become more angry, more demoralized, more desperate until it all combusts….literally. No, really, the people burst into flames, then just burst and envelope their surroundings. This happens all across the world, resulting in a great cataclysm. Anarchy reigns and humanity hits a low point. In the present day, it has been 30 years since the Great World Blaze (as it was called) and humanity has bounced back and is actually thriving. However, humans that can create fire haven’t disappeared either. Christened the “burnish”, Promare is the story of the conflict between Mad Burnish, a burnish gang, and Burning Rescue/Freeze Force, the two Promepolis forces devoted to combating burnish attacks.
Promare has a healthy cast of recurring characters, but there are essentially only three characters that you need to know about right now. They are Galo, Lio and Kray. Galo, the dead ringer for Kamina, is the lovably high-spirited new member of Burning Rescue. Considered an idiot, but he’s more earnestly straight forward than anything. Lio is the present leader of Mad Burnish. A stylish young man that tries to lead the Mad Burnish with a cool head. I’m totally not jealous of his threads. Kray is the much beloved and larger than life mayor of Promepolis. He’s been Galo’s hero since he saved him when he was younger.
Promare, like its predecessors, has a distinct visual style. It’s this mix of CGI and 2D animation. It works, surprisingly, but that’s because it uses two sister styles. Cel Shading (3D) and superflat (2D) are both built upon the use of flat tones to create a, well, flat effect. What you get is large chunks and swaths of flat, even color. The combination of omitting the edge filters sometimes used in combination with Cel Shading (and thus, few to no hard, black outlines) with the natural propensity of the 2D animation here to have large chunks of even color outlined with colored lines rather than staunch black lines allows the two to coexist without clashing. Our introduction to Promepolis starts out with panning shots of cel shaded 3D objects. I won’t lie – the initial effect was a little puzzling. But as more and more characters and 2D elements are put on the screen, it became stupendously easy to lose track of what was 2D and what was 3D. I wouldn’t be surprised if CGI was used to create the ice for the rest of the film, it’s just that the way they play with color makes it all flow.
Promare is at its best when it revels in spectacle, engaging in flashy fights and characters are clawing by on sheer force of will. The plot is crafted to be comfortable to follow, meaning it isn’t bogged down by unnecessary minutiae but that it also sacrifices technical complexity for emotional depth. At some point it stops making sense and it just starts to feel right. Promare launches into it’s third act and serves the audience all of the hype fanservice it can muster. Considering that, I would be sorely disappointed if we don’t see some figures of some of the characters and robots.
I don’t know when Promare will be back around or what kind of physical release it’ll get but its a colorful, energetic romp worth immersing yourself in if you get the chance.