Studio Trigger burst onto the anime scene in 2013 with Kill la Kill, an original series well-received by both fans and critics for its creative subversion of genre tropes, lovable characters, well-composed soundtrack, and gorgeously animated over-the-top battles. Trigger has not quite managed to capture that same type of magic since then, but the studio's theatrical debut, Promare, comes close. Though it suffers from some pacing issues from prolonged world-building in Act 1, Promare finishes strong with a well-structured story, creative humor, gorgeous animation, and wonderfully powerful gay energy.
Promare's story begins 30 years after the emergence of a mutation that causes random people of all ages from around the world to suddenly manifest pyrokinetic abilities. In the modern day, these people are called the Burnish, and they are ostracized and discriminated against by the rest of the non-mutant population. Most of the populace wrongly believe that every Burnish belongs to a terrorist organization called Mad Burnish, a group responsible for several aggressive actions in metropolitan areas. Two groups are formed to combat the fire-wielding mutants: the militaristic Freeze Force that arrest Mad Burnish members and take them away to a secret prison, and the firefighting Burning Rescue team that respond to Burnish-created disasters and save civilians. Promare follows Galo Thymos, the newest member of Burning Rescue, who's first major assignment puts him into direct conflict with Mad Burnish's leader, Lio Fotia.
Ultimately, Promare doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to its story. It's a tale that's been seen countless times before--mutants, aliens, or animals are used as a stand-in for a group that faces racial prejudice, sexism, or some other form of discrimination. The movie establishes early on that not all Burnish are terrorists, but the news and police exploit the underlying feelings of hatred and fear among the populace so that the government can lock up any discovered Burnish without encountering resistance. This part of the world-building is done well, with an early scene in a pizza shop perfectly encapsulating the type of world Galo lives in.
Promare loses itself in the nitty-gritty of the fantastical lore of the Burnish and their creation, though. There are too many scenes at the start of the movie where one character reminds another of what they both already know in order for the audience to get caught up. The inclusion of this near-nonstop blatant exposition in Act 1 is especially puzzling as much of it can be inferred in other scenes. Having a scene devoted to explaining the creation of Burning Rescue and its role in combating the Burnish, for example, isn't necessary when the movie opens on a scene of the team fighting a fire and rescuing civilians. We see what they do; we don't need to be told.
Inversely, not enough is done to flesh out Galo's fellow Burning Rescue members. Save for their shared agreement that discriminating against the Burnish is bad, few get much characterization beyond receiving names. They have cool character designs and each seems to have a pretty fun personality, but their respective motivations aren't explored. Many of the villains suffer a similar fate, with only a few getting minor last-minute development. Given Studio Trigger's incredible track record of fleshing out major side characters and antagonists (just look at Kill la Kill's Honnouji Academy Elite Four or SSSS.Gridman's Akane), it's unfortunate Promare has such a weak cast outside of Galo and Lio. The movie does try to do something with its female lead, Aina, but her arc ultimately just ends up contradicting itself. After expressing a wish to be seen by others as more than just the younger sister to a brilliant scientist, Aina's only true contribution to Promare's plot is being the heroes' connection to her older sibling. Despite Galo's insistence in Act 1 that "You're you, Aina," the rest of the movie proves that just isn't the case. Aina is a means to an end to move the story along.
Promare's strength lies in the evolving dynamic between Galo and Lio, whose opposing life histories and motivations put them at odds with each other the second they meet. As opposed to a single meeting where one comes out on top and imparts a singular vision of wisdom in how the loser should live their life (which would be typical for the genre), Promare sees Galo and Lio encounter each other several times over the course of the movie's runtime. Prior to each meeting, both men are presented with some form of evidence that challenges their worldview and forces them to adjust their priorities in life and moral code. The movie's plot doesn't demand one transform into a completely different person or even agree on a shared philosophy. Instead, both Galo and Lio share a respect for the other person's point of view, and this respect culminates into far more by the film's end. Neither one outright admits romantic feelings for the other, but their decision to embrace and accept each other--both physically and in regards to their differing moral code--is inarguably and delightfully queer. It's an incredibly fulfilling connection to see develop.
If nothing else, Promare is proof that Studio Trigger can make good anime movies, not just series.
Studio Trigger's sense of style can be felt throughout Promare. Characters move about with the same comedic exaggeration of Kill la Kill, and though the movie utilizes similar mech designs and weapons from Darling in the Franxx and SSSS.Gridman, the ever-escalating, explosively-charged battles and fight choreography are all unashamedly similar to Kill la Kill. In battle, characters shout out the names of each action beforehand, and the fight momentarily freezes so the announcement can also be written out in giant block letters to enunciate just how epic the next attack or transformation is about to be. And, as is Trigger's way, a few of these names are either a funny pun or reference to some aspect of Japanese culture or storytelling trope. Some are hit-or-miss, but a few are absolutely hilarious.
Promare does do a bit more with its style though, seamlessly blending together traditional 2D animation and 3D CG to pull off movements and attacks that are more extravagant than Studio Trigger has been able to achieve before. As a result, fights are massive spectacles with both sides striving for larger displays of strength. Each person visually grows stronger as battles continue and the attack names get longer and incorporate larger, flashier animations. Promare is gorgeous, with every battle better than the last--both in terms of the stakes and the excellent blend of different animation styles. The final battle in particular is epic to watch unfold, with several jokes sprinkled throughout the fight to break up the action into digestible chunks.
Most of Promare's humor comes through Galo, as his hotheaded stubbornness and gung-ho attitude cause him to speak or act up before thinking things through. He's lovingly called an idiot by his friends and constantly getting into some sort of misadventure or another. The jokes keep Promare feeling lively from start to finish, even when the story delves into more morbid territory. Promare is clearly meant to be a good time, and it succeeds largely because its plot never takes itself too seriously.
All of Promare is amplified through its musical soundtrack, which was created by Kill la Kill composer Hiroyuki Sawano. Somber melodies in the moments before a battle flame into explosive percussion as the fight begins, eventually crescendoing at the final blow. It's some of Sawano's best work, as each track reverberates with a controlled ferocity that matches the action of the movie's conflict.
Promare's plot does stumble, most notably when it comes to how it builds its world and fleshes out the main cast, but it takes enough cues from what made Kill la Kill such a hit to then go out and tell its own take on why discrimination is bad and why everyone should learn to love their fellow person. Galo's origin story of becoming a firefighting superhero is framed with over-the-top action pieces, comedy, and well-timed pieces of music, and though he delivers an incredible finishing blow in the epic final battle, it's his evolving rivalry with Lio that gives the movie its satisfying ending. If nothing else, Promare is proof that Studio Trigger can make good anime movies too, not just series.
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