PROMARE (2019)

Recently my fiancee and I ventured to the Gateshead Odeon to see a one night only screening that I was pretty excited about.

Anime at the cinema in the UK is a lot more commonplace these days thanks to the efforts of Glasgow based company Anime Limited and Promare is just the latest in a long line of titles they’ve acquired for cinema distribution in recent years. Prior to their emergence on the scene you could pretty much guarantee that if it wasn’t something like Ghibli or a franchise with mainstream appeal like Dragon Ball that you had little chance of seeing it on a big screen (except maybe within a convention).

Okay so I know I said this review would drop shortly after seeing the movie in late November but unfortunately life had other ideas.

Studio Trigger are kind of a big deal among many modern anime fans. I think it’s fair to say they’re a bit of a “love em or hate em” studio but whatever your opinion is on them you can’t deny they have a style all of their own and a lot of imagination. Director Hiroyuki Imaishi and screenwriter Kazuki Nakashima worked on two big modern favourites of mine Gurren Lagann and Kill La Kill and they’re a big part of why I really wanted to see the movie.

Promare is the first feature film to come out of the studio. Does it live up to the hype? Read on to find out.

The credit sequence tells us of how one day without warning humans began mutating into flame wielding mutants later nicknamed “Burnish”. The fire powers of these beings raged out of control, killing large numbers of the population. Eventually things got so bad that a global catastrophe occurred known as “the great world blaze” in which many of the world’s cities were destroyed.

The rest of the film takes place 30 years after the great world blaze in a shining city called PromePolis. Humanity has rebuilt and Burnish threats are kept under control by a team of firefighting heroes known as “Burning rescue”.  In a spectacular action setpiece right after the credits, main character and rookie Burning Rescue member Galos Thymos dons a mechanised suit to take on members of a terrorist group called “Mad Burnish” that includes their leader Lio Fotia.

Promare Galos
Galos Thymos: the “Burning Soul” of Promare.

Galos defeats Lio and his henchmen with the help of his fellow team members and the Burnish trio are hauled off to jail.

However Lio doesn’t stay captured long. After being incarcerated with his fellow Mad Burnish members the group executes a daring jailbreak. Galos manages to track them down to a frozen lake where he learns a shocking secret that changes everything.

Promare is just under two hours long yet it’s a film that has a breakneck pace that rarely slows down. Its amazing that a film with so many characters does a decent job of giving screentime and characterisation to almost all of them.  The film really delivers on the trailers promise of bombastic over the top action sequences and the whole thing from beginning to end oozes style. Some people may have issues with its balance of action and more quiet scenes of exposition and character dialogue but I think there’s just enough of the latter to stop some of the more relentless action scenes becoming a little numbing and to keep you invested in the characters and their story.

Lio Fotia
Lio Fotia: Promare’s second antagonist and the real “heart” of the movie. I’m sure his androdgynous looks and rock star style will have no shortage of admirers.

The film just about gets away with its pacing. Some parts where the visuals speak for themselves and the animation goes into overdrive can feel a little self indulgent but are impressive regardless. Some people may find the last forty minutes or so a bit much with its constant stream of big revelations and even bigger stakes action but as crazy as the story gets in the last reel its done with a great deal of imagination and fun and it never takes itself too seriously.

Then there’s the characters.  Galos is a bit of an archetype: the impulsive not too bright hero with no shortage of enthusiasm and determination you’ve no doubt seen in more than one popular shonen story. He’s a lot of fun though, providing many genuinely funny moments and is used well as a good foil to the much more serious, coolheaded and intelligent Lio. (Minor Spoiler follows) I like the way their relationship evolves throughout the story. If you’ve seen the trailers or read much about the movie you probably know they don’t stay enemies forever but the way the movie gets there is well plotted, funny and even a little touching.

As mentioned previously the cast is huge but listing every character here and their function in the movie would do the film a bit of a disservice. It’s probably better to go in knowing very little as a lot of the fun and diversity comes from the film’s large cast of characters. I wish Gueria and Meis, two of Lio’s henchmen/friends had gotten more screen time as they seemed pretty cool. I’ve talked a lot about male characters but special mention should go to the sisters Ana and Heris Ardebit; two very different characters who have an interesting relationship and role in the film and give the story a different kind of emotional weight that nicely contrasts with the rest of the story’s focus.

Some of the use of CG for backgrounds against more traditionally animated characters can stand out a little bit, however I’d still say that it’s a visually spectacular film. My biggest complaint about its style is that the buildings and backgrounds sometimes lack detail. This is particularly noticeable in the first big action setpiece where a lot of the buildings look remarkably plain and it’s kind of weird considering the massive attention to detail literally everywhere else.

Overall I really enjoyed Promare. There’s a lot to digest in it story-wise and I found myself spending much of the night after seeing it thinking about its elements in more depth than I would your average American blockbuster. A lot of it stayed with me and to me that’s the sign of a pretty good film.

Whatever your thoughts on the movie I think most people would agree that seeing Promare on the big screen is an experience. It’s loud, colourful, relentless and quite unlike anything else. Here’s hoping Anime Limited announce a UK Blu Ray release for 2020 so I can experience its madness all over again at home.

Promare 4D re-release poster
Theatrical poster for the 4DX re-release in Japan (yes it was THAT successful within one year). Art for this poster was by director Hiroyuki Imaishi. Interestingly this re-release reportedly included 2 new additional animated prequel shorts. I hope any UK/US releases on home video include these in the future.

 

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