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Galo Thymos, the hero from Promare, strikes a pose against a jagged multicolored background GKids

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In Promare, Studio Trigger’s first feature anime, style is everything

Director Hiroyuki Imaishi has been building to this his entire career

Promare, the new anime action film from famed production company Studio Trigger, doesn’t waste time. A segment of the world’s population bursts into supernatural flame. The victims, dubbed The Burnish, join up after being persecuted and cause a small apocalypse by making volcanoes explode. The Great World Blaze ends, the world recovers, and only then does the opening credit sequence begin.

Similarly, the film introduces the central team of firefighter protagonists with tropey economy. The hot dad with a moustache and shiny sunglasses is the coach. The girl in a lab coat and goggles is the quirky techmaster. The big muscly guy is the big muscly guy. Galo Thymos, the brash, shirtless rookie — who looks suspiciously like Kamina from director Hiroyuki Imaishi’s previous series Gurren Lagann — is our hero. Each major character gets a splashy introduction card. In their bulky, modular robot suits, they fight back the terrorist branch of The Burnish on a burning skyscraper. And yet straightforward pomp of this first action scene ends with enough intrigue to show that “not is all as it seems.” Off we go!

As the first film from Studio Trigger, Promare is littered with motifs from previous productions. The image of a skull head with angular sunglasses, a Trigger calling card that has cropped up on Gurren Lagann, Space Patrol Luluco, and SSSS.Gridman, makes an appearance as the helmet of the The Burnish’s leader. A character pilots her plane in the same questionable pose that 02 takes in Darling in the FRANXX. Frames are omitted at times for a kinetic, cartoony look reminiscent of jokey scenes from Kill la Kill. And of course, there are plenty of big robots piloted by plucky heroes with big hearts.

The references to Trigger’s past make Promare an artistic statement of the company’s ethos, or, as the studio itself describes it, “the culmination of Mr. Imaishi and [Gurren Lagann writer] Mr. Nakashima.” The film is an elaboration on the shonen anime spirit with artistic verve and physical drama. More cryptically, a representative for Trigger says over email that the reason behind these common motifs “might become clear someday, at the moment when the story of PROMARE intersects.” There might have been a translation error there, but the feeling of symbolic unity comes through.

Unlike a series with a tighter budget, the film has plenty of room to show off. Promare builds on a CG technique mixing 2D and 3D animation experimented with in Panty and Stocking. But where that series was crude (in both humor and animation), Promare is polished. Character outlines blend into the background with ever-changing colors and the CG mechs become more complex and inventive. Even the lens flares are square, like giant pixels. This approach has its limits, though; the simpler the CG object, like a skyscraper or a fire truck, the more the geometric technique clashes with the cartoony style of the characters. 3D is often used in anime to great effect (see: SSSS.Gridman), but here a twinge of visual dissonance remains.

These technical quibbles can be brushed aside by the incredible way that the crew has animated The Burnish’s fire. Studio Trigger recognized that fire is classic “motif of animation expression” but is hard to animate in stylized 3D. Because The Burnish control unearthly fire, Trigger had some creative room to bring it to life. The fire is geometric, crackling, neon-colored, and ever-present in the action scenes. It’s a collage simultaneously flat and spacious, abstract and enthralling. Often the frame is so packed with Burnish fire travelling in all directions that one might wonder how the viewer can parse the action at all. The staging and cinematography orient the chaos.

Promare’s mechs clashes swords and send pastel polygons flying everywhere Image: Studio Trigger/GKIDS

I haven’t described much of Promare’s plot because I don’t need to; story is not this movie’s propellant. It builds in dramatic scale, cartoonishly so, but not in complexity. There’s a politically relevant subplot about the demonization of minority groups, but it’s more or less dropped once grand narrative developments are afoot. The movie survives on the series of stylistic raises that the viewer doesn’t have the gumption to call. Not that Promare is bluffing.

Galo Thymos repeatedly tells the characters around him, even at moments when the fate of the world could go either way, that his “burning soul” cannot fight without style. When time is precious, he stops the action to argue with others about the name of his robot, about what it looks like, about the story behind the weapon it holds. Every time, his allies get exasperated with his nonsense, and every time he gets what he wants. It is as if he’s writing a movie at every moment where he is the main character, and he wants it to be as majestic as possible. He’s Trigger itself, piercing the heavens with his ambition.

Promare is now open in Los Angeles and New York.

Max Genecov is a journalist living in Philadelphia. He is on Twitter @maxgenecov.


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