By Dennis Fitzsimmons
Well, this is going to be awkward.
I have a complicated opinion on the work of Director Hiroyuki Imaishi, and his studio, Trigger. On one hand, Imaishi’s frantic and energetic style is fun to watch, with unique and kinetic action direction. The shows are always top-notch in world building, featuring characters well designed in both personality and aesthetic, with interesting worlds for these characters to inhabit. It’s just a shame about the story. Well, there goes my summary of Promare, but stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this.
Yeah, this poster is a lie. If this was the actual movie, it’d probably get a recommendation.
It’s not that their concepts fall apart, it’s the execution, and they seem to lack confidence in their characters and ideas. It began in Gurren Lagaan, with killing off Kamina, a move that I interpreted as “We fired off a long-time staff member and the show’s falling apart, maybe a shock death with stabilize everything!” Joke’s on the viewer if you still watched it after then. This continued with Kill la Kill, and it’s abandonment of its core conflict for a villain who came out of nowhere. This screamed “Buildup? What’s that? Let’s pull a villain out of our ass and make that the finale!” Finally, it ended with Darling in the “Ballpark” Franxx, an ecchi series disguised as a mech series, which then proceeded to rip off Evangelion without any of the redeeming elements of that series.
So did Promare buck the trend, or is this irreversible and cut our losses? But we need our plot summary first.
It’s the near future, and Earth has recovered from a deadly event that involved mutants, dubbed “Burnish”, who have the power to control and create fire. So far, so good. In the megacity of Promepolis, the local fire department has been weaponized into a task force, and they’ve gained a recruit: Galo Thymos. Thymos is a big doofus, with equally ridiculous hair, and blazing stupidity not seen since Kamina. Like Kamina, however, he is not punished for his stupidity. Through the first 15-20 minutes the film is a metric ton of fun, the action is bright and colorful, with a kinetic punch of animation which is surprisingly effective. After the setting has been established we meet a terrorist group of Burnish, called the “Mad Burnish”, and they are set up as the primary villains. Their leader is named Lio Fotia (and the movie tells you they’re a guy but they’re clearly a girl), a calm and apathetic opposite to Galo’s idiocy.
Why is one of our protagonists wearing the same cravat as Sasahara from Nichijou? Is she also a farmer who believes herself to be an aristocrat?
Again, knowing what I know about Trigger, I expected the film to go south. It didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, expecting this outcome didn’t mean goodwill either. Once we hit the middle of the film it replies on long exposition dumps instead of fun, silly action. And we get to enjoy a three-sided conflict where we don’t care about any side! Nakashima, do you need to go back to film school? Let me back up again.
The three-sided conflict starts with the fire department itself, set up as our heroes, it’s a collection of odd personalities led by a commander with a chevron mustache. The second side are the Mad Burnish, terrorists who claim they don’t kill people…when three scenes earlier they were killing guards during their prison escape. Hypocrisy, much? The third side is the mayor, Kray, and his plan to leave Earth for a planet four lightyears away. It turns out that Earth is a volcanic death spot. He doesn’t bother to tell people about this, although this (and other spoilers) are vital information. This could have worked as a plot if it was written with the slightest bit of intelligence.
In 4D, you can now truly experience how disappointing and badly written the story truly is.
The problem is that all three sides is that they all are, at times, insanely unlikeable. The oddball fire department and Galo are the nicest group of them all, but they’re being tied up by bureaucracy and being held up by the mayor. Instead of being proactive protagonists, they’re stuck waiting for something to happen. It’s shockingly annoying. In addition, for a large amount of time the rest of the fire department assume “Oh, Galo did something wrong, so we can’t rescue him and be the heroes this film needs”, and you can’t root for them because this makes them seem like they don’t care about a fellow member.
The one exception is a member of the department named Aina. She cares for Galo, and for her sister who works for Kray, and she’s the only one who takes action to move the story along.
Rounding it out, we don’t like the Mad Burnish because they’re terrorists who burn swaths of the city, and while we initially sympathize with Kray’s situation, he becomes a Saturday morning supervillain and his relatability flies out the window.
So, if I’m torching this story like a piece of kindling, why do I feel so hesitant to call this a bad film? It goes back to Trigger’s strengths, their visual style and core setup. Their works have always been some of the best eye-candy in the business. They eschew in-between animation, and it’s a style that’s distinctly theirs. Characters jump from extreme pose to extreme pose in a way that’s so frantic you don’t realize what’s missing. On top of this very fun stylization, you have the world and characters that are shockingly fleshed out. My example of this is a scene where the firehouse gang visit a pizzeria that looks like it could be out of New York, with a nice insert shot of the pizza maker heating the pie while the owner sings his praises. It’s a nice moment that makes later scenes more tragic, and shows that if Promare ever did balance out its fun action with a more unique and touching story it would get an enthusiastic recommendation. Alas, it was not meant to be.
Some other stray thoughts. Some of the music reminded me of other tunes. One song reminded me of “Nineteen Hundred & Eighty-Five”, another reminds me of “In a Big Country.” During the first part of the movie we meet a character named Vulcan who wasn’t killed off in the end, and this made me very sad. He deserved to be killed by the chief.
Still, it’s not a complete wash-out, I love this character’s Devilman hair.
Promare is a mixed bag. It’s a stylistic romp with visual style leaking out, but it’s overbalanced by failures at plot. My advice to Studio Trigger would be to get themselves a great writer, since it’s clear that Nakashima isn’t getting the job done. Or, if you can’t do that, get yourselves a worse writer so I’ll just be pissed off.
- -Great visual aesthetic, and a unique world.
- -Imiashi’s action direction is still a joy to behold.
- -The story concept is unique and original.
- -The plot is terrible.
- -The writing occasionally makes the main character unlikable.
- -The over reliance of exposition dumps reeks of bad writing.
It’s not a recommendation, but I am glad I saw it.