On the surface, there isn’t much in the anime Promare — directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi and produced by Studio Trigger — that differentiates it from other genre films, with character designs clearly molded from previous company archetypes. Frankly, part of the joy of Promare, and what gives it such immediate re-watchability, is in the familiarity that comes with it. The sensory manipulation overwhelms audiences with an adrenaline-inducing score and vibrant, piercing visuals, creating the cinematic equivalent to a sugar rush and making it one of the best animated films in recent memory.
Promare focuses on two characters, Galo (Billy Kametz) and Lio (Johnny Yong Bosch), as they learn to work together in order to overcome a mutual enemy. Thirty years after the first appearance of the “Burnish” — a race of flame-wielding mutant beings who destroyed half the world with fire — the world is under relative peace. However, a new group of aggressive mutants appears, which reveals government betrayals as well the real truth about the Burnish, and how they’ve been persecuted since they first appeared.
Galo and Lio are the typical sun and moon archetypes, straight down to their names and appearance. Galo is a member of the Burning Rescue unit whose name plays on the gallantry of the character, a theme that continues throughout Promare. Lio, meanwhile, is shrouded in mystery — he wears a mask while battling Galo before it’s revealed that he’s the leader of a Burnish group trying to reclaim their agency. In Promare, dark and light forces come together to defeat a greater evil.
One of the most startling and immediate immersion tactics of Promare is how the animation captures movement, and how that translates to the unrelenting pace of the story. It’s a tactic that Studio Trigger has shown before, most specifically with Gurren Lagann, which is demonstrative of world-building excellence featuring a universe that quite literally never stops expanding, all the way up until the last episode. Promare continues the idea of world-building without ever sacrificing the character through a clear-eyed focus on the idea of how empathy and humanity create an ever-expansive world.
Bursting from the screen with its penchant for sunny yellows, cotton candy pinks and electrifying blues — all of which come together to form sequences of ice and fire that boldly encapsulate the tone of Promare and the two main characters differences — the orchestration of movement further exaggerates the epic scale of the film and the insurmountable pressure the protagonists face. With art direction from Tomotaka Kubo, the angularity contrasted with the fluidity of the filmmaking creates a whirlwind dissonance where viewers race to keep up with the animation while being struck by the peculiar and chromatic character and background designs.
The first big set-piece in Promare takes place atop a massive skyscraper, with Galo and his team of firefighter heroes working their way up, scaling the building in order to reach the most recent threat. In this first major sequence, audiences learn about the Burnish and Burning Rescue. Architectural structures are an enormous piece of Promare, which deals so heavily with the concept that certain ideals are out of reach for the outcast Burnish. By starting with the Burnish taking a defiant stance at the top, the film establishes the end goal for the characters while also indulging in the adrenaline rush that comes from such a fast-paced and kinetic fight sequence. From the camera to the Burning Rescue team suits, nothing ever stops moving. Even the quietest moments such as a conversation between two characters takes place as they skate on a sheet of ice that transforms colors with each slide.
The music by Hiroyuki Sawano complements the visuals in Promare, refusing any impulse for restraint and enabling the picture to be wildly bombastic. There’s inherent silliness from the start with a track such as “Inferno,” which is soaring and undoubtedly catchy in how it lingers like the best pop songs. There’s a musicality to Promare that suggests a score and art direction in tandem, most notably when Lio tries to exact revenge in the form of a dragon, or when the two protagonists take a stand together in the final showdown.
While certain themes of authority and prejudice are explored in Promare, the film doesn’t have much narrative depth. However, that’s fine and preferred in this case. There’s an unflinching optimism built into the film’s DNA, which creates something of a serotonin boost through its emotive, melodramatic score and dizzying visuals. Pure optimism is distilled into an anime about misunderstood individuals who have the willpower to make a lasting change in their community. Most importantly, Promare offers an electrifying amount of fun, and it’s perhaps one of the finest examples of escapist cinema during the COVID-19 era.
Allyson Johnson (@AllysonAJ) is the editor-in-chief at The Young Folks and a film critic for Cambridge Day. She’s a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, and her writing can also be found at The Playlist, RogerEbert.com, The Boston Globe and other outlets.