Apparently there’s nothing an audience loves more than a sexy firefighter. And Studio TRIGGER, best known for lovable hot mess Kill la Kill, recently answered that yearning with PROMARE, which has exploded past all expectations to become the highest-grossing anime film of 2019. It’s also easily TRIGGER’s most accessible work outside of the kid-friendly Little Witch Academia, with their gorgeous animation work on full display and relatively little exploitation of the film’s female cast.
PROMARE takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth, after a strange event caused part of the population to gain flame-manipulation powers and the ensuing chaos caused society to crumble. In the wake of reconstruction, the “Burnish” are considered second-class citizens, and firefighters are specially trained to take them down. The meeting of two of these opposing forces, so-called terrorist leader Lio Fotia and firefighting hotshot Galo Thymos, winds up pulling them both into a deeper conspiracy.
The film is absolutely breathtaking on a big screen, awash in bright ‘80s pinks and purples and shifting geometric patterns that experiment with unlined art and beautiful fluid CG. It’s worth the cost of admission as spectacle alone, mixing its unique palette with some familiar TRIGGER character designs and trademark stylistic techniques. Those seeing it subtitled are also in for a unique experience, as the actors playing the three leads are predominantly known as live-action performers.
The plot itself is… well, in some ways it matters less what it is and more how it feels. Like most metaphorical narratives about oppressed underclasses who actually are potentially dangerous (e.g. X-MEN), the story about the Burnish gets a bit muddled while also borrowing some seriously loaded imagery: the Burnish turn to ash when they die, they’re rounded up into camps, and Lio in particular is tied visually to the pink triangle. Meanwhile, things trend in a climate change-relevant direction while PROMARE also piles on half a dozen extra layers of different sci-fi tropes.
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Like Kill la Kill, a show that wanted to talk about fashion as a dehumanizing, stratifying force while failing to meaningfully explore the fact that the fashion industry is largely controlled by men or the history of fashion as a tool of rebellion, PROMARE has its heart in the right place and has never, ever heard of writing a second draft.
But it’s very easy to forgive it, between its beautiful action, likable characters, emotional earnestness, and the fact that it’s extremely gay. There is the usual TRIGGER problem that a big, climactic intimate moment has just enough in-narrative justification that a really dedicated asshole could call it completely and totally platonic. But to do so, one would have to disregard the fact that Lio and Galo’s relationship is the core of PROMARE, and the heart that appears in the background of the scene, and all that pink triangle imagery. There’s a reason you’ve been seeing all that fanart on Twitter.
If you happened to miss the first round of screenings, PROMARE will be returning to theaters at the beginning of December. It’s well worth actually venturing out to see in the big, lavish way it deserves.