See also our review of this film when it was released in cinemas.
It is best to be clear right from the off. I’m a massive fan of the work by the partnership of Hiroyuki Imiaishi and Kazuki Nakashima. Gurren Lagann is my favourite anime ever, and Kill la Kill followed it up brilliantly. Like Kill la Kill, Promare will never match the over-the-top action displayed in Gurren Lagann because, well let’s face it, nothing can. However, it does show that the duo have been able to progress from TV into film without any noticeable problems, and while it has plenty of action, perhaps the artwork is what makes this film stand out more.
Promare takes place in a near-future world, 30 years after Earth fell victim to the “Great World Blaze” – cases of spontaneous combustion occurring across the globe. Half of the world’s population was killed, and many people developed the ability to control fire. They are known as the “Burnish”, a group of individuals that are now frequently the subject of prejudice.
Today, specialist squads have been formed to control these fires. In the city of Promepolis the main fire-fighters are a group called “Burning Rescue”, whose newest member is the brash Galo Thymos (Keinichi Matsuyama in Japanese, Billy Kametz in English). If you want to get an idea on Galo’s personality, imagine Gurren Lagann’s Kamina, but without the shades or cape. One day, he and the rest of Burning Rescue manage to put out a fire caused by a group called “Mad Burnish”, who are labelled as a terrorist group lead by the androgynous Lio Fotia (Taichi Saotome/Johnny Yong Bosch).
Lio and the rest of his gang are taken to jail by Promepolis’s militarist police force, Freeze Force, while Galo is declared a hero and even given a medal by the city’s founder and governor Kray Foresight (Masato Sakai/Crispin Freeman), who is also Galo’s hero as Kray saved him as a child, losing his arm in the progress. However, things turn sour when Burning Rescue have pizza to celebrate. While they are eating, Freeze Force come in and arrest one of the cooks for being a Burnish, as well as arresting his boss for housing him. Galo leaves the town and travels to a silent spot by a frozen lake to think things over. At the same time, Lio and his gang escape from the jail, taking some fellow Burnish prisoners along with them. They hide in a cave near the frozen lake and Galo thus spots them. Galo enters the cave to see what is going on but he is quickly knocked out by the Burnish. When he comes around, all tied up, he sees Lio helping his fellow Burnish. Lio also claims that Kray is experimenting on the Burnish for some evil scheme. This leads to Galo confronting Kray about the issue, resulting in some uncomfortable truths about the fate of Earth, which Galo vows to stop without harming the Burnish.
As mentioned, the two things that will make Promare stand out are the action and the animation. Anyone used to Imaishi and Nakashima’s work will know that when they write anything, the main concern appears to be: “How can we make this more over-the-top?” When a film starts with the entire Earth on fire, is hard to see where things can go from there, but things do. It’s slightly reminiscent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in that respect, which starts with the entire Earth being demolished, and the comedy escalating from there. With Promare the action escalates as the fate of the world is in the hands of both Galo and Lio. This ultimately leads to a battle involving mecha, very reminiscent of Gurren Lagann and their joint-pilot crews.
The animation is also a big draw. The artwork is very geometric. For example, dazzling rays of sunshine are shown as squares. The use of colour is also an important one. The fire produced by the Burnish is not red or orange, but neon yellow and pink. As explained in a guide book that comes with the Collector’s Edition extras, rather than using lower-saturation colours for shading, they change the hue and value of the colours, making reds look purple. These flames were created using low-polygon computer graphics and angular polygons. All of these techniques make Promare look like no anime I’ve seen before.
The art also makes some interesting cultural references. Although Galo is almost entirely topless, he does have a strap across his chest. This in the shape of the katakana that is the “me” in “megumi”, a group of fire-fighters in Japan’s Edo period. Galo’s tools also reference the “matoi”, flags used by the megumi.
As well as action and animation, another thing that deserves a mention is the soundtrack, which is released as a CD in the Collector’s Edition. Hiroyuki Sawano’s music perfectly sets the tone of every moment. At the top of all this is the album’s opening track, and the main theme to the film: “Inferno”, performed by Benjamin Anderson and mpi. It is a brilliant, upbeat track. Not on the album, but also worthy of mention are two themes performed by Superfly: “Kakusei” and “Kori ni Tojikomete”, both of which were released as part of Superfly’s single “Ambitious” and are available to download.
Regarding the cast, Kenichi Matsuyama is not that well known for work in anime, but he may be familiar to AUKN readers for his role as L in the live-action versions of Death Note. He carries off the character of Galo well, whereas Bill Kametz felt to me rather irksome, but that’s my personal preference. I’d personally go for the Japanese dub, but it is worth crediting the English dub for its more PC casting, with black actor John Eric Bentley playing the black muscle man of Burning Rescue, Varys Truss. As well as English subtitles, there are also French and Spanish subtitles too.
As for the rest of the collection, on the Blu-ray disc there are trailers, a brief interview with Imaishi, a round table discussion about the film with the key staff of Studio Trigger, behind the scenes interviews with the English dub cast, and two previously unreleased short films that act as prequels to the main story – one focusing on Galo, the other on Lio. The rest of the collection comprises the soundtrack CD, a 52-page booklet that includes interviews, promotional artwork and profiles of the characters and machines in the film, a 128-page book containing the final draft version of the script in English, which shows differences between the script and the finished film, a sticker, and a large poster.
I am trying to think of a reason not to give this film 10 out of 10, and all I can think of is: “It’s not Gurren Lagann, and nothing can top that.” But that’s hardly fair. I think Promare has proven itself worthy.