WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Promare.
The opening of Promare is a world on fire. In cramped apartments and on crowded highways, rendered in dreary, grey shades, the bubbling rage boils of city-dwellers boils over, consuming them in flames. Half of life on Earth went up in smoke, but some of the survivors were given strange gifts. This, we're told, is the birth of the Burnish: a new subgroup of pyrokinetic mutants on Earth whose existence ushers in a whole new age for humanity.
The use of the "m" word invariably invites comparisons to a certain species of specially powered people that exist in the Marvel Universe. Marvel's mutants, of course, don't share the exact same abilities as Promare's Burnish do. Each has a particular power-set as unique as their own appearance and personality. However, on a macro level, the Burnish make for viable stand-in for X-Men's mutant community, and the film actually does a better job at representing what life would be like for a group of people feared and hated by a non-mutant majority than most of the X-Men movies have managed -- all while packing a more visually thrilling punch, too.
More than the X-Men themselves, who traditionally strive to overcome the public perception of their kind by taking on superhero roles, the Burnish group that we follow in Promare is a more sympathetic version of Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants. Sympathetic once the first battle is over, we should add. Initially, Mad Burnish, as the group is called, appears to be up to the Brotherhood's usual tricks: using their powers for terrorist purposes to draw attention to their cause. After setting a Promepolis skyscraper ablaze, they're confronted by a self-appointed gaggle of eccentric firefighters, Burning Rescue. Though none of them are Burnish themselves, the team's incredible array of futuristic gadgetry evens the playing field considerably, making the rooftop fight even more reminiscent of a typical X-Men vs. Brotherhood brawl.
Each group also have their own star player in the way Marvel usually teams do. Burning Rescue's efforts are led by Galo, a half-naked mech pilot whose spiky blue hair is almost as big as his irrepressible charisma: All of the bravado of Wolverine with the pep and style of Jubilee. After dispatching Mad Burnish's grunts, he challenges the most powerful among them for a one-on-one scrap, which the masked man accepts. This is Lio Fotia, a juvenile pyrokinetic with big dreams and big reserves of anger about the way the non-Burnish have treated his people. Along with his flair for the dramatic -- well represented by his leather and lace wardrobe -- he's everything you could want from a teenage Magneto: brash, passionate and oozing raw power.
Magneto's status as a holocaust survivor has long tempered his villainy into something far more complex than your average comic book bad guy, but villain he usually is, nonetheless. Despite the way Lio is introduced to us, Promare makes no attempt to frame Mad Burnish's actions -- which really just amount to property damage -- as anything approaching villainy. Though our empathy is directed towards Galo during their first encounter, it's just as quickly redirected towards Lio after he and his comrades are captured and interned at a specialist prison. There, we see ordinary Burnish -- young and old -- languishing in a crowded cell, their powers suppressed by Freeze Force technology. Much like Bolivar Trask's mutant-hunting Sentinels, the Freeze Force -- headed up by the malicious Vulcan Haestus -- is a government-backed organization that uses subzero, icy blasts and exoskeleton suits to arrest any Burnish that break the law. However, what constitutes law-breaking in the eyes of Vulcan, as we later see, is pretty much a Burnish just breathing the wrong way.
In this light, Lio's cause instantly shifts from being that of a selfish supervillain to a gallant freedom fighter living in an age of extreme, systematic prejudice -- an image that "Magneto Was Right" believers would endorse for the Master of Magnetism. X-Men films have certainly given us doses of this, particularly in the big-screen adaptation of Days of Future Past, but as cinema is want to do, the socially conscious messages of the X-Men's feature-length outings are too often lost in the noise of standard superhero spectacle: whether it's Magneto turning people into piles of goo; Wolverine slow-walking away from a helicopter explosion or a strange fixation on train-based action sequences.
The X-Men are a pretty ridiculous bunch of people who have pretty ridiculous adventures, to which the films, even at their most flawed, do a competent job at relaying. However, where recent efforts like Age of Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix have dropped the ball on grounding all the action in the franchise's socio-political roots, Promare delivers this in spades with its own mutants. It's perhaps to the film's advantage, in this regard, that it frames the narrative from an outsider's perspective looking in, in order to depict bigotry on different levels -- between open aggression and casual ignorance. Even though Galo is sympathetic to the Burnish's subhuman treatment by the Freeze Force, he still struggles to see them as anything but alien. It's only when he spends time among Lio and the prisoners he liberates that Galo realizes, for all his sympathy, he doesn't know anything about them. (He didn't even know that they could eat.) The Burnish might be able to manipulate fire, but they're still people.
Things become even more complicated when the film's real villain, Governor Kray Foresight, is revealed to owe his deep-seated hatred of the Burnish -- who he plans on using to fuel his mission into space -- to a deep-seated hatred of himself. Kray is actually Burnish himself but chooses to suppress his powers in order to ingratiate himself into the predominant, non-powered society and climbs its ranks. The inability for other members of his kind to control their explosive powers is, in his mind, an unforgivable weakness for him to correct. It's the sort of thing you might expect from a particularly twisted version of Professor X.
As much as Promare is an anime film about futuristic firefighters, big mechs and aliens from parallel dimensions (...don't ask, it doesn't really matter) it's really a film about the discrimination and exploitation of a superpowered class of people, allyship, assimilation, and the weaponization of fear, accidentally giving us the best X-Men film we've had for some time. Without establishing these themes clearly beforehand, the excessive, neon-drenched style the film is animated in would shoot off, leaving its audiences' investment behind in the dust.