Fans of Gurren Lagann and Kill La Kill will instantly recognize the new anime film Promare as the work of director Hiroyuki Imaishi. This would be the case even if Promare's hero Galo Thymos didn't look suspiciously similar to Gurren Lagann's Kamina, and even if the film's climactic mecha battles didn't directly reference Gurren. The hyperkinetic action, the bright and cartoony animation, the hot-blooded energy, the sense of over-the-top dramatic flair that extends even to the fonts of the title cards; aside from the director's raunchier sensibilities being restrained, everything you've loved about previous Imaishi works is here.
Promare's immediate appeal is in its art and animation. Imaishi and Studio Trigger have honed the art of making limited TV animation look amazing. It's a joy seeing them pull off their first original feature film. The characters are mostly hand-drawn, while the backgrounds and mecha are mostly CGI.
With Trigger's partner studio Sanzigen handling the CG work, Promare is one of the best looking 2D-CG hybrids to come out of Japan. The CG eschews realism in favor of a hyper-geometric look (has there ever been an anime with this many triangles?) that blends almost seamlessly with the 2D art while allowing for stunningly elaborate cinematography. The effects animation plays like a mix of Tron and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
The film's soundtrack also deserves note. Hiroyuki Sawano, who also composed the music for Kill la Kill, Attack on Titan and several Gundam anime, scores the film with the intensity it deserves. In addition to background music, Sawano also composed five songs, while the J-rock group Superfly provided an additional two singles. If there's any justice, "INFERNO" (composed by Sawano with lyrics and vocals by Benjamin Anderson and mpi) will be an anime convention karaoke staple.
Even if all it had to offer was its impressive sense of style, Promare would be an easy recommendation for animation nerds. Luckily, it has a compelling story to back it up. The set-up is that 30 years ago, select humans developed the mutant ability to control and cause fires. Naturally, the abilities of these mutants, known as Burnish, can be dangerous. Galo and his team of fellow heroes in the Burning Rescue Fire Department are high-tech firefighters trying to put out the Burnish's fires and keep the city safe.
The first twenty minutes of the film play like the most action-packed pilot episode of an anime ever. After a flashback credits sequence revealing the origins of the Burnish, we meet all the different quirky members of the BRFD and watch them take down some Burnish terrorists in what might be the most exciting firefighting sequence you've ever seen. If there's any real downside to Promare being a movie rather than a series, it's that we don't get the time to really know Galo's teammates beyond their immediately appealing archetypes.
Who we do get to know well over the course of the movie is Lio Fotia, the leader of the "Mad Burnish" group. A Burnish with a "cool" personality, Lio makes a great foil for the hot-headed firefighter Galo; the evolution of their relationship is one of Promare's great delights. It's not really a spoiler to say Lio's a far more sympathetic figure than the marketing has let on; the nature of his predicament is explained fairly early on in the film.
There's a political edge to the Burnish's struggle in Promare. It's easy to make comparisons to various X-Men storylines in how it metaphorically tackles issues of oppression. Those who embraced the anti-authoritarian aspects of Kill la Kill will have a lot to talk about in regards to Promare.
Ultimately, though, Promare is less an intellectual experience than an emotional and visceral one. Like its protagonist, it doesn't have any startling new insight but it believes in doing the right thing and is inspiringly passionate in doing so. Of all the things the movie shares with Gurren Lagann, the most significant might be its earnest embrace of teamwork and "manly spirit" as a means of overcoming any obstacle, no matter how overwhelming.
Following its premiere at Anime Expo, Promare will screen at Otakon on July 27. GKIDS will release the film in theaters on Sept. 20, with premiere event screenings on Sept. 17 and 19.