I’ve discussed previously my disdain for the praise aimed at Trigger in its early days. The whole “savior of anime” meme got old quick with the industry growing larger than ever, and certainly not solely because of Trigger’s work. Funnily enough, as time has gone on, there are now a lot of people who seem to think Trigger is “stagnating,” but that’s kinda bullshit.
With their catalog having built up over the years, Trigger has only been getting more praiseworthy as time has gone on. Kiznaiver was one of the best looking shows of 2016, Gridman was one of my top five from last year, and I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time I watched Space Patrol Luluco.
Now, director Hiroyuki Imaishi and screenwriter Kazuto Nakashima have reunited for a new project, this time a feature-length film. As I am in Japan currently, I took this rare opportunity to see the film in theaters. Because I am not fluent and didn’t pick up on everything, this is not a formal review, but I couldn’t resist taking the time to give my thoughts.
The film opens in the modern day during an event in which humans across the world awaken to fire-wielding abilities. The trigger for these abilities appears to be anger at life circumstance or society in general. The world labels these individuals “Burnish” and a divide between them begins.
30 years later, we see a world that has taken fire safety to a whole other dimension. As fires can now be caused by the thinking beings, firefighters are trained to fight against the burnish by piloting mechs designed to put out fires while immobilizing opponents.
Our main hero is Galo Thymos, a self-proclaimed idiot with a passion for firefighting instilled in him by his childhood idol, Kray Foresight. His mech, the Matoi Tech, takes inspiration from Edo period firefighters and their devices called Matoi staffs. He is like a kid at heart who idolizes firefighters (doesn’t everyone though?). The passion he displays for his work transcends the language barrier and makes him an instantly lovable character.
Imaishi is a genius because I can’t think of another creator who would take such an obscure facet of Japanese history and make it one of the coolest, most integral components of their film. Gurren Lagann had the drill, Kill la Kill had the scissor blade, and I suppose Promare has the Matoi staff.
Obviously, given the language barrier, I couldn’t really chew on the dialogue between the characters much. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to understand the story through the visuals alone.
It’s no secret that Trigger is aware of their western fanbase and part of me feels like the film was designed to be understandable through the visuals. Then again, it is just as likely that awareness would lead to faster localization in the west anyway. It is more appropriate to speculate that Japanese animated cinema tends to place an importance on visual storytelling.
Like with a lot of Imaishi’s work, the themes are not entirely subtle, yet more well-thought out than at first glance. It’s easy to see Fire as a metaphor for rebellion, change and the burning passion for both. The film’s antagonist and the prejudice against the Burnish could arguably represent the drastic aversion to change. Burning rescue as a concept is incredibly clever because, who better to fight a fire than a firefighter, but it goes beyond that.
Part of Galo’s journey is coming to understand the Burnish and adopt a more fluid view of good and evil beyond the labels he has grown accustomed to. At a certain point, you have to embrace the fire, but you also need to know when to put it out. This is obviously just my initial interpretation but I’m looking forward to a subtitle release back in the states so that I can see how my interpretation holds up.
This film is a little under two hours, yet it feels like much less because of the blistering pace. Quite honestly, Galo’s story felt like it moved very quickly. Without fully comprehending the dialog, I won’t say it was rushed, but the logical destination of his arc was reached much faster than I expected. As a result, the second half feels like the third-act climax, with little downtime.
Playing off of Galo is Lio Fotia, the leader of the Burnish and the strongest one of them. He is definitely the second half of this film’s duo, whereas initially I thought Galo would be the only main character. While some more time would have been appreciated for the two of them to develop their relationship, they make for an iconic pair come the final act.
A lot of the best Trigger and Gainax shows have thrived because of the strength of their ensemble casts. Promare’s cast has all the energy and style of its peers thanks to character designer Shigeto Koyama, but I wish the rest of Burning Rescue got more time in the spotlight. Something about a good character design being wasted makes me supremely sad.
Trigger might have plans in that regard, however. Around the same time as the release, they put out a 10-minute prequel film focused on Galo and at the time of writing are planning to release a new one focused on Lio. These could continue, giving added focus to the members of this already stellar cast.
What does make the spotlight in this film will certainly leave a good impression. The mixture of 2D and 3D animation is the best I’ve seen since Batman Ninja and possesses a Guilty Gear feel throughout. Trigger co-produced this with X-Flag, whose reputation seems to be highlighted by CG work in some lesser known projects.
In the same vein as studio Sanzigen (another producer on Promare), X-Flag has done some great work on the CG here. In the beginning, it may take some getting used to, as some scenes can be quite chaotic. By the second half, though, everything blends together so well that it is hard to be put off by the difference between hand-drawn and animated.
Hiroyuki Sawano’s soundtrack may have been one of the best things about Kill La Kill. The man has the ability to turn the smallest moments into the grandest of gestures. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a new Sawano soundtrack and he didn’t disappoint here, but he was outpaced by another.
Shiho Ochi of Superfly created two incredible tracks that I have been desperate to find online in full form since I walked out of the theater. The first is called “Kakusei” and is the true battle theme of this film while the second graces us during the end credits and is called “Koori ni Tojikomete.” It’s not often one can surpass a Sawano soundtrack in the same production but she found a way and I can’t wait to spend countless hours looking for the full versions.
I won’t make any grand or controversial statements about this film without a full translation, but it’d be hard to imagine being disappointed the second time around. There is a reason that people love the works of Imaishi and Nakashima and that is for how their projects escalate. They continually build up from a solid base, getting more out there and ridiculous, like a raging fire you can’t turn away from.
And whenever the film does make its way overseas, it’s gonna burn the fucking house down.
Of all the things I was ecstatic to do in Japan, seeing Promare was definitely high on the list. Hope you enjoyed my thoughts and expect a more formal review whenever it makes its way to the west. There are some other anime films coming out here in Japan, but I’m unsure I will see them. Makoto Shinkai’s new movie will probably be good, but his works are more dialogue-heavy and my Japanese isn’t good enough.
Stay tuned for reviews of seasons one and two of Mob Psycho 100, as well as some discussion of Evangelion, just in time for it’s Netflix debut. Are you excited for Promare? Leave a comment below and while you’re at it, tell me what your favorite Trigger project is. Thanks for reading and as always, I’ll see you next time.