Film Review: ‘Promare’

Promare is an exciting watch for those willing to just sit back and enjoy the exquisite animation style and grandiose action sequences.

Hiroyuki Imaishi
Billy Kametz, Johnny Yong Bosch, Crispin Freeman, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld
Release Date:
Sep 20, 2019

Running time: 110 MIN.

Official Site: https://gkids.com/films/promare/

Anime maniacs have been waiting for this day: Eight years ago, Hiroyuki Imaishi co-founded Studio Trigger with the goal of one day hatching a feature as wild and innovative as his TV series “Gurren Lagann” and “Kill la Kill.” Now he has. Every bit as loud and ambitious as one might expect from a visual artist with such a hyperactive imagination, sci-fi action-adventure “Promare” checks all the conventional anime boxes — post-apocalyptic setting, mecha suits and plenty of fan service — but it’s still an exciting watch.

With “Promare,” which has already earned $10 million in its native Japan, the payoff is the seamless mix of 2D elements in 3D environments with a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack that seeps in at the right times. Best seen with a rowdy audience — like those who came out for dubbed and subtitled versions shown via nationwide Fathom Events screenings on Sept. 17 and 19 — this cult-ready GKIDS release will get a more traditional rollout in larger U.S. markets starting Sept. 20.

“Promare” opens as the people of Promepolis are taken over by a strange entity causing them to combust into flames spontaneously. While the onset of this event is unknown, the effect seems clear, leaving these random individuals with the power of pyrokinesis, a mutation that causes an extinction-level event called the “the great world blaze.” Thirty years after the phenomenon scorches much of the planet, the government implements separation policies, pushing the fire benders (now called “the Burnish”) to the edges of society. The now-oppressed group and their leader, Lio Fortia, stage a series of fires around the city to protest the cruel treatment against them.

The city is under the rule of mayor Kray Foresight, who put provisions in place to combat Burnish terrorism. Special operations teams Fire Rescue extinguishes Burnish flames, while the Freeze Force moves like the Gestapo, rounding up the Burnish and throwing them in prison. Galo Thymos, a Fire Rescue rookie, is caught in the middle, and his allegiance to the mayor is tested as he learns more about the Burnish. As Galo dives deeper into the rabbit hole, civil war ensues, and he realizes this marginalized community is not the real enemy.

Popular on Variety

Anime is often dismissed as cartoons for children, which many are, but not “Promare.” Beneath a veneer of stylized visual effects, the theme of classism reverberates throughout the story, in which catastrophe looms over humanity and only an elite, chosen few will reap the benefits of a new world. However, just as this aspect begins to materialize fully, new information is presented late in the film that throws the plot off balance. Exposition and filler bring the pace to a halt and seem more like an attempt to pad out the runtime to an unnecessary 110 minutes than to explain the purpose of these new details.

Galo, Lito and Kray all exist as typical hero/villain archetypes, and every move they make is rife with predictable characteristics and dialogue. What will hold the attention of the audience is the bright, eye-popping graphics. Sweeping shots of the electric neon landscape make this fictional setting appear grand in scale. Contrary to classical anime, where the action feels fixed and the frame seldom moves, in “Promare,” 3DCG rendering technology makes it possible for a virtual camera to swoop and circle while hand-drawn characters do battle in three-dimensional space. Purists may scoff at this new aesthetic, but the approach has evolved considerably since Shinji Aramaki’s 2004 anime feature “Appleseed,” which attempted the same process with more uneven results.

Composer Hiroyuki Sawano’s score keeps the hype elevated during the rapid-fire action scenes between man, fire and machine, and original songs are tailored for the action — such as Benjamin Anderson’s “Inferno,” an ideal theme song to accompany these flaming protagonists as they cause maximum damage. The film offers no shortage of action sequences set in a visually stunning space, but all that energy feels like overcompensation for the lack of narrative development. While the results are entertaining, there’s a nagging feeling of a missed opportunity to be much more than a generic action film, had Imaishi only chosen to explore more of the experimental aspects the film introduces. As presented with “Promare,” it’s best not to think too deeply and appreciate the view.

Film Review: 'Promare'

Reviewed online, New York, Sept. 18, 2019. Running time: 110 MIN.

Production: A Toho Co., Ltd. (in Japan), GKIDS (in U.S.) release of a Trigger, XFlag production.

Crew: Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi. Creative director: Hiromi Wakabayashi. Screenplay: Kazuki Nakashima. Editor: Junichi Uematsu. Music: Hiroyuki Sawano. Character designer: Shigeto Koyama.

With: Billy Kametz, Johnny Yong Bosch, Crispin Freeman, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld, Neil Kaplan, Erica Lindbeck, Kari Wahlgren, Steve Blum, Mike Pollock, John Bentley, Billy Bob Thompson, Matt Mercer, Yuri Lowenthal, Melissa Fahn. (voices)

More Film

  • Bad Hair

    Justin Simien's 'Bad Hair' is a Tribute to Exploited Black Women Everywhere, Director Says

    Deeply personal but indulgently campy, Justin Simien’s Sundance opener “Bad Hair” is a genre-blending horror show that the director said serves as a tribute to the struggles of black women. The mind behind  “Dear White People” staged the world premiere for the project at Park City’s Ray Theater on Thursday night, before a cast that [...]

  • Taylor Swift: Miss Americana

    'Taylor Swift: Miss Americana': Film Review

    Fly-on-the-wall portraits of pop-music stars used to be dominated by, you know, pop music. The life and personality and woe-is-me-I’m-caught-in-the-media-fishbowl spectacle of the star herself was part of the equation, yet all that stuff had a way of dancing around the edges. Now, though, it’s front and center. In “Taylor Swift: Miss Americana,” we catch [...]

  • Taylor Swift attends the premiere of

    Sundance Crowd Goes Wild as Taylor Swift Becomes Powerful Voice of Trump Resistance

    At the outset of the first screening of the documentary “Miss Americana” Thursday night at the Sundance Film Festival, it was clear at the outset that it was not necessarily Taylor Swift’s core audience filling the Eccles Theater for the premiere. The opening scene has Swift trying to write a song at the piano while [...]

  • wanda Imax China

    China Closes Thousands of Theaters in Response to Coronavirus Outbreak

    China closed swathes of cinemas on Friday in response to the outbreak of novel coronavirus, which started in the city of Wuhan and has now killed 26 people. The closures come a day after the distributors and producers of the seven major blockbusters that had expected to launch from Jan. 25 cancelled their films’ releases. [...]

  • Taylor Swift Variety Facetime

    Taylor Swift Opens Up About Overcoming Struggle With Eating Disorder (EXCLUSIVE)

    In the new Taylor Swift documentary, “Miss Americana,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Thursday night, there’s a montage of derogatory commentary about the singer that has appeared on cable shows over the years. One of the less nasty remarks: “She’s too skinny. It bothers me.” As it turns out, it eventually bothered Swift, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content