Euphoric, Boundary-Breaking Anime

Still from Promare (all images courtesy of GKIDS)

So much happens in the first 20 minutes of Promare, the first feature film from animation Studio Trigger, that you would do a disservice to yourself if you even blink. Trigger is not a studio that tends to push the boundaries of animation; it prefers to charge at them at full speed. Founded in 2011 by Masahiko Ōtsuka and Hiroyuki Imaishi, Trigger has been behind some of the most acclaimed, and polarizing, anime series of the last eight years. With its first series, Kill la Kill, it instantly attracted devotees (some going so far as to say it “saved anime”) and critics, the latter because of its emphasis on (sometimes chaotic) style over substance.

Last year, Trigger faced both disdain and praise in a matter of months thanks to Darling in the Franxx, a co-production with Clover Works, which showed tremendous promise in the beginning of its 24-episode run, but ended in disaster due to its confusing, tonally inconsistent final episodes; and SSSS.Gridman, an animated adaptation of a less-than-beloved 1993 tokusatsu series, which became one of the biggest positive surprises of 2018. SSSS.Gridman is an enthusiastic tribute to the genre, filled with all of the action and sensational animation for which Trigger is known and respected.

Still from Promare

Promare is composed as a series of climaxes, each one larger, faster, and more colorful than the last, until the audience is lost in the insanity and euphoria of it. The film’s many action scenes all feature sweeping camera movements, large explosions, and vibrant, electric colors. For Trigger loyalists, Promare has everything; for detractors, the flaws that characterize just about every Trigger work are salient. And for those experiencing a Trigger anime for the first time, it is an ideal introduction to the burning, creative, unwavering, and sometimes illogical soul of the studio.

Promare follows Galo Thymos, a cocky, fearless member of Burning Rescue, an anti-Burnish rescue team. (Each member is distinct in both personality and look thanks to the wonderful character design by Shigeto Koyama.) The Burnish are a race of mutated humans who can control fire; they first appear 30 years prior to the film’s events in an incident that burned half the world known as the “Great World Blaze.” In the opening action sequence, Galo first encounters and battles Lio Fotia, the leader of Burnish terrorist group the Mad Burnish. When Lio and his cohort are taken away by the Freezing Force — a militarized organization that may call to mind a certain US government agency many wish to abolish — Galo thinks that’s the last he’ll ever see of Lio, until they must put aside their differences to save the world.

Production for Promare started in 2014, with Trigger staff visiting New York firehouses (the film central location, Promepolis, is based on New York City). The film reunites Imaishi, director of cult classic Dead Leaves, with screenwriter Kazuki Nakashimi. The two previously collaborating on Kill la Kill and 2007’s Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, a series viewed by many as a masterpiece, and one of the best anime series post-2000.

Still from Promare

Promare‘s teaser, released nearly a year ago, includes clips of both productions, promoting the new film to the level of those two beloved series. When asked about the film being seen as the successor of two of the most popular anime series of the last 13 years, Trigger seemed unruffled by the heightened expectations, saying to Hyperallergic via email that, “One can see them as similar because this film was consciously produced as a culmination of what we’ve done before. We’re happy that there are high expectations. If we’ve met those expectations, that will make us happy.”

Promare contains much of what we expect from Trigger and from Imaishi specifically: stylishly drawn main characters who make up for their lack of intelligence with bravado, swagger, and a confrontational stance toward authority, and homages to director and key animator Yoshinori Kanada. Yet Imaishi’s primary influence — and what separates the film from many Trigger productions — is its copious use of CG, provided by Sanzigen, a Japanese animation company.

Still from Promare

CG animation is a sensitive subject when it comes to anime. Advancements have been made in recent years, thanks to much trial-and-error, yet its use can cause alarm bells to go off — for every Land of the Lustrous there’s a trilogy of grotesque Godzilla anime films that prove CG is still far from being as accepted as hand-drawn animation.

However, the CG in Promare further amplifies the action on screen, rather than distracting from it. The CG grants Trigger more flexibility with the camera, allowing the team to pull off multiple one-take action sequences that will give audiences whiplash as they attempt to follow it. Still, even with the extensive use of CG in Promare, the characters, most of the background art, and most of the mechs are hand-drawn; so sakuga enthusiasts have nothing to fear: Trigger won’t be abandoning the hand-drawn style anytime soon.

Next up for Trigger is Brand New Animal, another original anime series that will be directed by Little Witch Academia creator Yoh Yoshinari, with a script by Nakashima. As for the next Trigger film, there are no set plans just yet. Whatever it is, it will be loud, colorful, fast, and filled with the rebellious attitude that has made Trigger’s reputation.

Promare is currently in select theaters nationwide.

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