Style over substance is a common way of saying that a movie uses images to distract the audience from a poorly written story or film production.
In animation, that conversation becomes intertwined with the 3D versus 2D animation debate, with 3D animation being seen as choosing style over 2D content. More often than not, 3D animation is seen as a shorter or lazy attempt at achieving grandiose visuals when it cannot achieve the same result with 2D animation.
But certain movies show how style can be the whole point of the experience, even content. Such is the case with Hiroyuki Imaishi’s first movie with Studio Trigger, now streaming on HBO Max. Let’s turn on the music and get in a giant robot because we are talking promar.
In the world of promise, part of the population has developed mutated powers. Called the ‘Burnish’, they can manipulate flames, leading to the Great World Blaze, a global catastrophe that killed half the world’s population. A fire brigade called Burning Rescue works to put out the fires started by a group of radical Burnish calling themselves the Mad Burnish.
The anime movie plays the X-Men dynamics of a group of super-powered humans being persecuted despite representing humanity’s next evolutionary step. Despite the exciting action scenes and overall upbeat tone, promar also explores serious themes of oppression and prejudice in the most unsubtle ways imaginable.
The Burnish wear a pink triangle as a symbol, which the Nazis also used to identify gay men in concentration camps. At the same time, the militarization of the police is a big part of the plot, culminating in police raids very reminiscent of ICE raids.
promar uses a mix of 2D and CG-3D animation that seamlessly blends the world of cartoonish flesh with the world of giant metal robots. The CGI is used to produce intricate camera work or complex mechanical constructions that could not otherwise be replicated in 2D, resulting in sweeping and dynamic action sequences that rival any modern blockbuster.
This is complemented by a unique and dazzling visual style that resembles pop art. Vibrant neon and pastel colors bring the world of film to life in a way that only animation can achieve, especially when it comes to the flames. In animation, fire can be one of the hardest things to execute. Anyway, Promare finds a solution by turning the Burnish fire into amazing bright geometric patterns in pastel colors reminiscent of that scene in Avatar: The Last Airbender where Zuko and Aang discover the beauty of firebending.
Like most of Imaishi’s work, promar is a fantastic return to Saturday Morning Cartoons (or Super Robot action series of the late ’70s and late ’80s), which fill every moment in the film with utter joy. It has an increasingly ridiculous plot and stubborn, shirtless heroes with big hearts and not a shred of common sense. There is no nuance of deeper meaning, but promar has big explosions and an even bigger heart it wears on its sleeve.
What starts as a X-Men analogy quickly explodes into a ball-to-the-wall adventure where everyone has cool one-liners and dudes use the power of friendship and their inner fire to reach the stars. Even the Deux ex Machina is a robot literally called Deus X Machina. While anime has a perilous history of queer representation, the entire runtime of promar.
Hiroyuki Sawano’s grandiose soundtrack adds to the feelings of over-the-top action and joy. Their use of the “Sawano Drop” and epic insertions make every plot development feel like a Shyamalan plot twist. Every fight scene feels like the “Assembling Avengers” moment in Avengers: Endgame, making the film feel like a catchy, almost operatic music video with much better visuals.
By the time the main theme song plays over the final scene, tears fall, fists burst and cheers erupt, because this is a movie that knows how to play in the theatrical atmosphere and exude pure emotion. promar uses the best of traditional 2D and cutting-edge CG-3D animation to create a non-stop rollercoaster of fun – proving that sometimes style can be substance.
promar is streaming now on HBO Max.