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by Jay Seaver

"Fantastically overheated anime."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There are some films that lean into their genres' tropes so hard that they verge on self-parody, and then there's "Promare", which punches clear out the other side. The filmmakers are well aware of every single form of excess that this sort of anime sci-fi adventure is prone to, but they're also aware that those things are what make said movies and shows awesome, and are fully committed to making their movie that sort of thrillingly crazy as well.

Sometime in the future, people just suddenly start catching on fire when their emotions flare, leading to the Great World Blaze. Thirty years later, these "Burnish" are no longer completely out of control, in large part due to an elite firefighting force armed with the latest technology and heroic specialists, none more fearless and dedicated than Galo Thymos (voice of Ken'ichi Matsuyama), a frequently shirtless lunatic dedicated to squelching flames with his burning soul. This latest fire seems to be the work of "Mad Burnish" Lio Fotia (voice of Taichi Saotome), who sees himself as a freedom fighter. And, while Galo hates to admit it, something does seem screwy about the whole situation He consults his mentor Kray Foresight (voice of Masato Sakai) and investigates on his own, discovering an incredible secret about the source of the Burnish's power.

Consume enough comics/manga, anime, and other superhero adventure and you can start getting blasé about set-ups like this; I spent a fair chunk of another review of a film that played this festival trying not to call folks reinventing the X-Men again. Promare obviously takes most of its inspiration from the Japanese equivalents and their tropes - the elaborate vehicles piloted by apparent teenagers, the over-the-top explosions and property damage, the angular character designs and the bellowed declamations - but it does so with the brakes completely disengaged, using apocalyptic disaster as a starting point, pausing the action to splash character names on screen, and frequently not just turning on a dime but having that turn take the characters into such an enormous new region that you wonder how anybody in this world could have missed it before. Director Hiroyuki Imaishi and writer Kazuki Nakashima clearly love this stuff and while they can make jokes at the excesses, they are not going to treat it as a joke.

Truth be told, one can argue that the filmmakers recognizing that they can't give everyone in the ensemble cast enough screen time is both a strength and a weakness. The film often plays like the big feature-length finale to a popular anime television series that they didn't bother to make, but it means that there are a half-dozen members of Galo's crew that grab a viewer's attention visually but only have a couple of lines; pilot Aina Ardebit (voice of Ayane Sakura) winds up settling in as Galo's partner, but much of the film's second half rests on her scientist sister Heris (voice of Ami Koshimizu), and there are times when the film could have really used a season of subplots setting her decision-making up. It's mostly good, lean storytelling, but there are places where wants more - despite the other places where the fact that it's all being dumped out at once is the joke.

It leaves the filmmakers plenty of time for action, though, and they deliver that in terrific fashion. On the one hand, they know how to use mechs and flyers and other tech as a sort of multiplier, so that the action often feels like stuff human beings can relate to despite being scaled up five or ten times, but on the other, they get creative, whether with the fire powers of the Burnish or with the even bigger scale that gets revealed as the film goes on. A pounding score by Hiroyuki Sawano helps Imashi keep some of the big sequences going for a surprisingly long time, long enough to have multiple tones and beats and end with the audience on the cusp of feeling their adrenaline run out in a way that underlines how something can be a hard-won victory despite the fact that the heroes are really good at their jobs.

It's technically flashy, too, maintaining a fair amount of clarity while also quick-cutting, letting the virtual camera fly around, and distorting for effect. The animation by Studio Trigger is top-notch not just in its smooth motion but also in its somewhat unusual look: The technology is unabashedly digital but uninterested in the highly-textured photorealism that American animation tends to pursue, going for a flat look enlivened by a bright, poppy color palette. It not only lets them mix exaggerated characters and cool-looking tech, but makes the jump to the far-out moments when fire and energy almost become abstractions less a jarring shift than the movie just plowing forward into the next way that the filmmakers are going to try and top themselves.

That they somehow manage to keep doing so for nearly two hours is kind of incredible, but they do, and it's a terrific theatrical experience, full of big laughs, whoop-worthy action, and a fire-hose of color that washes over the audience along with the loud soundtrack. It's a high-energy flick that crams absolutely everything it can in and leaves the audience wishing that there was a couple years of backstory leading up to it that they could catch up on.

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originally posted: 09/18/19 08:21:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  17-Sep-2019 (PG-13)



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