In all the anime I’ve seen (which I admit is relatively small), there are not many that match Promare’s visual aesthetic. It’s an odd blend of the traditional with the abstract, choosing a more polygonal approach than organic. Honestly, it’s fairly reminiscent of some modern day western cartoons, choosing rough simplicity over detailed elegance. From the outside, it seemed like a design meant to catch the eye and draw in audiences. After watching Promare, it becomes clear that it’s a deliberate choice to accentuate the story they are trying to tell. Light spoilers ahead.
The plot of Promare is simple: we follow the story of a gung-ho rookie firefighter (that sees himself as the hero type) who joins an elite fire fighting unit that are dispatched to quell the destructive blazes of mutated humans known simply as Burnish. For unknown reasons, these Burnish appeared one day with the ability to create and manipulate flames, and they are using these flames to wreak havoc upon the Earth. And of course, should our heroes fail, it means the destruction of the world at the hands of the flames. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s very similar to the plot of a currently airing series known as Fire Force (though, to be fair, the similarities basically end there).
If I had to pick a single word to describe Promare, it would be “rambunctious.” Almost everyone in this anime is raring to go at all times. The action is fast paced and the dialogue is ramped up to match. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it obnoxious, it definitely approaches that line on more than one occasion. At many times during the movie there is almost too much going on; the effect of this causes your brain to almost shut down in response as it tries to keep up (a condition my mother calls “movie narcolepsy”). You don’t have to say it; I’m very aware of how old I sound right now.
Part of the reason the action all started to blend together and become hard to follow is due to that simplified art style I mentioned before. Between the chosen color palette of bright complimentary colors and flat angular model designs, as the amount of objects and characters on screen increased, scenes coalesced into more of a jumbled mess; I know they were aiming for visually stunning mecha action, but the end result always felt like it just barely missed the mark.
In those moments when the action happening on screen is easy to follow, you can see Studio Trigger really flexing it’s mecha muscles once again. While I tend to prefer the cleaner designs of the mechs in some of their other anime (such as DARLING in the FRANXX), the Promare mechas have their own charm. They’re bold with their color choices and lighting effects and create a sense of believe-ability in how fast and agile they are in action. Personally, most of those designs feel almost wasted as they get lost in the colorful clashes of fire and ice, but they stand out when they are given the chance.
One adrenaline fueled element they did nail was the soundtrack. Again, they chose a rather bold direction along with the art style, but this one always seemed to land perfectly. With art and action like this, I was expecting something closer to a heavy metal guitar riff than what we received. But it delivered over and over again with powerful music that helped create a euphoric feeling to the sound design.
If the action and art design were my only complaints, this would still have fallen in the category of good to great for me. After all, those are only elements meant to deliver the real meat, which is the story (or more precisely, the delivery of the story), perhaps my biggest complaint with Promare.
I’m a big believer in the “show, don’t tell” method of storytelling, and that goes doubly so for a visual medium like anime (or just movies and television in general). Stories have a lot more impact when they use elements other than narration to convey their deepest meanings; rather than tell me how to feel, invoke those feelings.
Time and again, Promare relied on characters boldly over explaining key plot points and summaries (sometimes more than once) to the point where it is immersion killing. There was an almost palpable lack of finesse and grace, choosing instead dialogue that more closely resembled the in your face action we were seeing on screen. The emotions of the characters are shouted out loud in simplified terms rather than conveyed through visual emotion. Realizations that had already been conveyed to the audience were spelled out again after the fact. Cases like these are present throughout.
Now, I’m willing to admit this might be largely due to their target audience. Promare certainly gives off the vibe that it is targeting people on the younger end of the spectrum, so some of the subtleties that older viewers like myself can quickly spot might be lost on them. Unfortunately, what that means for older audiences is there will be many moments that feel redundant and make you go “why would they explain what was already made obvious?”
When more mature storytelling methods were used, they created some very exciting moments; a few of them could even be described as bone-chilling. Despite the fact that the moral messages are heavily spoon-fed, the importance of what you are being shown is still present. Promare is as much a story about xenophobia and corruption as it is about fighting fires. Just don’t expect it to be subtle about anything, including how it tells that story.
Noisy visuals and bold art direction will rarely be a reason that I recommend avoiding an anime, and in the case of Promare, that remains true. While I don’t particularly enjoy this style, I can’t say that it makes it a bad anime; I’m fairly certain the art style was quite well received. What makes an anime like Promare hard for me to recommend is simply the fairly crude delivery of the story. I feel like it had a good and exciting story to tell, but the execution was deeply flawed. This one might be better off watched with a younger anime fan (though not too young due to a few disturbing scenes) or when you’re in the mood for just a lot of mind numbing action.