Promare review: Fire Force comparisons inevitable, but Trigger’s new movie channels the spirit of Gurren Lagann

Promare being compared to Fire Force at an event
Promare’s resemblance to Gurren Lagann was noticed years ago, which resulted in memes like this. But the full Promare movie makes such comparisons almost necessary. Pic credit: Studio Trigger

Years ago, Anime Expo was the site of animation studio Trigger’s initial announcement of the Promare movie project, the studio’s first film. This year, Trigger returned for Anime Expo 2019 and they surprised fans with a special full-length screening of the entire Promare anime movie.

Earlier on the same day, FUNimation and studio David Production premiered the first episode of a new anime TV show called Fire Force. Based on the lengthy Enen no Shouboutai manga series by Soul Eater creator Atsushi Okubo, Fire Force’s number of episodes will reportedly be multiple cours long (which is not surprising for the studio that produces JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure).

Comparisons are unavoidable since both stories start with the basic premise of specialized firefighters fighting people that have transformed into fire creatures via spontaneous human combustion. The similarity is made even starker when the first example of human combustion in both stories takes place on a train. But after that initial starting point, the differences quickly become apparent.

In Fire Force, there is a spiritual element since victims become demon-like Infernals whose souls need saving by special units which employ priests (the firehouse of Company 8 even resembles a rundown church). On the other hand, Promare’s fire creatures are called the Burnish and their origin is based on a SciFi explanation that has Promare’s main character Galo Thymos expressing his bewilderment when the movie finally provides a quick explainer.

The Burnish retain their sentience while the Infernals (at least in Fire Force Episode 1) behave more like mindless demons who are pitied but still need to be destroyed. Because of this key difference, the humanity of the Burnish becomes a plot point near the beginning of the Promare movie.

The firefighters of Fire Force’s Company 8 and Promare’s Burning Rescue are both sympathetic to the plight of victims of the mysterious spontaneous combustion. But the Burnish have human rights since they can control their fire powers. Burning Rescue openly recognizes the humanity of Burnish whereas Infernals are just put down like mad dogs.

Promare’s visuals are also a departure from the traditional 2D animation of Fire Force. Promare’s camera is almost always on the move as the battles move quickly over ever-shifting scenes and the only way Trigger could pull that off was by using a heavily stylized cel-shaded 3D animation. There is some composite work involving a combination of 3D and 2D animation for some scenes but Promare’s art style definitely stands out.

The battles themselves are also markedly different in style. Fire Force makes a big deal about how their firefighters literally fight fire with fire because most shonen series have groups using a combination of different elemental powers. Promare’s Burning Rescue instead uses ice-based weapons in addition to robotic suits.

Fire Force Anime
The Fire Force anime does have weapon-based combat (one character named Arthur Boyle pretty much wields a lightsaber), but it’s usually fire-fueled martial arts. Pic credit: David Production

All in all, the two anime may share a premise, but it’s where you go from that starting point which makes the story. The overall tone is the biggest difference between Promare and Fire Force. The Fire Force anime has surprising emotional depth right from the start whereas the Promare movie is often focused on providing bombastic, over-the-top action sequences.

That’s not to say that Promare’s characters lack depth. Once the initial action scene is over the film dives right into exploring what makes these characters tick. There are multiple plot twists based on the characters’ motivations. The reveal of the Burnish’s origins builds up to the surprise related to the Promare movie’s title itself.

Mad Burnish terrorist group leader Lio Fotia is introduced as the fiery villain in the opening action scene, but after the fires are put out it quickly becomes apparent that he has a good reason for his actions. Lio also has a policy of not killing even when they’re burning and attacking.

If anything, once you stop comparing Promare against Fire Force it’s the comparisons with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann which become inevitable. Besides Galo having a striking resemblance to Kamina (Promare director Hiroyuki Imaishi claims these character design similarities were accidental), the design of the robots used by the Burning Rescue unit is also similar.

Even the way that the battles ramp up in firepower resembles Gurren Lagann. And when Galo briefly wields a drill weapon while fighting in a giant robot it seems pretty obvious that at least some of the references to Gurren Lagann must be intentional.

This Promare review wouldn’t be complete without discussing the reaction of the crowd at Anime Expo 2019. Everyone seemed to fully enjoy themselves and whenever a throwback element was introduced there was clapping and whooping.

The plot itself was fairly predictable since I guessed the plot twists way before they happened, but that didn’t take away from the enjoyment factor. The action sequences are very fluidly dynamic and not predictable at all.

Anime fans should watch both the Fire Force TV show and the Promare movie. Yes, they’re both about superpowered firefighters but it’s the differences that can be celebrated and enjoyed on their own merit.

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