The Quarantine Stream: 'Promare' Is Kaleidoscopic 3D Anime Done Right

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they've been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)The MoviePromareWhere You Can Stream It: HBO MaxThe Pitch: In a near future in which a population of people have developed a mutation that gives them pyrokinetic abilities, a group of scrappy fire fighters, led by the enthusiastic but dim-witted Galo, uncover a wide-reaching government conspiracy to suppress and use the pyrokinetic "Burnish" community for nefarious means.Why It's Essential Viewing: 3D animation has become the thorn in the anime industry's side. How to adapt to a technology that made the often painstaking animation process easier, without sacrificing the art style and quality that defines a whole industry? The transition from 2D to 3D has been an imperfect one for a lot of anime studios (sorry, Studio Ghibli), but every now and then, there's a movie that just gets 3D animation so right. One of which is Studio Trigger's first feature film, a rollicking success right out of the gate: Promare.

If there were a movie to best embody "style over substance," it would be Promare. And that's not a bad thing — the slim boilerplate sci-fi story can only be secondary to the kaleidoscopic, frenetic animation of Promare, one of the rare 3D CG animes to use the technology to its fullest potential, and one of the few 3D movies that have wowed me as much as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

I'll admit that when I first saw the trailers for Promare in 2019 I was overwhelmed to the point of being put off completely by the aggressive and bold visual style. The cartoonish traditional character designs clash obscenely with the strange geometric shapes of the giant mechs that they fought in, while less defined features like fire and light were given rigid shapes that bounced around an abstract collage of color. It was garish, it was too much. But my interest was piqued by the glowing reviews for the film out of anime festivals and conventions, praising the film as being a visual feast unlike any other anime movie. So when the film finally made it onto HBO Max last month, I decided to check it out, and my jaw dropped.

Helmed by Kill la Kill director Hiroyuki Imaishi, there's a splashy, geometric style achieved by Studio Trigger's unique CG technique that mixes 2D and 3D animation. The studio had experimented with this technique in the series Panty and Stocking, but they have polished it up for Promare, which feels like a marriage between a graphic comic book and sentient geometric shapes that morph and change as needed. Even the lens flares look like square, gigantic pixels. This all to prop up a fairly standard sci-fi story — in which the hilariously bombastic, frequently bare-chested, protagonist must go up against his former hero and the oppressive authoritarian regime he represents.

"Visually dazzling" doesn't cut it as a description for Promare, which is so jam-packed with color and movement that it's full to bursting. But its effective storytelling and wild energy — as well as a surprisingly simple background design that feels reminiscent of Art Deco — keep Promare from overwhelming the senses. Just barely.