[Minor SPOILERS below; you have been warned!]
The tropes and conventions of that distinctly Japanese flavor of sci-fi/action are fairly well established after decades of repetition. Movies and television shows like Ultraman, Kamen Rider, Super Sentai (better known as Power Rangers in America), Mobile Suit Gundam, and Neon Genesis Evangelion have created an immediately recognizable visual language, making it easier for viewers to suspend their disbelief—and, consequently, for writers to take bolder storytelling risks and craft more imaginative settings.
With Promare, Studio Trigger (producer of such acclaimed animated series as Kill la Kill and Darling in the Franxx, here making its feature debut) goes a step beyond merely recycling familiar formulae and clichés: it gleefully deconstructs and reassembles them into a demented Frankenstein’s monster. Implausibly young protagonists? Check. Surprisingly sympathetic villains that have good intentions, but still commit unforgivable atrocities? Check. The subjugation of super-powered mutants serving as an allegory for the oppression of minorities? Big check. Weird, metaphysical nonsense succeeding in saving the day when the world’s most advanced technology inevitably fails? You’d better believe it! It even manages to cram approximately twenty episodes’ worth of “plot twists” (including, but not limited to, an “unexpected” betrayal by a “secretly” corrupt authority figure and the “unforeseen” involvement of extraterrestrials) into a lean 110 minutes—and, thanks to the compact running time, it never feels like it’s jumping the shark (though your mileage may vary, of course).
It certainly helps that Promare is incredibly self-aware, even by director Hiroyuki Imaishi’s usual standards (Tengen Toppa Gureen Lagann, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt). The main character, for example, is often scolded for attempting to strike “cool” poses in the midst of battle. His fellow Burning Rescue members, meanwhile, fall somewhere between the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Burger King Kids Club: a diverse bunch of shonen stereotypes that endlessly pontificate about the value of teamwork while gorging themselves on pizza. Heck, the film’s obligatory overpowered giant robot (a genre staple)—which is introduced at the most narratively opportune moment, and in spectacularly convenient fashion—is explicitly dubbed Deus X Machina. There are no pretensions here, no delusions of grandeur or lofty ambitions. Just anime distilled to its purest form: an elegantly chaotic acid trip that almost resembles abstract art.