(Warning! This piece contains major spoilers for Promare. Read on at your own risk!)
The first image of Promare is a triangle constrained inside a rectangle, distorted and maimed as the walls close in around it.
There’s a place for subtlety in art, but there’s also a place for distilled simplicity. And the more I think about Promare the more I feel a burning need to shout from the rooftops about the sheer elegance and power of the visual symbolism of shapes. Triangles — the burnish flames, sparks, broken glass, Lio’s earring, the sharp edges of Lio’s Mad Burnish suit, the triangle mosaics on Lio’s burnish sword, triangular ash floating upward in the triangular firelight, the triangular peaks of a volcano looming. Rectangles — lawns and buildings and city blocks of Promepolis, blocks of ice, the barrel of a freezing gun, cubical elevators, cubical cells, cubical restraints, tiled rectangles of windows and doors, rectangular barriers. The moment I knew I was watching a masterpiece was when I noticed that even the lens flare effects of the sunlight in the rectangular city of Promepolis are rectangular. This is not a world in balance.
Life is complicated, and there’s a tendency in art to want to mirror that complication by adding on further layers. What if what seems bad is actually justified? What if there’s no right answer? It’s trendy to take moral questions that may seem straightforward and twist them around, looking for the gray between black and white. That can be fine and all, but it’s way more difficult and way more impressive to go the other direction — to successfully strip away the muddiness and shine a clear light on something simple. Promare is so powerful because it shines with this moral clarity: Oppression — bad. Freedom to live authentically — good. Squares and triangles. There’s no self-congratulatory pretension that a story needs to galaxy-brain itself to say something important. What’s beautiful about the geometric symbolism in Promare is that it allows the tensions to be at a universal, allegorical level. A triangle trapped inside a rectangle. Every angle of every shape in every cel harmonizes around the same theme: Society damages people by imposing boxes. The villain of the movie isn’t (self-hating, closeted) Kray Foresight; it’s the rectangles he overlays onto the world. Promare commits unabashedly to the burning, desperate necessity of individual freedom and self-actualization.
The rabbit hole of shapes goes as deep as you’re willing to fall. The burnish flames sparking pink triangles as Lio talks about pride and the need to allow the fire inside him to burn even as society shuns him for it… I mean, you’re reading AniGay, I’m gonna assume you don’t need me to spell that one out much further for you. Galo’s goofy spiked hair and “matoi” aesthetic setting him visually apart from the right-angled world around him. The whatever-it’s-called warp engine pulling energy from triangular cells down a right-angled grid into an octahedron, the one platonic solid containing both 90- and 60-degree angles. Squares and triangles. (Look, I said it goes as deep as you’re willing to fall…)
Okay but hear me out: That octahedron, the perfect solid that combines squares with triangles, is supposed to represent the salvation of humanity — harnessing the energy of the burnish to salvage some part of the superficial society that’s been built on top of a world that’s burning itself to death with repressed desires. The octahedron is a view of balance through the eyes of normative society. Look, we took our square and built triangles on top of it! Look, the sacrifice of the burnish is noble and their pain serves the future of mankind!
The moment the circles first appear is breathtaking. I mean, it’s obvious once you think of it, right? Of course the answer isn’t octahedra. It’s circles. Unlike the geometrically-tiled fuel cells of Kray’s engine, Deus’s mech — comically round in its design, with a name that seems to make fun of the very concept of Plot — does not hurt Lio. It channels and enhances his own power. It is self-actualization rather than exploitation. When so much of (Western) queer media, if it ever slips through the cracks into the mainstream, doesn’t go further than a “triangles are squares too!” message, circles are revolutionary. The anti-assimilationist ethos of Promare is made explicit several times in the dialogue (Lio’s scornful gaze when Galo naively suggests that they could just, y’know, stop burning things…so fucking good) but it is embodied with crystal clarity in the geometry as well. Circles are not a compromise. Circles are not meeting in the middle, they are not integration into an oppressively angled culture. They are a rejection of rectangles as an ideal. To achieve the balance of circles the burnish need to burn, burn fully, burn everything, burn it to the fucking ground. Lio and Galo’s fire encircles the earth, spirals through the circular orbits of the spherical planets. It is both destructive and healing: What it’s destroying isn’t the planet, isn’t the people it touches. What it’s destroying is the rectangles.
(Jumping one step further down the rabbit hole, technically Deus’s laboratory isn’t the first time circles play a central role on screen. Know what else is round, in fact is a circle typically chopped up into triangular fragments? You got it: pizza. Is it going too deep to point out that the pizza chef captured in the ICE uh I mean Freeze Force raid is really the first example of a self-actualized burnish we see — he just wants to make pizzas! He’s good at it! He’s living his truth! Out of triangles, circles. Delicious, delicious circles…)
When the flames clear, there are no more rectangles, no more triangles, no more burnish, no more society. Just Lio and Galo looking out together over the reborn planet, the sunlight that shines down on them flaring in perfect circles, light itself restored to its true shape.