Trapped in references

Catching references in anime is always kinda fun. I was really excited when we were watching the Slayers prequels and they had a little shout-out to Dragon Half mixed in, though also a little frustrated that I couldn’t explain that excitement to the friend I was watching it with. However, some series take references a little too far and end up trading their own appeal just to remind you of other things you liked before.

In Promare I see an anime that threatens to get too indulgent. Studio Trigger’s legacy is one rooted in the rich history of Gainax and, in spite of that studio’s downfall, Trigger has endeavored to keep the same irreverent spirit alive. Promare features a wealth of references to the history of both studios, but I’d argue that it overreaches in this regard.

Name-dropping Kill la Kill and other little references are cute, but the similarities between protagonist Galo Thymos and Tengen Toppa‘s Kamina feel iffy. Both are shirtless protagonists with spiky, blue hair who pilot robots, love to pose dramatically, keep little rodent pets, and they even overlap in personality. Galo even uses a drill at one point, just to complete the likeness.

Director Hiroyuki Imaishi stated in interviews that similarities between the two characters were purely a coincidental outcome of their character design process, which is an even stranger notion. Are you telling me that if you ask the designers at Trigger to draw someone completely new, they’ll just doodle a character from 10 years ago, but with the hair drawn slightly differently?

Intentional or not, I found the likeness between the two characters to be very distracting, which in turn hampered my enjoyment of the movie at least somewhat. Galo never really got to develop into his own character, because we were constantly paying attention to how his poses, lines, and actions overlapped with Kamina. My friend, who is a massive Gurren Lagann fan, was super-excited over all this and enjoyed the indulgence in references, whereas I was feeling more muted, and found more enjoyment in the parts of the movie that didn’t feel desperate to remind me of other series.

Space Patrol Luluco visits Little Witch Academia

Gurren Lagann was itself eager to give shout-outs to older Gainax series, but Trigger seems to have grown even more insulated. I hope the studio can find a better balance in the future, because as it stands they are willfully allowing their own legacy to overshadow their new, ambitious projects.

Do you feel that Trigger is starting to overdo it yourself or are you unbothered by it all? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.