In an alternate universe, Judge Adam Arseneau wears a white robe with a black wig. Did we just blow your mind, or what?
To your other self.
Ever wanted to combine a pre-teen adolescent anime about growing up with science-fiction parallel dimension time traveling? Yeah, me either. But surprisingly enough, somebody else did.
Even more surprisingly, it works!
Facts of the Case
Haruka is a 12-year old girl who is trying to convince her childhood friend Yuu to run away from home with her to Tokyo. Haruka is fairly happy at home, but she knows Yuu isn't. Yuu has become dark and brooding, seeming totally at odds with the happy carefree attitude of her and her friends, who enjoy prowling through cemeteries at night looking for ghosts. There have been a lot of recent reports of mysterious figures at night. Unfortunately, these figures turn out to be all too real.
These mysterious and dangerous visitors seem to come from another dimension known as La'cryma and seem bent on acquiring something known as the Dragon Torque. Whatever this is, it seems they will stop at nothing to get their hands on it.
Unfortunately for Haruka and her friends, Haruka herself is the Dragon Torque. Even stranger, one of the hooded figures seems to recognize Yuu and taunts him incessantly. He warns Yuu that no matter what he does, he will not be able to protect Haruka. When staring into the eyes of the masked figure, Haruka cannot help but feel she knows this man from somewhere …
Within the first episode of Noein, enough off-the-wall bizarre crap has gone down to utterly confound any first-time viewers, but also enough to cement their interest firmly. This sort of captivation can be a rare thing with anime, which often can take a few episodes to get warmed up. Not so here—right out of the gate, we're deep into the mix.
Like two schizophrenics dancing in a mental health ward, Noein makes erratic leaps and unpredictable transitions between various personalities; in this case, between 12-year-old adventurous anime and dark, brooding science fiction. It makes the changes with a total disregard for convention, so with each twist and turn, you have no idea what to expect. Best friends bicker and argue over pre-teen crushes on boys, right up to the moment when dimension-hopping black cloaked figures show up and try to kill them. Just another boring summer day.
I can't pretend I have any idea where the series is taking itself, but I admit that I am fascinated by its style, its inherent bittersweet ideology, and the compelling storyline. Though never "laugh out loud" funny, the animation is quirky enough to provide more than enough chuckling moments and amusing interactions between characters. Fans of more thought-provoking, somber anime like Boogiepop Phantom and especially Serial Experiments Lain will no doubt feel right at home with Noein: Volume 1.
There's some thought-provoking stuff going on here, too, though. Karasu is essentially an older, crazier, Matrix'd up version of Yuu, and they're recognizable to each other as alternate versions of the same person. Though Karasu hails from a different dimension, the relationships he has with Haruka and Isami seem to transcend dimensional divides that are more like parallel words than anything else. Karasu taunts Yuu's inability to protect Haruka because, it seems, he was unable to protect her in his world either. Interesting stuff to say the least.
A mysterious disembodied mask named Noein seems to be at the root of it all, at least according to the girl's Ouija board. Whoever or whatever Noein is, he certainly seems to be no friend of the Dragon Knights, protecting the Dragon Torque from their advances. Is he a friend or a foe? Hard to say after only five episodes; but I admit, I'm intrigued.
Visually, Noein is a treat, and the DVD reflects this with vibrant colors, solid detail, and a near-perfect transfer. Black levels are solid and there is hardly a blemish to be seen. Some sequences are softer than others, adding to the dreamlike quality of the series. The CGI-enhanced animation style lurches and wavers like a scuttling spider, a unique blend of Japanese anime crossbred with Peter Chung (Æon Flux) styled craziness and physical distortions. The end result is a completely otherworldly, outrageously original vision quite unlike any other anime I have seen, a strung-out style that complements the show's otherworldly theme.
As with other manga releases, we get plentiful audio options: both English and Japanese 2.0 and 5.1 options. Both the English dub and Japanese native language tracks sound virtually identical—a modest presentation with good use of the rear channels that never overpowers the dialogue. The score is powerful and operatic with plenty of faceless choir people howling into the background—very dramatic. Bass response is solid, but not overused. The dub is average quality, not particularly fantastic, but absolutely serviceable. Diligent anime scribes will notice a lot of the same English voice actors from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex performing duties here.
The only notable extra is a 15-minute featurette with the director and voice actor traveling to Hokkaido to record their dialogue; a cute feature if entirely disposable. The rest of the extras are the standard throwaway stuff anime discs are crammed with these days—textless openings, alternate openings, original language promos, and DVD advertisements. Yawn.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
What the hell is going on? I mean seriously, guys.
To call an anime title "unique" is a high compliment, as the sheer volume of material from Japan has a tendency to blur together at times. I admit that I have no idea what is really going on in Noein: Volume 1, but I like it all the same.
Definitely enough here to get me back for another installment. Not guilty.
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