After four volumes, Judge Adam Arseneau is running out of parallel universe jokes for his opening blurb.
To your other self.
Having reviewed Noein: Volume 3 and finding the lackadaisical pacing beginning to tax my patience, I fully expected Noein: Volume 4 to come out of the gate flying. I love being right.
For those just joining us, let's recap. If you blended teenage anime drama with The Matrix and ran it through a university level course in quantum mechanics, you'd end up with Noein, a metaphysical mish-mash of spirituality, science, relativity,and time traveling that would send Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking into frothing fits. For my money, it's probably the most unique and entertaining anime on the market right now.
Karasu's power over the Dragon Torque continues to grow in unexpected ways. Hopping from dimension to dimension, she is the sole deciding factor in determining which dimension is "correct," effectively bringing that world into existence. The consequences from mismanaging these powers, as she soon finds out, are quite dramatic. Noein, whoever or whatever he is, has finally revealed himself to be a jerk. Put simply, the Shangri-la finally starts hitting the fan.
Things are starting to come together in Noein, like wet and dry ingredients in a baking recipe. All the individual episodes and character developments thus far, while good in their own individual ways, had yet to give any indication how they would look assembled in a final product. Now, we can finally get a sense of how things are looking, and they look good. On the downside, Yu's constant bellyaching is really getting on my nerves. Dude is such a whiner.
As Karasu starts collapsing dimensions, what little understanding we had about the nature of dimensions gets called into question. We've always assumed that Haruka's dimension was the "real" dimension, but really, it could very well be a moot point. Haruka isn't even sure if she exists, not really. Dimensional hopping through time and space can be disorienting at best, a crisis of existence at worse. Volume 4 is interested in the nature of memories and existence, of what it means to be "real" based on the memories of others. Haruka is fearful that people will forget who she is, but is horrified to realize that in her short life, she has managed to forget about people in her own life, like her grandmother.
Of course, such existential musings might be for naught, since the dimension Haruka lives in seems to be wavering something fierce. Shangri-la and Noein are making serious advances to get to the Dragon Torque, and their presence in the "real" world seem to be having some serious adverse affects. Whatever the next and final volume holds, I have a feeling we're going to see some serious @#$%.
From a technical standpoint, blah blah blah, same as before—Noein: Volume 4 is virtually identical to its predecessors. The animation style is splendid, a colorful and pleasant blend of hand-drawn and CGI backgrounds. Fight sequences are done in faux-sketch style full of thick black lines and fluid motion. Colors saturation is vibrant, detail is sharp, and black levels are solid. A plethora of audio modes are available, both 2.0 and 5.1 surround tracks in both dubbed English and native Japanese. The English dub, to be honest, isn't all that bad. I'm kind of getting used to it. I'll always prefer the original language track, but I admit I've been switching back and forth a bit with Noein.
Extras are on par with previous installments. The only substantial offering is a small featurette, part three of an ongoing documentary chronicling the director and voice actors traveling to Hokkaido to record their dialogue. Not a bad idea, splitting the feature up over the discs, but I would have liked to see more substance. Beyond the feature, we only get a still gallery and some storyboards.
So far, this is the best volume of the set, the episodes perfectly balanced between sentimentality, fascinating musings on space, time and existence and butt-kicking CGI combat sequences. The pace is quickening, like currents in a river. I like that we're finally get some closure towards some of the more enigmatic moments in the series, like the first episode opening episode battle sequence, a kick-ass display of CGI splendor and incredible animation that had gone totally unexplained up until this point.
Anime is an investment in time and patience, and Noein has definitely started to pay off. The finish line is in sight. I wait with bated breath for the final installment.
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