Anime Reviews: Noir
Bee Train's debut series boasts some impressive style, but its slow pace, endless filler, and delayed character development fail to give us a reason to care.
Production: Bee Train
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 4/15/2001 to 9/28/2001
Age Rating: 13+ (frequent but heavily-implied violence, brief partial nudity)
Summary: Mireille is a professional, and rather successful, assassin. She lives the high life in a penthouse taking on well-paying hits until, one day, she receives a mysterious email from a Japanese girl named Kirika, containing only the English sentence, "Make a pilgrimage for the past with me." Their first meeting is one of awkward silence, but a group of hit-men who are apparently chasing Kirika interrupts them. Mireille holds her own, but it's Kirika who nearly single-handedly takes down her pursuers. When they sit down to discuss the message, Kirika reveals that she has no memory, and all she knew was that she was "Noir." Realizing this strange girl may be of use to her, Mireille offers her a deal: they agree to work together under the title of "Noir," in an effort to figure out who Kirika is and what happened to her, and when everything becomes clear, Mireille will kill her. However, the two of them will soon learn that the truth is something you're sometimes better off not knowing.
The Good: Phenomenal soundtrack; attractive art; intriguing plot loaded with twists
The Bad: Characters have no life and no soul until the last minute; abysmal pacing; too much filler; animation gets sloppy and choppy in second half; deliberately ambiguous ending leaves a bad aftertaste; weird censorship
The Ugly: Seeing Chloe naked will cause involuntary wailing and gnashing of teeth
This was the first anime series I bought on DVD, way back at Otakon 2003. Y'know, back when there were no boxsets and individual DVDs cost $30 each. And Noir just-so-happened to be a 7-disc series. I shelled out more than $200 for this turd, and you'd better believe I'm just a little bitter. But it's not all bad; this series introduced me to the glorious beauty that is Yuki Kajiura and her wonderful music, and there are some rather pleasing fanart of the characters out there. But I digress. Here, we're going to look at Noir by itself, and not at the wonderful things that it spawned.
So, of course, we're gonna look at the positive things first, because that's my thing, ya know? The first thing I should mention is the series' crowning achievement: the music. God, this soundtrack rocks. You've got spectacular piano tunes like "Snow" and "Kirei na Kanjou (Piano)" and "Solitude By the Window" alongside more genre-blending tracks like the operatic trance tune "Salva Nos" and the electronic-meets-Celtic-folk "Le Grand Retour"...I could just go on and on, naming all the wonderful bits of music this series employs, but it would just be more efficient to hear them yourself. Otherwise, I'd be here all day on this subject alone.
Now, if you've got stylin' music, it would make sense to have stylin' art, right? Maybe "stylin'" isn't the right word here, but the artwork is still quite nice to look at, and you get some great contrast between these attractive women and the horrific bloodshed they leave in their wake. Bright colors and dark shadows and slick camerawork with some compelling direction ensure that there will always be something pleasing to the eyes on your screen. Unless, you know, it's an ugly dude with a bullet hole in his head.
The final good thing I can say about Noir is that its ongoing story, when it finally gets started, is extremely interesting and has a good number of twists you'll never see coming (and a few you might but still will look forward to, anyway). What starts as a simple journey of remembrance turns into a deadly mystery which, in turn, becomes a global conspiracy both unsettlingly distant and horrifically personal. Big fat conspiracies wrapped in a mystery with monumental revelations that change everything--THAT'S what I love to see, ladies and gentlemen!
So then, where does it all go so wrong? "Where does it go right" is the better question, and I've just answered that above. Many things about Noir are bad. So very, very bad. To begin, we have the characters. At first, Mireille and Kirika are cold and distant and completely unrelatable. But hey, they're assassins, so they'd be hard to get to know at first, but they become more likable as the series progresses, right? ...Right? Guys? But yeah, no, they don't really change at all until roughly 20 episodes in, and while they become considerably more interesting in the final episodes, it's a case of too little, too late. Most people would've jumped ship long ago.
If neglecting to develop its characters is Noir's greatest sin, its runner-up would be the ball-bustingly terrible pacing. My God, what a slow-moving series. It's bad enough that each individual scene moves like it was directed by a turtle, but the series is plagued by eleven (I repeat, ELEVEN) filler episodes. That's generously not including the two-part "Intoccabile" arc, too, so you could argue that exactly half of the series is nothing but filler. I can understand a filler episode here and there, to adjust to the fact that our heroines are cold-blooded killers, but thirteen episodes?! Good God Almighty, help me out here!
Okay, so after slogging through 20 slow episodes chock-full of filler, we finally get some character development and the story picks up steam like nobody's business. "What would be the best way to piss everyone off now?" asks the chief producer. "Why, that's simple!" the director shouts. "Make a perfectly acceptable 'our journey has just begun' ending, and then tack on a stinger that changes everything and raises more questions than could possibly be answered!" The chief producer rises from his chair, exclaiming, "Somebody give this man a raise!" And that's all I need to say about the ending.
Finally, some nitpicking for your pleasure. The animation, while at times impressive, is quite limited and results in frequently reused footage and/or choppy-looking movements. It's really hard to maintain a stylish appearance when your fight scenes begin to look like a Hanna Barbara production, and it does the lovely artwork so much injustice. Also, apparently the agreement for Noir airing on TV Tokyo (and, by definition, getting a lot of viewers) involved not having any blood actually be shed. This gets very, very awkward when dozens of dudes are getting mercilessly gunned down. You'd think the streets of Paris would be running red by now, but you'd have thought wrong! Aside from no blood, there was also a ban on fanservice (or for those unaware of what that means, no nudity). Until, you know, Episode 25. When they flat-out spit in the face of the censorship agreement. And the sight of Chloe's naked body sends you into a convulsing, foaming quest to remove your brain from your head through your eye sockets.
Long story short, Noir should have been a "long story short". 13 episodes would have been plenty to tell this story and give us a filler episode or two to flesh our main characters out a bit, but instead what we've ended up with is a great story accompanied by great music, bogged down with lifeless characters and a geriatric pace that will test anyone's patience. There really is no way for me to honestly recommend watching Noir, except for you to have the satisfaction of saying you did. Which is dumb. What I would recommend, however, is for you to buy the soundtrack and wash your hands of this whole affair.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 10. Abandon all hope, for the initial style and A-tier soundtrack of Noir may be attractive, but only frustration and regret await ye who enter here.