When Haruka, Yuu and their friends decided to go ghost hunting, they had no idea the "ghosts" they'd find would turn their lives upside down. Black-clad and wielding quantum powers, these knights from the future are after an artifact of immense power that they hope will save their dimension from destruction: the Dragon Torque; and Haruka seems to be the key. As factions within the knights violently disagree on how to proceed, Haruka and the gang are caught up in a fight with the Shangri La, in an existential battle where fates of entire universes are decided.
StoryFew will deny that the anime begins well. There’s a flurry of buzzwords, well-choreographed action scenes and some genuinely awesome sci-fi themes, thrown at the audience with enough precision and style to suck them right in. It’s in this I-don’t-know-what’s-going-on-but-I-don’t-really-care stage that the anime is at its best. Flash forward to midway through the show, and the story is still quite reasonable. The anime employs the parallel universe interpretation of quantum mechanics to explain its universe, and, surprisingly enough, does so in a way that is both easy to understand and somewhat believable. Although the luster of the unknown is gone, the anime is still fairly decent at holding your interest. After this, however, the show gradually declines. The biggest problem is that the storyline begins to introduce twists and turns that feel almost completely arbitrary. After a while, there is no perceivable logic in between any two connected plot points – just confusion, randomness and good deal of cheez. In other words, the story ceases to “progress” in the general sense of the term; rather, it feels almost like a half-hearted brainstorm of directions the writers could have taken if only they’d focused on any one particular idea. In the last third of the show, when all hell is breaking loose and no one (least of all the creators) really knows why, the anime completely self-destructs. In a frantic effort to tie every disjointed element into a kid-friendly, Hollywood-style ending, the story breaks any semblance of plausibility. The dialogue moves from awkward to flat out hammy, the cool quantum mechanics themes are largely replaced with absolutely nonsensical pseudo-science gibberish, and any sort of suspense that the anime might have had is lost in the face of events that are absolutely asinine. Even the action scenes start to suck. Basically, this very much reminds me of Last Exile’s general storyline. Both shows start with a very cool and fully realized world, and both have absolutely no idea what to do with it. The result is a slow downward slope that leads right up to the end, where they hit rock bottom.AnimationThe first episode tries very, very hard to have absolutely jaw-dropping visuals, and for the most part succeeds at doing so. After this, however, the animation becomes almost painfully inconsistent. There are times, most noticeably in the action scenes, where the show will look absolutely fantastic. The show has a great sense of style when it comes to contrasting the futuristic parallel world to the more mundane one where most of the story takes place. I particularly liked the character designs, which differ radically depending on which dimension they are from, but as a whole are excellent all around. On the other hand, some of what I would consider the easier scenes seem horribly askew. Character designs occasionally mesh awkwardly with the backgrounds, and simple motions like walking or talking can seem stiff and artificial. There’s also a fair bit of CGI used, and while some of it works well enough, other parts just seem horribly out of place. In particular, the show reuses the same CGI model of Haruka’s house in just about every episode, and it looks pretty bad each and every time. As a whole, the animation is still pretty good; it’s just sort of disappointing that the undeniable highs of the visuals are somewhat cancelled out by the all-too-present lows.SoundThere’s competent voice acting from the entire cast and a serviceable soundtrack that I’ve already almost forgotten. Basically, this is what I’ve come to expect from modern anime series. Nothing stands out, but par really isn’t such a bad thing when it comes to crafting music that goes well with the story.CharactersWhile most SciFi anime shows tend to have boring and undeveloped characters, Noein defies convention by having characters that are actually good. In particular, Haruka is one of the best protagonists I’ve seen in a while: smart, likeable, believable. She’s surrounded by a multitude of supporting characters, which, considering their sheer number, are all surprisingly memorable and well-developed. The only character that I wasn’t satisfied with was Yuu. He very much feels like a male version of Naruto’s Sakura, in that you’d like him if only he’d ever do something. The character’s Shinji-esque woe-is-me-I’m-so-worthless attitude just gets tedious after a while; since when is longwinded whining ever entertainment? The character gets better eventually, but at that point it’s really a case of too little, too late.OverallThe riddle: How many anime with lackluster endings must a reviewer watch before he stops expecting closure? The answer: More than I’ve seen. I really should have learned by now. It’s not just a bad habit for anime to have bad endings; it’s a time honored tradition. And yet, I fully expected Noein, a schoolkids meets quantum physics kind of science fiction, to end well. Silly me. This is really too bad, because with a nice conclusion Noein would have been an easy thumb’s up. The characters have their weaknesses, but as a whole are solid and generally likeable. Also, the storyline certainly piqued my interest, right up to the point where it started sucking. Moreover, the animation and sound could have been better, but as a whole were nothing to be ashamed of. As is, however, the lackluster ending, coupled with several other key weaknesses, makes me honestly question whether this anime is worth even a weak recommendation, let alone gushing fanboyism. Is the show worth watching, in spite of its weaknesses? I suppose. There’s enough neat ideas brought up to satisfy the SciFi itch, and, if nothing else, the characters are pretty good. Still, this kind of ambition is going to lead a lot of people to call this the best series of the year, and in that regard I’d have to strongly disagree.
Noein is a show with a very interesting concept that is bogged down by the erratic pacing. Which is not the worst thing that can happen to an anime, because most of them have downright BAD presentation of their ideas. But first a few words about who produced it. It is animated by Satelight, a minor studio in the fileld. Amongst their several works, this is the only one I liked for its several interesting concepts. It is directed by Akane Kazuki, who also made the exceptional Escaflowne. He has a very moody style in his works and that makes him stand out. SPECIFICS Moving to the premise. It is about two alternative realities that are connecting not only through space but also through spacetime. So the core difference is how people called dragon knights spacetimetravel in a different world that is like their own with the difference it is 15 years younger than their own, where they were still kids. They are aiming to find an element there that lacks in their own reality, yet is crucial for not intergrading their world with a third alien one. What further makes the anime more believable is its constant use of quantum physics terminology as means to excuse how everything works. Words like causality, diverge, and waving sound a lot more scientific in the ears of the more demanding viewer, than just saying it was a fireball spell, or a teleportation staff. It still feels like magic from a point on but hey, if it was hard facts this wouldn’t be a series rather than a documentary. The 15 year gap helps to further perceive the change the characters had after a great calamity struck their world. If it was taking place at the same time it would be much harder to feel how all these years of misery changed them to the heartless and cruel people they are. Also, unlike conventional time travel stories, interacting with one another does not cause those pesky time paradoxes since they are considered to be different realities and not the same timeline. That means there is no fear of screwing around with the future. Isn’t that wonderful? It makes the magic panacea of time resets not possible; so you know there won’t be a hocus pocus ending. The production values are very good for this sort of anime, although the artwork quality varies a lot in style from segment to segment. It feels blobby here, sketchy there, and awesome elsewhere. This diversity can be perceived as either artsy or lazy depending on your point of view but it is definitely not consistent and feels like ten different groups were working on it without trying to normalize it in the final version. Yet this is supposed to be a show about the alteration of reality and the bending of spacetime, so in a way all that are excused in-story. Nothing is constant; visuals included.The animation is definitely very good, as the body motions and the camera angles are great and help you to immerge in the setting completely. The way most backgrounds and big objects are done with 3D doesn’t look very crude, nor irrelevant to the 2D foreground as it happens with most anime; the animators really paid attention to such details. They are not super awesome and aesthetically pleasing all the time but they fit with the overall.The visual effects are really funky, trippy, and epic when it comes to action. The world constantly changes when the dimensions overlap, time freezes, colors change, and the warriors do some really cool stunts when they are fighting and their cloaks take shapes according to what happens. There isn’t much of battle choreography but at least it looks fluent and dynamic enough to keep looking. The soundtrack is basically lots of sad sounding jpop pieces, a thing I am not fond of in the least. They are also not very memorable in the longrun but do fit the overall mood of the show. The BGM on the other hand has some really cool orchestra and chorus pieces during moments of tension or action, which turns the whole thing into amazing levels of coolness. Voice acting is good, although it feels kinda too serious at emotion-heavy times and makes it a bit harder to get into what the characters feel at that moment. Despite all the cool stuff that happen in the story and its very well handled premise, I can’t deny how it has a big chunk of naivety and plot armor in it, as means to prevent things from going crazy or ending in just one episode. The exposition of the story happens mostly with forced monologues by characters that half the time would normally have no reason to mention them so analytically, since they already know all that very well. This is clearly done to inform the viewer of what is going on but it still feels sloppy in terms of realism. Also, Haruka and the other kids seem to take all the really creepy things that happen around them WAY too light when any normal kid their age (and they ARE normal) would scream, get mad, call the cops, and be hospitalized from the shock. Yet again and again they just consider all the lethal and unworldly events around them to be unimportant and return to their silly carefree lives. Furthermore, the Dragon Torque artifact Haruka wears, as well as the ghostly figure of Noein are plot devises that offer lots Deus Ex Machina in the form of teleportation and clairvoyance, which weakens the tension considerably. It also becomes harder and harder to accept the dragon knights having such a trouble to just grab a little defenseless kid for so many episodes and instead waste time talking, and fighting amongst each other while their world is fading away. Hey guys things are simple; do your job or don’t bother. So basically the story keeps on finding poor excuses to stall the completion of the mission with lots of foolish side tracking and easily avoided internal conflicts. The pacing is otherwise NOT slow as there is always something interesting going on. From slowly getting to understand what is going on, to further learning more aspects about each character’s personality and mentality. It’s just that there are several genres going back and forth, and sometimes the switch happens in a sloppy way. There is a big contrast between the carefree life of the kids and the morbid world the warriors come from, so when you see them fighting for their lives on minute and fooling around the exact next feels a bit off aesthetically pleasing. Again, I feel it is because there were lots of teams working at the same time like in the artwork part, and each one went in to produce its own segment that didn’t necessarily fit in with all the rest in a logical line of thought. But hey, as I said it is about reality fading before your eyes, so it is somewhat excused. At least you are offered a lot of meat and in small pieces each time, thus you will not be bored with the whole deal right away. Even the quantum explanations, as confusing as the may be at first, they are easy to grasp if you already know the basics or are a bit open minded. The characters are interesting on a basic level, meaning that they are lively and easily likable for their attitude and mentality. They are still hard to be seen as plausible after awhile, since as I said they are not behaving realistically, since their line of thought is blurry from all the different people working on this show. And even if you break down their personalities, they will pass as silly to the most part. Haruka plays out as a mature and brave girl for her age (in fact TOO mature) and Yuu is her “emo without much of a reason” friend who needs to grow some balls after seeing his badass future self. And Karasu is the almost stereotypical anti-hero with an overprotection syndrome. Anyways, they are well presented but not highly excused to be as such. If you can deal with their behavior annoyance then you will like them a lot. FINAL THOUGHTS Despite the usually sloppy and convenient way everything unfolds, Noein is very enjoyable and accessible to most audiences but NOT the too-casual ones. You see, it was forgotten rather fast by most and not because it was a bad show but because it wasn’t too cliché and simplistic enough to appeal to moe lovers or shounen fans. And it sure wasn’t about kindergarten explanations around magic so it can’t be grasped by the average high school dropout. Plus it came out in a year good shows were abundant and Studio Satelight is not a major group most care to follow. I could even say the inconsistent visuals may put off a lot of viewers who prefer consistent and highly detailed models. The way I see it, it has a bit of everything and handles its premise without ever contradicting it. And above all the ending is not a magical reset, the thing most famous anime run to do as cheap means to offer a happy ending to the masses who want happily ever after finales. It would definitely be a lot more interesting if there were fewer episodes, faster pacing, and the characters behaved more plausible, yet all that don’t detract too much from enjoyment. I recommend it as a medium/high series that tries harder than most to tell a good idea. Not too successfully but it succeeds a lot more than most to be uncommon and intriguing without contradicting its themes or going for a cop-out ending. SUGGESTION LIST Steins;GateMadoka Magika And now for some excused scorings. ART SECTION: 8/10 General Artwork 2/2 (artistically chaotic) Character Figures 1/2 (generic) Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series) Animation 1/2 (very good in action scenes but otherwise basic) Visual Effects 2/2 (a bit crude but very fitting) SOUND SECTION: 7/10 Voice Acting 2/3 (a bit corny but fitting with the feeling of the series) Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series) Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess) STORY SECTION: 7/10 Premise 2/2 (interesting) Pacing 1/2 (erratic) Complexity 1/2 (not much but there) Plausibility 2/2 (despite the magical aspect of technology, it is very well presented and excused in-series) Conclusion 1/2 (messy but solid) CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10 Presence 1/2 (generic) Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded) Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there) Development 1/2 (messy but it’s there) Catharsis 1/2 (messy but it’s there) VALUE SECTION: 6/10 Historical Value 1/3 (still remembered by some as an interesting retro title) Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too much slow and chaotic pacing) Memorability 4/4 (extremely tragic to the point of forever remembering it) ENJOYMENT SECTION: 8/10 Good stuff if you see past some annoyances. VERDICT: 7/10
I liked Noein (pronounced "no-een," by the way) quite a bit more than I thought I would on first impression. I watched the first episode and was put off by what I saw as somewhat sketchy animation and a flimsy story. I eventually came back to it, however, and the more I watched, the greater my appreciation for this remarkable series became. True, the animation is sketchy at times. Especially during battle sequences, though I've yet to see battle scenes that are as kinetic and energetic as the ones in Noein. This could definitely put some people off, like it did me initially, but stick with it; you might, also like me, become accustomed to the style, and although I do wish the animation was more consistent, it in no way detracts from the rest of the show. What we get in return for the at times shoddy animation is a real quality anime. The characters are well-defined, if somewhat obstinately ignorant (I'll get to that in a minute), and the central characters of Haruka, Yuu, and Karasu are all fascinating in their own right, especially as the series goes on and they begin to develop and change. Yuu especially becomes one of the most likeable characters in the series, something you might not expect from his beginnings as an annoying prick. The other characters are funny and entertaining, and get a modicum of development as well (one character especially goes through drastic changes throughout the series, but I won't say who here for fear of major spoilers). The one downfall here is that these characters remain completely ignorant of what is going on for the majority of the series, even at times when it would make no sense for them to be; towards the end, when they're still freaking out every time something weird happens -- despite the fact that this kind of stuff has been happening for quite some time now -- it begins to border on the ridiculous. Unfortunately, only a few characters are made privy to the real stakes of what is going on, which lessens some of the dramatic impact as the series wears on. Still, this is a minor fault, and believable insofar as these characters are mostly children, and are being confronted with a complete breakdown of everything they've ever known. I haven't mentioned the story yet -- and that's for a very good reason: it's extremely complex, and constantly developing. It's been said that Noein is the equivalent of "quantum physics, the series," a claim I won't refute. I'm going to admit right here that quite a bit of what happened in this series went way over my head. Sentences like, "if we don't hurry, our existence will become an illusion!" are thrown around pretty casually, which can make things confusing; don't worry, though -- by the time things get really complicated, you'll hopefully be invested enough to just go with it, and it all sort of makes sense anyway, no matter how many of the finer details you might miss. Despite being complex, however, the plot is highly original -- and extremely engaging. I found myself propelled from one episode to the next, hungry to know what would happen next, even if I didn't always understand what was going on. A mild rough patch towards the end where things seem to go around in circles for a bit didn't bother too much, though in retrospect the series probably could have been a few episodes shorter. I also want to mention that the sound design and music for this series are absolutely fantastic. The music, for example, is the kind of sweeping, operatic stuff you might hear in a Lord of the Rings film. Luckily, what's happening on the screen is frequently epic enough to earn that music, especially as the show enters a particularly exciting (if occasionally frustrating) finale. I've given this series a 9/10 because, despite all of its faults (and there are many), I had a great time watching it, it made me use my brain, the characters are engaging and entertaining, and the action is phenomenal. Though there was certainly room for improvement, this is still an excellent series, and one that I heartily recommend you at least try. I'm certainly glad I gave it a second chance.
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