Few 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.
The 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.
There’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.
While 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
What if the Axis powers had won World War II?
What if penecillin had never been invented?
What if your parents had never met?
'Noein' is set in a a universe consisting of a nigh infinite number of dimensions in which every 'what if', no matter how big or small, must have occured in one dimension or another. The focus of the story, however, is limited to two dimensions: one closely resembling the world we live in (which will henceforth be referred to as 'our world') and 'La'Cryma', a dimension which is a possible future of 'our world' in 15 years where humans are forced underground due to a calamity that has befallen the earth.
It was a wise decision on the creators' part to keep the amount of dimensions limited seeing as excessive 'dimension hopping' could have lead to a huge mess of a plot; though I do feel it prevented the series from feeling as 'epic' as it tried to be. I think the focus ended up being too limited especially in the series' finale in which only 3 dimensions matter even though things are happening that involves each of the nigh innumerable dimensions. This in turn severely undermines the 'epic' interdimensional conflict the series is insistently trying to portray.
All this is a real pity seeing as the series had a strong opening-act featuring impressive action-sequences and an excellent balance between tender drama of the kids' lives in our world, personal and dimensional intruige between the characters (the most important being an organization called the 'Dragon Knights' in La'Cryma and suspenseful clashes when Dragon Knights come down to our world. The creators sadly fail to keep it engaging and the whole plot is ultimately all but ruined by inconsistencies, contrivances.
The characters are sufficiently entertaining: the kids in 'our world' are a collection of rag-tag clichés (the tomboy, the sweet girl, the quiet boy with mommy-issues, the ditzy girl, the wannabe though-guy) while the Dragon Knights also consist of some well-known archetypes (the gruff guy haunted by his past, the smart girl, the hacker, the psychopath). Most of the character play their roles well and are fleshed out in a satisfying manner. Special mention goes to a particularly engaging and poignant subplot involving a boy's difficult relationship with his mother.
Not all of it is good, sadly. 'Our world' also contains two adult side-characters who feel incredibly tacked-on and add nothing to the overall plot. They serve as a connection to a laughably clichéd evil coorporation overlooking the dimensions (though their influnce is barely felt within the series) to try and use them for their own sinister ends; but the whole plot-thread ends up being rather insignificant and yet it still hogs up a good chunk of screentime especially towards the end. Another huge weakness is the main antagonist, who remains an enigma until the show's finale and never manages to be a convincing threat seeing as he mostly pops up to give ominous warnings every so often. One last issue I want to adress is that the female lead's abilities end up negating any possible tension one is supposed to feel when she's in danger (and the makers actually try to make you worry for her safety); but in her defense: she's a likable and reasonably well-developed character.
The visuals are also a mixed bag. Fight scenes generally look stunning and art-direction is pleasantly distinctive without being excessively bizarre but normal motions like walking or running are often choppy and the amount of detail put in characters and backgrounds wildly fluctuates. The soundtrack is the only aspect of the series I have no major complaints about seeing as the music does a good job setting the mood of each and every scene though they could have cut back on the 'epic' choir track a bit.
All in all, 'Noein' is a series that is crushed under the weight of its own ambition while further suffering from sloppy writing and inconsistent animation. I applaud its many attempts at trying to be something genuinely distinctive and engaging but feel that the series failed to captivate me all the way through.
I still recommend anyone intruiged by the premise to give it a try seeing as there are those who are able to overlook the show's problems to enjoy its stronger aspects. Who knows? Maybe you, like them, will end up enjoying the series more than I did.
Story: Noein's story is simple. It's about a romance that ends in tragedy. The twist comes when you add spacial dimensional time travel on top of this formula and you have people from the future wanting to change things in the past to hopfully have a better future? The story kind of gets muddled in the middle with TONS of quantum pysics jargon and theta/beta/alpha particle discussion and dimensions and overlaps and there's mentions of Shangri-La in there and you really don't have much of a clue what's going on other than all of this stuff is bad. I should also note that the plot item to stop all this is also part of the romance, so you have Haruka which is the "Dragon Torque" that can basically bend all the dimensions to her will that is also needed to stop the dimension convergence. There's also a bit about a "Magic Circle" project but that plot just seemed to be throw away and insignificant to anything going on with the Lacry'ma people, Shangri-La's Noein and the kids.
In the end it felt that the plot and story dragged on for more than it needed to. Why I appreciate the "slice of life" to some of the episodes and felt they filled out the characters there were a few there, even towards the end that were basically filler and basically telling us "The future sucks for everyone always and forever!" which you already have gotten in the previous 20 some episodes. You'll also get sick of Haruka constanyly saying "Yuu" or "Karasu" over and over as well as her just standing there whenever something goes after her.
Animation: My feelings on animation are that it really hasn't been good since the late 90's when there was a switch from cel to digital. It really shows here, episode 2 has some of the best animation of the whole anime, and the rest are just kind of a cluster of geometric shapes that look human. The fight scenes are the absolute worst. It sometimes looks like they tried to rotoscope some of them and it looks chunky and blobby. The 3D in it was probably the best looking part
Sound: The sound was the best part. I felt the music fit really well and the sound effects for the Lacry'ma/Shangri-La parts were wierd, different and thus awesome. There were even small details like the eletric sound of Karasu and co's walking that really spoke to how different Karasu was from being human.
Characters: The characters were probably the strongest part of this anime. How they were when they were kids, VS what they grew up to be when you see them in Lacry'ma. Overall the slice of life nature was good to their development. As for the people of Lacry'ma I sort of felt they fell into stereotypes, the Knight (Karasu), the Killer (Atori), the Genius (Tobi), the Double Agent (Kuina), the Girl (Kosagi), the Brother (Fukuro).
Overall: (Average) Overall this series was good, it lagged in spots but it had a nice feel to it that wasn't stereotypical of most other anime.
I never found myself being drawn to watching horror/mystery type anime but my first foray into the genre was Noein and unfortunately it reaffirmed why i never started watching them.
Or should I say thats how I felt when watching the first 14 or so episodes of the series, but then things started to change. After they did the typical review episode the story started to get much better, the characters more likable and the anime, as a whole, much more enjoyable a series.
Story - 7/10
As I already stated the series started out rather dull and forced. I understand wanting to leave twist and turns for the very end of a series, or at least a bit later, to really shock the viewer, but for the majority of the series it was just question after question, or a question with the thought you obviously know the answer despite just learning about it two seconds ago. They blended that with a weak attempt at slice of life. It had me hoping each episode would start with a 15 minute recap so I could just fast forward through most of it and get to writing a review telling you all how bad it was.
Somewhere around the halfway mark the series learned how it could blend the two anime themes, mystery and slice of life, very seamlessly and add entertainment value to the once boring show. We learn much more of what is happening (which would have helped in the first half) and not just being shown flashes of a battle and expecting to know what it is.
I guess the originality of the story also tended to be the big problem, since it was such a new concept you really need to explain it, as oppose to many other shows where there is either all stand alone stories that fit a theme or a story we've heard before, be it in anime form or other forms of film and literature.
While I was content with how the story finally ended, there were still major plot points just abandoned in favor of focusing on what felt like un-needed side stories. The whole series could have benefitted from maybe just being a film or a small group of OVAs.
Animation - 4/10
When you first watch the show you'd think, well the animation is OK for an Anime made in 1982, then you realize, wait it was made in 2005? This is the area that really had me regretting this series during the first few episodes and something that even till the end was a huge downside.
The character's themselves are very crudely drawn and rate just slightly higher than stick figures. The faces, with their line curved up versus line curved down emotions, are on par with a remedial high school art class.
For a few scenes they even threw in my most hated part of animation, flash animation driving scenes. With all the terrible lighting design and neon rotoscoping effects we've all come to hate (or at least I hope you've come to hate because it's just lazy and amateur.)
The background scenery and work done on the Shangri-La villains is very good, good to the point where it would lead you to believe that the production company did actually leave the characters to a remedial high school art class while they spent months creating these great locations.
While I would have split it at 5 I had to just go a bit lower, as it seems they reused many pieces of animation over and over.
Sound - 7/10
The soundtrack for this series was very good. The composition was great and helped push the story along. The sound effects, both the serenity of life on earth and Shangri-La, as well as the hectic futuristic sounds of Le'cryma, were top notch, it really sounded like they had a dedicated sound designer as opposed to the boxed effects we often hear repeated in show after show.
The voices, in the english cast, as is the usual in my case, were also very well done. They picked many voice actors that have been prominent in english dubbed anime and made sure to leave out the overly kiddy and overly irritating ones that always seem to ruin a good show.
Characters - 8/10
Pretty much all the characters you've met before. A young perky girl, a brooding young boy, an athletic female friend, the nerd and the somewhat ditsy jock, but some how they made it work.
While the main characters, both on Earth and Le'cryma, were very well created and easily likable, well except said brooding tyke Yuu who you always felt needed a slap, I think this series really benefitted from the secondary characters.
The mother of our main character Haruka was reminiscent of FLCL's Kamon, but less wacky. She was also a manga writer and a slacker as a parent, but added tons to the second half of the show. Combined with the secondary versions of Tobi and Atori, the children's paranormal loving teacher and Haruka's scientist father, they really added that extra spark to the episodes I found enjoyable.
Overall - 7/10
Despite really disliking this show for the first sixty five percent of the series I was glad I finished it. For once it was a series that, despite feeling a bit rushed at the end, actually wrapped up nicely. Though there were some major loose ends that we never got into and parts of the story seem to come out of nowhere and add little to the show, I would recommend this to any anime fan, even ones that have some reservations about such Mystery / Sci-Fi shows.