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Noir: The Complete Collection
Praised by our very own Don Houston as being one of the best series on the market in 2003, Noir has finally seen its ADV thinpack release. The 26 episode anime originally aired in Japan back in 2001 and the series encapsulates the definition of "noir". In French the word means black though noir is also the name of a gritty film genre, derived again from the French translation. In more ways than one this particular series is the embodiment of both the genre and the definition.
With beautiful artwork by Bee Train (.hack, Madlax) the production values behind Noir are phenomenal. Stylized shadows and angles that are slightly skewed adorn every inch of animation. A beautiful and haunting soundtrack plays in the background and chimes in ever so carefully at the right moments. Even the action is amazing despite the fact that the show doesn't depict any blood. It's safe to say that out of every anime I have ever sat down to watch, this particular one is one of the most atmospheric and it makes an immediate impression.
Set appropriately in France, Noir follows the lives of two assassins as they seek out their next hit and to discover their past. Mireille and Kirika are near polar opposites when it comes to their personalities and at times the tension between the two is enough that you think one is going to kill the other. Other times they work together and their relationship almost feels akin to Leon the Professional. Heck, they even have a plant that they water from time to time. The two main characters share the screen time equally and to be fair each of their stories is just as interesting as the other's.
Mireille is a statuesque blonde who is a cold, calculative killer. She operates with purpose and accepts just about any job no matter what the circumstances are. A tragic event from her past led to her becoming an assassin for hire and not an operative of the Soldats. At the beginning of the series she receives an email from Kirika that includes a song from her past. Naturally this intrigues Mireille and she sets out to meet with the client.
When she gets there she meets Kirika who turns out to be a highly skilled assassin with a case of amnesia. She has no knowledge about her past or who she is and her only connection is a pocket watch that plays the tune that prompted Mireille's flashback sequence. The two are obviously connected in someway and as the show progresses we learn about their history. Mireille decides to team up with Kirika to discover the mysteries of her past and when it's all done Mireille promises to kill her.
Together the two assassins become known as Noir, which in this show is a name synonymous with death. Each episode features them picking up a contract, killing their target, having a flashback and discovering a piece of the mystery surrounding the Soldats. To say that the series breaks down into a formulaic structure would be stating the obvious, but the way that Noir handles itself easily separates it apart from other formula-riddled anime.
The single greatest achievement of this series is that it has its own sense of style. It doesn't give into clichés, it isn't predictable and it never gets boring despite the deliberate pacing. Everything from the music to the animation oozes style and the fact that the show cuts away and uses intelligent camera angles during action sequences makes it interesting. Most anime of this nature forces gallons of blood down your throat and makes you watch as brains get blown out, but not Noir. Apart from a few instances the depiction of violence is handled very delicately with a great sense of grace.
The show is also very episodic in addition to following a strict formula. Each episode brings about a new story and premise, though a few bits of the overall story are sprinkled in for good measure. Because of this structure there are a lot of characters that you'll meet and get to know but only see them for one or two episodes. Make no mistake though; these brief adventures leave an impression thanks to the overwhelming sense of drama that comes with them.
The thing that makes these individual episode storylines as memorable as they are is the amount of character development given to the secondary personas. Noir's targets are often shown interacting with family or friends and there is a real amount of humanity packed into every character. Sure there are often faceless Soldat operatives plaguing each episode, but the marks truly draw you into the story. I can't tell you how many times I was on the edge of my seat wondering if Kirika or Mireille were going to plug the person I just learned a lot about. From an ex-soldier who has turned his life around to service the destitute to a business man that just bought his daughter a birthday gift, they all feel real.
Noir is a truly emotional series with a great flare for the dramatic. It knows how to develop its characters well and really fleshes out the world that they live in. This is a must own series whether you want to track down the individual releases or the thinpack. My only advice is don't watch it all in one sitting. Noir becomes a much better experience if you space out episodes and allow each story to seep in.
Originally produced in 2001 this series is presented with a 16:9 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This set offers some great video quality with vibrant colors and only minor flaws to complain about. There were a few scenes in each episode where some compression artifacts were noticeable and a couple of spots with grain. Overall though this is a great looking show with some fantastic animation that gives anime produced in 2006 a run for their money.
The audio portion of Noir is easily the most impressive component of the technical presentation. The content itself is remarkable with a soundtrack that draws you in and some top notch voice acting no matter which language you are listening to. In terms of the language tracks English and Japanese 5.1 selections are available and the sound quality is fantastic. Each channel gets a fair amount of play at all the right parts even though the dialogue eats up most of the focus.
In a surprising turn of events ADV has included bonus content from the original release on this thinpack. Production sketches with alternate galleries, clean animations, original Japanese promos and some ADV previews are featured on each disc. There are even interviews with four of the main Japanese voice actors and the English voice acting cast scattered throughout the set. It was great to see a thinpack actually include these supplemental tidbits though it seems to have something with these discs being direct transfers from the originals which is my assumption.
By the time the last disc of Noir left my DVD player I was thoroughly satisfied. This is a powerful series that hits all of the notes that you would ever want an anime to hit. Each individual story here leaves an impression on you and as the show progresses you truly come to care for Kirika and Mireille. If you missed out on it when the individual releases were on the market you owe it to yourself to pick up the thinpack. Highly Recommended