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Noir Complete Collection

ADV Films // Unrated // June 17, 2008
List Price: $89.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted June 29, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
You might be forgiven if as you watch Noir you think you've stumbled onto an animated and pluralized Luc Besson creation, "Les Femmes Nikita," or perhaps a feminized Robert Ludlum cartoon, "The Bournette Identity." Or, to completely date myself and elevate myself into all-time flop-tv geekdom, the short-lived Frank Converse mystery Coronet Blue. All three of these pieces have curious similarities to this very enjoyable 26 episode anime series, one which combines a nicely spun mystery about its central characters, while also engaging in some splendidly creative action set pieces courtesy of these characters' penchant for assassinating people.

Noir follows the exploits of two young female killers-for-hire, Mireille Bouquet and Kirika Yumura. The opening episode sets up the intriguing premise that Kirika, who has lost her memory, and Mireille, who becomes her ostensible mentor, are somehow linked, though Kirika can't remember how and Mireille isn't telling. There's the recurring motif of a mysterious pocketwatch which plays a haunting lullaby that seems to invoke memories for Mireille. Once Mireille agrees to take in Kirika (telling her she will kill her after her identity has been uncovered), they assume the code-name "Noir" for their assassination exploits. As further episodes unfold, a mythic quality pervades the series, with the girls battling a shadowy cult known as Les Soldats (The Soldiers), who send a number of agents and other conspirators after them, chief among them yet another young girl, Chloe. Though anyone used to anime's tried and true formulae knows going into one of these things that the going can get turgid at times, the levels of storytelling in Noir are expertly handled for the most part, and, unlike some manga-based series that ended before their time, this show actually has a beginning, middle, and end.

There are several things that set Noir apart from the standard anime series (if there is indeed a standard anime series). As my youngest son stated in a degree of profundity that makes his Papa proud, "Wow, Dad, this one actually makes sense." Noir is, in other words, fairly literal in its basic storytelling methods, though those methods are put to use in a multi-level piece that has elements of fantasy, action, myth and mystery. Mireille, Kirika and Chloe are all fascinating characters in their own rights, each with peculiar modes of killing and with their own personal histories which are slowly revealed over the course of the series (though Chloe's remain the most clouded of the three).

The visual style of Noir is what will probably strike most viewers on their first glance at the series. While the main characters have the gargantuan eyed, minimally nosed features that seem to populate all animes, the rest of the production design is a riot of style and color that approaches graphic novels at times--there are long sequences where characters are seen in what amounts to freeze-frame, with changing geometric shapes in the background, or blossoming CGI abstractions. Colors are used to dynamic effect, with a character completely bathed in blue or red as the designers see fit. Against all of this invention, the show plays out on a variety of European city stages, and each of those environments, while certainly not photo-realistic, are painted with a neat verisimilitude that actually contrasts with the more abstract aspects surprisingly well.

Music augments this series far more than most animes. A beautiful score, largely by Yuki Kajiura, runs the gamut of techno, pop, rock, and classical, and at times reminded me of a very fluent melding of some of the Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas with Richard Souther's reimaginings of Hildegard von Bingen's chants which became so popular a few years ago. The action sequences play out marvelously against this evocative underscore (and it really is more than underscore--these mini-epics of mayhem play like demented music videos at times). One thing that I especially appreciated about Noir was its lack of gratuitous blood and gore--though the action sequences are visceral, they're almost balletic and figurative in that there are virtually no after-effects to be witnessed on the victims. It's a pleasant change from the blood-and-guts ethos that seems to inhabit a lot of television, anime or otherwise.

There are a couple of minor shortcomings to this series, and they simply stem from the at times over-ardent attempts at mythologizing the basic premise. Every episode starts with a prelude proclaiming the dawning of a new age which will be brought into being by two women warriors. By about halfway through the series, when Chloe has joined the fray, and the machinations of Les Soldats have become at least a little less opaque, the coming denouement seems to be a bit on the forced side with a couple of motivic questions left dangling. But that's probably the result of over-analysis--the thrill-ride of Noir really doesn't require much thinking, for better or worse. Its visual flair, unusually cogent storyline (for the most part, anyway) and incredible music make it one of the hallmarks of recent anime series.


Noir boasts a very nice enhanced 1.78:1 transfer, with exceptional color and especially black detail (a lot of the series' action pieces are set, appropriately, in noir-ish nightime or otherwise darkened environments).

Both the English and Japanese 5.1 soundtracks are absolutely exceptional, with superb separation and fidelity. Dialogue is always clear, though occasionally overpowered by the omnipresent score. Lots of great sound effects dot this series, keeping the various channels hopping. English subtitles are available.

This seven disc boxed set is chock-full of extras, though some are perfunctory, repeated from disc to disc and on the short side. Included are: production sketches, credit-less opening and closing title sequences, original Japanese promos, interviews with director Houko Kuweshima, voice actress Kotono Mitsuishi, soundtrack singer Awa Hisakawa, and several english soundtrack voice artists.

Final Thoughts:
Though the basic premise of Noir may seem vaguely reminscent of other material, the fact is it is developed in a totally unique way, with an alarmingly brilliant visual style and equally glorious musical accompaniment that makes it one of the most enjoyable animes I've had the pleasure to watch in many a year. Add to this fact that there is an ending of sorts, something that is sadly lacking in a number of high-profile animes, and the time needed to navigate 26 episodes becomes well worth it. Noir is highly recommended.

"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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Highly Recommended

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