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Noir: Complete Series (Anime Classics)
Noir (2001) is a unique anime series that tells the story of Mireille and Kirika, two assassins who "work" internationally on jobs assigned to them that involve finding and killing criminals involved in syndicates. The pair goes by the codename Noir which refers to the most powerful assassin around. The duo is also mysteriously linked to one another by a past that is unknown. Over the course of the series revelations are made about their past, the truth behind one particularly dark and disturbing criminal syndicate is uncovered, and the stage is well set for an action-thriller with dramatic elements. Noir is a seriously dark anime (pun intended).
The greatest strength of the series is the music score by Yuki Kajiura. This comes as quite the surprise as many acclaimed anime series have featured stellar music that is perfectly complimentary to the storylines being told and yet Noir is a rare-breed of show where the storyline often feels secondary to the style. Noir oozes style over substance from beginning to end and despite that shortcoming it still receives a first rate score to accompany the proceedings. The music frequently compliments the artistry of the animation and it serves as a lush backdrop to the action on screen. The score tends to bring its own range of emotional depth, which can manage to make up for some of the depth missing at the core of the writing for this series, but the series itself is never as satisfying an experience as a result.
The animation is visually impressive. The character designs are distinctive and memorable for the main characters. The animation backgrounds succeed as perfect backdrops for each story and are usually extraordinarily detailed. The supporting roles that are sprinkled throughout the episodes are never given as much detail or individuality in character design and that is certainly notable and unfortunate. On the bright side of things - this series does manage to showcase amazing visuals in each episode and for a story that tends to focus more on style than substance the style is certainly impressive. Noir can stand out quite distinctively as a unique anime series simply because of its unique approach to the animation and direction.
The primary series director is Koichi Mashimo (Madlax, El Cazador De La Bruja) and the film-making approach is one of the greatest strengths of the series. Mashimo is typically much more interested in the interactions between the characters and their relationships than he is in the action. This helps to give a distinctive feel to Noir; one which cannot be easily duplicated. The scripts by Ryoe Tsukimura are often extremely minimalistic with sparse dialogue and plot. When the ongoing storyline shows advancements it also builds with considerably slow pacing and the only thing that holds together these simplistic strands is the series direction. Mashimo might focus on the gaze of one of the characters, close up on the eyes, or show viewers a seemingly minute detail in the foreground of the animation. These moments are frequently filled with pathos that seems to be missing within the actual scripts (at least based upon the frequently uninteresting side-stories that make up the bulk of the series middle chapters). In a strange way, Noir might actually consist of many scenes and moments that are less fascinating than what one might typically hope for but the series director has such an interesting approach to how to tell the story that moments that might have felt bland or generic with another director in charge are instead uniquely fascinating and visually hypnotic.
If there is a dramatic pitfall to the series it is that the good intentions of director Mashimo are not entirely warranted given the lackluster character development given in the actual scripts. The beginning of the series was wise to keep elements mysterious and intriguing. Viewers would surely feel the series presented enough potential to become a memorably developed story. Over the course of the series, many episodes are spent doing little to actually advance the story and it becomes a bit repetitive and underdeveloped. It doesn't help that the main element that needed to be established -- a connection between the audience and the primary characters -- is never entirely established fundamentally. The characters are frequently interesting to behold but the stories never given enough insight in to the personalities or minds.
The series does manage to attempt to ask serious questions about morals and values in a way that is interesting and important. The characters seem to be at conflict with themselves at different points in the show which does help to improve the dramatic backbone of Noir. The series eventually tries to tell a redemptive story arc (at least in a sense) but the conclusion doesn't manage to be entirely satisfying in that regard. However, the last several episodes are filled to the brim with interesting twists and turns in the storyline. Characters are given some proper development that should have come even sooner to increase viewer connection to the characters. While the series takes too long to develop certain aspects of the story, the writer and director manage to successfully begin and conclude the show in a compelling way that should please fans. The stylistic and original approach given makes it a noteworthy production worthy of exploration by any anime fan.
Noir arrives on Blu-ray in North America (for the first time stateside!) utilizing the same source elements used for the remastered Japanese Blu-ray release of the series. Restored from original film elements, Noir looks stunning for much of its high-definition presentation. Colors, clarity, detail, and depth are more immersive and impressive. The improvement that can be seen for Noir is notable and should please fans of the series hoping to find a upgrade in the visuals. The animation has never looked so beautiful before.
Noir is presented in 1:78:1 widescreen (which preserves the original television broadcast aspect ratio). The 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded image is a big step-up over the DVD's of Noir and gives a good upgrade for fans who owned previous editions. While the image is somewhat soft and smooth at times (like the standard definition presentation), this seems to be source related and is because of how the series was animated. The improvements are immense. Viewers will be pleased with the significant high-def upgrade. Outside of occasional minor banding, Funimation's Blu-ray release of Noir is extremely nice looking and improves the video on many levels.
Noir has received a sonic boost as well. The upgrade to Dolby TrueHD lossless 5.1 surround sound for both the English and Japanese language presentations is a notable improvement. The clarity of the music and sound-effects is much better and will please audio enthusiasts hoping to find a reasonable upgrade. The music score presentation sounds splendid. The dialogue is always easy to understand. This is a nice lossless audio presentation.
Both the Japanese and English audio presentations are generally pleasant. While the show is frequently front-heavy with less emphasis given to the surround sound, there are action-heavy scenes and episodes where the surround usage is more substantial. The Japanese dub is superior as far as the voice acting goes (with stronger and more nuanced performances), but the English dub is enjoyable and seems to have slightly superior bass performance. Either option should satisfy fans of the series.
English subtitles are provided.
Like the DVD edition, Noir arrives on Blu-ray with a plethora of bonus materials for an anime set. While the quality of extras is a bit mixed (some of the bonuses are excellent while others are merely decent) it's hard to imagine fans being disappointed by the number of supplements included.
Supplements on this release include:
Interview with Houko Kuwashima (4:43), Interview with Kotono Mitsuishi (6:33), Interview with Tarako (5:53), Interview with Aya Hisakawa (6:20), Kirika Music Video (1:18), Interview #1 with Shelly Calene-Black (Mireille) and Monica Rial (Kirika) (2:09), Interview #2 with Shelly Calene-Black (Mireille) and Monica Rial (Kirika) (24:17), Interview #3 with Hilary Haag (Chloe) and Tiffany Grant (Altena) (15:02), Interview with the English Language Cast (25:32), Noir: The Unsoled Story (7:45), and Original Japanese Promos (3:44).
The interviews with the Japanese Voice Actors were thoroughly engaging and informative. The questions that were asked were related to the series and hearing the responses was simply fun. It provided good insight into the VA's views on the characters, story themes, Yuki Kajiura's score, and on the work done by director Koichi Mashimo. Any viewer who enjoyed the Japanese language dub will likely be entertained from any of these inclusions.
The Kirika Music Video is pretty similar to how it sounds - it's basically a short (barely over a minute long) Anime Music Video (AMV) that highlights clips of the Kirika character. It was not a particularly engaging video but the decision to make it with most of the color removed was an interesting choice that highlighted how interesting the series could have also been in an even moodier, classic film-noir style.
The interviews with the English Voice Actors were not as engaging as they were for the Japanese VA's but they do have some merit and are worth checking out anyway. Each VA tends to spend more time talking about their own personal backgrounds to greater lengths than they discuss the actual series. There isn't as much cohesiveness to the questions and it makes the interviews somewhat less compelling from a series standpoint. Yet the actors are interesting people and it should entertain some viewers curious to learn more about these Voice Actors.
The Noir: Unsoled Story is a silly camcorder made short film with sock puppets being used as the main Noir characters with dubbing (and actual cameos) from the English VA's. It's a bit ridiculous as a short and not nearly as funny as it probably was for them to make, and while it's nice that the bonus is included it's not likely going to engage most fans unless they are looking for some simple randomness to watch after finishing the actual series.
It is worth noting that two episode commentaries are included for episodes 15 and 16 (The Cold-Blooded Killer Acte 1 and II) with the English language VA's and dub director. These commentary tracks feel disorganized and uninformative. Each participant tends to gloss over talking about the actual show and simply goofs off and says random things from start to finish. The VA's are not reintroduced for the second episode either so unless you've listened to the commentary for the first part there is no way to really know who is speaking. I don't see any reason to recommend these commentaries to fans of the series.
Lastly, clean opening and ending credit sequences and trailers for other Funimation Entertainment releases are provided.
It's remarkable to now have Noir on Blu-ray in North America. The series is a superb dark action series. Even though it's focused more on style than substance, the series works for the most part with its great animation and superb music. The middle act is weak but with both an excellent introduction and strong concluding act, Noir is certainly a worthy series. The brilliant score music composed by Yuki Kajiura is hauntingly beautiful and sounds great with the lossless audio boost.
While Noir is not a perfect anime series, fans will surely want to own it in the best possible way with this substantial Blu-ray upgrade (which offers fans superior video, audio, and an equally impressive supplemental package).
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.