Noir Anime Review
US Release By
French Psychological Assassin Action
26 25-minute episodes
2001-04-05 - 2001-09-27
Mireille Bouquet is an assassin for hire in France, where everyone mysteriously speaks Japanese. You just played witness to the first and last piece of humor in this anime (what kind of name is Bouquet?). One day, she receives an email from Japanese student (of course) Kirika Yuumura to "make a pilgrimage to the past with her." Upon going to Japan, she and Kirika are attacked by mysterious assassins. Mireille fights them, but when she is captured, Kirika dispatches her captors with amazing efficiency. It seems Kirika Yuumura is a fake identity, and her parents are not her parents, she can't remember anything, yada yada. Her only clues to her past are two things she found in a drawer when she woke up: a gun, and a silver pocket watch that plays a tune when opened. However, it seems that Mireille remembers this tune from her childhood. The two of them team up to become the assassin team Noir, and after they found out the secrets of Kirika's past, Mireille plans on killing her. Their search leads them to the mysterious Les Soldats organization (my French is bad; no idea what it means).
This review is based off the first five episodes and should be taken as such. Almost every review I write is from Cartoon Network because I've been pouring all my money into Love Hina DVDs and graphic novels (I love Love Hina--really bad pun), but since I'd heard good things about Noir I decided to pick it up. Unlike those other high-falutin' reviews you people be readin', I can't confess to any kind of knowledge about this show's inspiration, the classic Film Noir. Call me a dumb kid if you want. However, the first thing that strikes you about Noir is how... well, 'noir' it is. There's not a single funny bone in this anime's body. If I had been looking for a break from Love Hina, this would have been it. It's also very similar to .Hack, but uses an assassin motif rather than the RPG theme. The storyline looks somewhat shallow, but I'm sure there's some kind of mystery behind our two female leads and this Les Soldat thing that will spice things up a bit in later episodes. Thusfar, before the introduction of Les Soldats in episode 5, most of the episodes are about Mireille and Kirika getting a job from someone and how they carry it out. This leads up to some cool action scenes, which I'll get into later.
The characterization of our heroines is somewhat shallow so far. Despite being an assassin, and contrary to initial inspection, Mireille seems to most human. She goes out and does things like getting groceries, reading magazines over a cup of coffee at the cafe, buying flowers to put on a mysterious grave. Kirika, on the other hand, stands (or sits or lays) around morosely all the time. Because of the way the two of them look, I was expecting Kirika to be the soft, scared, wet-behind-the-ears (does anyone actually know where that came from?) kid, and Mireille to be the hardened assassin. That just goes to show that looks can be deceiving. Since it's so early into the series, there's a lot of room for character improvement, and our two assassins have more character in them than the entire cast of .Hack without even trying, so there's hope. A problem that might develop is that the characterization might be limited to hack (no pun intended) devices like having their parents killed when they were young, or (in Kirika's case) actually being a government experiment.
Like .Hack, the technical aspects are the best parts of the show. The animation is dark and usually moody, and even bright scenes like the streets of Paris don't quite look right. It also moves very consistently and quickly, snapping the action sequences to life. Kirika is actually a better assassin than Mireille, and the action sequences help show it. Computers were either not used or used very sparingly (in the first five episodes). The character designs all look right (Mireille bears a striking resemblance to BT from .Hack), and the outfits they wear are all fitting of the situation. This means that, barring a few instances, they are usually not running around killing someone in street clothes. The subtitles are very accurate, for the most part (I've been studying my brain out), and the Japanese voice acting is all fit very well to the characters. Mireille in particular is a very well-done role, which is quite weird considering her track record. This is Kotono Mitsuishi, the infamous actress behind Excel of Excel Saga, as well as Evangelion's Misato Katsuragi, Revolutionary Girl Utena's Juri Arisugawa, and Sailor Moon's Usagi Tsukino (Sailor Moon herself). As Mireille, the voice sounds brash and mocking when necessary, undergoing a slight pitch change, but does dark and mysterious too. Kirika was good enough, and the minor characters, despite being French people who speak perfect unaccented Japanese, were all well enough. From what I've seen of the dub (when I forget to change the language before the show starts), Kirika's voice at least is not very good. It's actually the dub voice of Excel's dead-again, alive-again partner Hyatt.
The music is about on the same level as .Hack, but much more varied. The opening is a fairly quick, and unique, J-pop song with a good rhythm and excellent coordination to the animation (I can't stand it when the animation isn't even coordinated to the song in front of it). The ending is a very slow piece of music definitely deserving of its title: "Beautiful Emotions." The lyrics don't really fit the show, unless you're looking ahead to a possible ending, but let's not get into that. The BGMs are all good too, but one of the most striking things about the show is the anti-music: the silence. About sixty-five percent of the scenes in the show are not only lacking music, but speech as well. Mireille does a bit of talking, but Kirika is one of those people who only speaks when spoken to, and even then keeps it as short as possible. The gunfights, as expected, are this way as well, but they have sound effects to break things up a bit.
Actually, maybe I misspoke when I said the ending didn't fit the show. As some shows use the art of sharply contrasting comedy with drama, Noir uses a different art: sharply contrasting tranquility with chaos. Due to the extensive amount of silence, a lot of the show takes on a very tranquil feeling that the ending perfectly embodies. Most of an episode will carry on this tranquility until the climax, when the girl's assassination job comes up and throws everything into chaos. Usually, the show sinks back towards tranquility for the conclusion of the episode, but never quite gets there.
In the end, Noir is a very confusing piece of work, but most of it is inconsequential. It's also a magnificent technical achievement. Unlike .Hack, you could watch this just for the action scenes and completely eschew the rest of the show (although that would be kind of a waste).
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Notes and Trivia
The girl's guns are all modeled after actual guns, rather impressive since they're against the law in Japan (no second amendment for those people). The architecture in so-called Paris is also very close to the actual city, instead of being a homogenous city with skyscrapers that could be New York or Tokyo or anywhere. No Eiffel Tower, though; maybe it isn't really Paris, just France.
US DVD Review
This DVD and Excel Saga made me wish ADV had published Love Hina in the US (the extras are sad and the dub is the worst I've ever seen, but let's not get into that). Complete with subtitled and dubbed versions, as well as the ability to turn off the subtitles. Nothing spectacular so far. Well, they've also got chapter stops at the usual places (beginning, beginning of episode, midpoint, end of episode). The extras are some original TV spots (wow, Noir was on at 1:45 AM in Japan!) and production sketches, as well as previews. I know I'm in an extreme minority here (mainly because no one cares), but I don't like having previews for Farscape season 2 on an anime DVD. There are production sketches of everything from characters to clothes to weapons, and there are enough of them to keep you watching black and white pictures scroll by for hours. All the menus play music as well, and so do the production sketches, so you'll have something to listen to while you do it. All in all, a great DVD, but next time no Farscape, 'kay?
Violent, but no actual blood.
Violence: 2 - The most violent kill isn't shown on-screen, and the rest involve no blood whatsoever.
Nudity: 1 - Just some sleeping clothes.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Unless you call two girls sleeping in the same bed mature...
Language: 1 - Nothing of note.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Mireille Bouquet: Kotono Mitsuishi
Kirika Yuumura: Houka Kurashima
English Dub Cast
Mireille Bouquet: Shelley Calene-Black
Kirika Yuumura: Monica Rial