It’s been a while since I finished watching Noein, but I happened to be reminded of it again the other day when I noticed that Manga Entertainment had announced R1 release dates for volumes 1-4. Assuming that these four volumes comprise the complete series, and given that they’ll be retailing at $19.98 each, it’s certainly good value for money, but I couldn’t help wondering just if I really want Noein on DVD. Or, to put it more bluntly, did I really enjoy the series all that much in the first place?
Now, before I go any further, there is one factor I must address, and that is the variable (i.e. slow) speed at which the series was subbed in English. There’s no doubt that the gap between episodes reduced my enjoyment of the show- the momentum was stalled, I probably forgot important plot points along the way, and by the time the series got to its closing stages, it was old news amongst the newer and shinier titles of the spring season. I won’t deny that watching Noein piecemeal casts it in a poorer light than it perhaps deserves, but even taking this into account, I can’t ignore that the series is flawed even under the best of conditions.
The story centres on the lives of a group of elementary school students- lead Haruka, moody Yuu, football mad Isami, UFO fanatic Miho and tomboy Ai. Unbeknownst to them, Haruka actually possesses the supernatural, deus ex machina powers of the Dragon Torque, loosely describable as the ability to redefine realities. Thanks to this, Haruka is the target of the Dragon Knights of La’cryma, a timespace fifteen years in Haruka’s future, and it isn’t long before her normal world becomes entangled with a more fantastic reality.
In the early days, Noein seemed an entirely promising series. I admit that I had a few worries that it would become a repeating cycle of Dragon Knights coming to capture Haruka and never quite succeeding, and I didn’t always have much of a clue as to what was going on, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment too much. Noein’s blend of seemingly epic sci-fi and grandiose battles with everyday life and character drama seemed the perfect mix for a top level series, and my hopes were distinctly high.
Unfortunately, whilst by no means a terminal sufferer, as it moved into its second half, Noein began to display distinct symptoms of so-called ‘Otome Syndrome’; promising much in early episodes, but never actually delivering the goods. At a point when the story should have really been kicking into gear, Noein suddenly moved into a slow paced cruise mode, even resorting to the dreaded recap episode (dressed up as a view into negligibly different alternate realities, but a clip show nonetheless). By the end, even though the story was obviously done, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed- so much more could have been made of this story than was accomplished in the end.
Prior to going into the plot specifics, I must make one more brief digression, this time to discuss Noein’s preoccupation with quantum mechanics. Although most people are put off by the very mention of the word, the quantum mechanics in Noein is not difficult; a good lecturer or teacher could impart the ‘science behind Noein’ with little obstacle. My point is that the fact that Noein talks about timespaces and wavefunctions does not make it clever; it simply enables it to insert a fair amount of exposition scenes when it could have been advancing the story.
A tale of numerous alternate timespaces (okay, three)
Since handling numerous alternate realities is more the province of series such as Sliders and Tsubasa, Noein chooses to focus itself primarily on three worlds- ‘home’, La’cryma and Shangri’La.
The home world, modern day Japan, starts off as a location in its own right, but soon becomes a mere backdrop to ‘whatever else is coming through from other worlds’. I have left out a few characters, simply because I could not
remember their names think of anything interesting to write about them.
Haruka: As the lead, Haruka is entitled to call out someone’s name, and have them come and save her. Her Dragon Torque lets her ‘resequence’ reality when convenient, but with certain limits- she cannot change reality to an ‘unconnected’ timespace, e.g. one in which her parents did not break up.
Yuu: A moody young man, Yuu is under pressure from his mother to study hard and go to school in Tokyo, resulting in much angst. Predictably, he likes Haruka, but can he compete with his far superior future self for her affections?
Isami: A character in the mould of Aquarion’s Pierre, Isami’s defining characteristic is a love of football. He lives with his big brother, who seems to enjoy tackling him. A boring sports fanatic.
Ai: Despite being a tomboy on the outside, Ai has secret feelings for Isami, and even spirals into angst when she thinks he likes Haruka. Fortunately, this plotline is resolved early on, although the mystery of why she would like Isami is not.
Miho: An amusingly energetic character, Miho is a big fan of UFOs and supernatural events.
The ‘bad’ future: According to Noein, the future for this timespace will turn out badly; Haruka will die, Isami will become a delinquent, Miho a hikikomori, whilst Ai has to have both legs amputated for some reason. It was this latter point that destroyed the credibility of this storyline, since full leg amputation is an extreme measure, and not one that Ai’s condition seemed to merit (yes, I know it is only anime, but wildly inaccurate medicine in ‘realistic’ worlds still annoys).
The phone that never rings: In episode fourteen, a disconnected phone in Haruka’s house starts ringing- an eerie turn of events if ever there was one, especially as it has done the same thing several times in the past. Finally, when Haruka comes to answer the phone, she gets to talk to a future incarnation of herself, but to little end- the phone call is forgotten by next arc. Mysteriously ringing phones and the like are a favourite device of mine, and I was understandably disappointed that this storyline had about as much resolution as an episode of Good Witch.
The Magic Circle Project: Not a revival of street magicians, but a special project involving a new type of particle that Haruka’s dad is a part of. Despite the fact that the project could destroy a good portion of reality, the evil fat boss of the endeavour decides to go ahead with it anyway. To be honest, this storyline did not add much to the plot, and would have been best left out in favour of more development for La’cryma and Shangri’La.
By all rights, La’cryma should be an interesting place. A technologically advanced world with older versions of the lead characters, where could it go wrong? Unfortunately, poor La’cryma suffers from a lack of the development it so sorely needed. The fabled Dragon Knights consisted of about five people, all of whom defected to other factions by the end, but this is but a small concern compared to the largest and most glaring error- how did La’cryma come to exist in the first place? Fifteen years seems like a very short time for modern day Earth to evolve into such a technologically advanced world.
The Dragon Knights: Despite being Dragon Knights, each member is named after a different type of bird. They have all undergone some kind of quantum upgrade that lets them unleash odd materials and powers from their bodies, and also means they must connect to La’cryma via blue pipelines or face disappearing from reality altogether.
Karasu: Unbelievable as it is, the likable Karasu is a future version of the moody Yuu, now transformed into a Dragon Knight and the closest Noein comes to having a bishounen. Karasu’s duty in the series is to defect from La’cryma as soon as possible and become Haruka’s protector.
Fukurou: The future Isami, finally freed from his football obsession. Even though he is Karasu’s friend, he is forced to turn against him at one point, and later ends up dissolving thanks to the evil of the
Atoli: Atoli starts off as the psychotic evil face of the Dragon Knights, and expends a lot of time and energy trying (and failing) to capture Haruka. Eventually he loses his memories and becomes docile, and even when he regains them he is kept from hurting anyone by the power of love and his friendship with Miho. For some reason, he reminds me of Last Exile’s Dio.
Tobi: Atoli’s underling, he represents the gentle computer expert who joins the side of good along with Atoli. Every series with computers needs a computer expert, the plot demands it.
Isuka: aka “The Expendable”. Atoli’s underling during the time of psychotic evil, he dies early on.
Kosagi: The token female of the Dragon Knights, she spends most of the series being annoyed and angry at Karasu’s defection, before finally defecting herself.
Kuina: aka “Crumble face”. Whenever a Dragon Knight makes a dimensional jump, there is the danger of leaving important body parts behind. Unfortunately, this rule only seems to apply to Kuina, who loses more and more of his body each time he jumps, until he becomes part metal scarecrow, defects to Shangri’La, and meets his end.
Future Haruka: Poor Haruka has already died in this timeline, spurring Karasu to become attached to the past timeline where she is still alive. I was hoping to find out a lot more about what happened to Haruka, but unfortunately this was not gone into in nearly enough detail.
Not quite the paradise the name suggests, Shangri’La is more of a field of long grass in the middle of nowhere, with some ‘unique’ architecture and a few sculpted monsters that attack the heroes at key points.
Noein: The face of evil for the show, Noein is a masked humanoid shape and, predictably enough, a future incarnation of Yuu/Karasu. Since every decision we make creates new timespaces for each possible outcome, Noein wishes to reunite them all into one. I can’t say I haven’t thought about the number of universes constantly increasing, but uniting it all into Shangri’La seems a bit too much to hope for, and the logistics of such a course are flawed even for a fantasy/science-fiction anime.
“Oh no, we spent the animation budget on CG house shots!”
It may seem bizarre, but the above ‘quote’ could well be the case for Noein; throughout the series, the quality of the animation slowly gets worse, but there are always ample CG shots of Haruka’s house. Every angle of “house shot” is catered for here, leading some to believe that the house was the key to it all (and in fact, the house did play an important role at the end). Unfortunately, after offering us some relatively fast-paced and exciting action scenes at the beginning, there proved to be too little money left over to produce consistent visuals, leading to numerous ugly and deformed character scenes later on.
I actually meant for this rant to be a less vehement appraisal of Noein, but the more I wrote about it, the more I realised how many flaws were contained within its previously inoffensive borders. Once, this series contained so much promise as a worthy addition to the science fiction genre, but in retrospect, my feelings for the show can only be described as overall disappointment and regret for what could have been so much more.