Have you ever wanted to go back in time 11 years and watch really convoluted and stupid anime? Really, you haven’t? Because man, I’ve got the perfect series for you if so. Kamaaan, it’s not that bad…ok jk yeah it kind of is, but if you’re sure then forget it, I’ll complain about Noein without you.
See, once upon a time Nostromo_vx made the closing track to one of the greatest MEPs ever made of its long-playing, multi-song type, Reflections of Style 3. In it he used his then-burgeoning fast-paced, zoom-heavy style to essentially advertise Noein as an anime worth watching. In my younger days, when I still actually bought anime and was easily influenced by AMVs as a way to find good source material for my own potential videos (not that I don’t still do that occasionally, mind you), I came across the DVD collection for Noein at my local Fry’s, and caved and bought it because man did it look cool.
Fast-forward nine years, when I finally decide to watch it, and here I am, a month and a half after having started it, finally done, and with a sinking feeling like I probably just flat-out wasted the ~10-13 hours it took me to ultimately watch through the series, not to mention the money I spent on it. See, I’m not one to give up on a series, and it’s like this for most media — albums, video games, books…even if I’m definitely not particularly enjoying engaging in a particular activity, I find it difficult to stop until I’ve actually finished the thing in question. I can’t say what it is that pushes me to do this, but this is one thing about myself which I could probably stand to change. I’m sure I’d find myself using my time better, but I digress.
Noein is a story about stuff that would be too complicated to explain to you because it didn’t do a very good job of explaining it to me. There are people from the future who meet their past selves, multiple dimensions, a couple really bad dudes with a “destroy/change the world” mentality, and a really wacky interpretation of quantum mechanics that not only ends up driving the plot, but the characters and their motivations as well. It’s all tossed together with as much care as this guy doing his art, and with about the same end result.
I seriously can’t really give a plot summary because I’m not actually sure I totally understood it, and that’s not for lack of trying — basically, our hero Haruka is an elementary school girl who is also the “Dragon Torque”, and she has crazy powers that allow her to stop time and somehow make her the “key” to saving the world of La’cryma, which is a parallel dimension 15 years in the future. Her friend and confidant Gotou Yuu shows up from his world of La’cryma (where he goes by the name “Karasu”) with the intent to take her back, but after a few episodes realizes that he’s better off forsaking his world for hers in order to protect her. Blah blah blah quantum physics/multiverse stuff used to justify this ridiculousness, an evil parallel dimension known as “Shangri-La”, and plenty of shounen-style fights and action and melodrama to supplant any real attempt at a logical explanation, and you’ve got Noein.
The problems with Noein are many, but I’m going to start with the worst of the bunch: the story, which takes all these seriously awesome ideas and decides to just throw them into a blender rather than intelligently present them to the viewer in a way that makes sense. And, except for one or two points, this isn’t even attempted; the writers instead opted to make the viewer feel as stupid as possible, preferring esoteric scientific jargon to anything that a layperson could understand. And maybe this would be okay, except that the dialogue instead seems to default to bunches of important- and very technical-sounding words strung together into sentences that may or may not actually make sense.
As the story relies heavily on understanding the tenants of quantum physics to make sense, these conversations just get more and more frequent as the story goes on. And in the end, one can’t help but feel like the whole point is that this is just so over everyone’s heads that as a viewer you don’t really need to follow these often lengthy discourses; in the process, it’s likely you’ll lose the thread of the story entirely. This happened to me on multiple occasions.
Noein does have one or two points where the physics is dumbed down to a level where the average viewer can understand; one such instance is where one of the side characters, a woman who is working to investigate the strange energy readings in the area in which our main characters live, explains to her stereotypically brawn-over-brains police investigator partner some of the quantum physics involved. From what I remember of this ~5-minute sequence she gives a pretty accurate and understandable explanation of the basic assumptions and results of the quantum framework; even though this entire portion felt extremely forced and clumsy (with the investigator constantly quipping things like “Meaning…?” or “Could you explain that so I can understand?”), it was a welcome period where I, as the viewer, felt like I could put a few pieces together and make sense of how all this related to the story at hand.
Sadly, there weren’t many other sequences like this, and the viewer is instead left feeling like this stuff is best left to the experts, helped in no small part by the other older characters, often from the other dimension, who seem to fully understand this stuff because they’re geniuses and talk to one another as such. Especially given that most of the main characters are elementary school children, it’s not a stretch for the viewer to identify more with them and get into the mindset that we should just let the adults handle the complex stuff. Given the fact that most of the explanations are hidden behind impenetrable (and probably lexiconically meaningless) techno-babble anyway, as a viewer I found it easier to mostly just tune out or glaze over these portions that might otherwise be revelatory or (God forbid) interesting.
But we’re not done yet because the things that happen in this story are all done by its characters, and they don’t fare much better in terms of believability or, perhaps more importantly, relatability. Haruka isn’t worth talking about much because she’s a pretty flat, boring main character — her sole redeeming factor is the fact that she’s basically a being/thing/I’m not really sure what with the ability to do neat supernatural things, and even as I’m writing this I don’t know that her existence was ever properly explained. But in reality, I do give props for making the main character someone who is literally otherwise the most uninteresting person in the entire series; usually anime heroes tend to be below average, deficient in some way and therefore memorable, but not Haruka — she blends into the background like no one else could, and I guess in a weird way that’s kinda cool.
Then there’s Karasu, who could probably be called the “other” main character of the story; he’s a hard, tough dude from the future who is exceptionally strong and suffers from the usual hero complex — shortly after meeting Haruka, he decides that he must protect her at all costs, and one of the most annoying of anime cliches is brought into existence and carries on throughout the anime. Karasu is really no more interesting than Haruka, but that’s not for lack of trying. The writers clearly want you to find Karasu dark, mysterious, dangerous even, but in the end he comes across as little more than an annoyingly bleak person, with the uncanny ability to turn literally every single person who comes against him to his side. That dark personality is just so winsome — is this why goth kids adopt this kind of persona?
And then there’s Yuu, Karasu’s past self and Haruka’s peer and close friend. One huge complaint I have about the story is how Yuu is handled; for the first half of the series he’s painted as being pushed by his mother to spend all his free time, to the exclusion of everything else including his friends, studying for exams. His tense relationship with his mother, which is resolved halfway through the series, ends up being a huge waste of time, as by that point the plot really starts to shift off of him and onto Haruka and Karasu as the main characters. Beyond this, the only purpose for this entire side-arc was to make Yuu into a character who has trouble coming to grips with his own worth and strength, a plot element that, after that, becomes severely downplayed and unimportant.
Above all, though, Yuu as a character feels extremely constructed — his situation, his personality, his emotional state — it’s all just so at just the right time to make for the needed melodrama when Karasu pops into the picture. The tension between Yuu and Karasu (remember, they’re the same person — dun dun duuuun) could have been awesome, but neither character is up to the task of making their relationship anything beyond vaguely irritating at best. If nothing else though, we’re treated to those (unintentionally hilarious) moments where Yuu gets the crazy eyes when he’s getting super stressed about his mom.
Along with these are a slew of side characters, none of them very memorable, except maybe for Atori, the lanky, spider-like antagonist-in-the-beginning who turns into a placid bystander for almost the whole second half of the series after losing his memory. His relationship with another side character, Haruka’s classmate Miho, is interesting and counter-intuitive, although it helped little in the grand scheme of things. The problem here is that pretty much every single character follows some cliche — you even have the mad scientist whose presence in the series seems to serve no purpose beyond providing another cliche to check off on the creators’ lists of “character tropes needed in a sci-fi shounen anime”.
We haven’t even touched the animation yet, and this was one of the most disappointing features of the series, because if you look at that Reflections of Style 3 track I linked to in the second paragraph, Nostromo manages to make Noein look rather stunning for something released in 2005. In reality, he was just very cunning and careful with his scene selection — the animation in Noein is nothing if not frustratingly inconsistent, often within the space of a few minutes in a single episode. Character animations are tepid and awkward more often than not, with proportions, angles, and facial features shifting between scenes. Animation for certain short sequences is re-used ad nauseam; one can’t help but feel like the animators were either on a tight budget, or simply didn’t care about the quality of their work. Maybe both.
The thing is, when it works, the animation looks great. I wouldn’t go much further than that, but there were plenty of times where it didn’t disappoint. The color palette is, occasionally, really interesting as well — mostly in those portions where time stops for Haruka and everything is rendered in deep reds and blues. It’s beautiful in those sparse moments, but sadly they don’t last. There are, however, several scenes that did have their own unique sketchbook style, not unlike the animation found throughout the much more recent Ping Pong. These sequences were typically fast-paced action scenes, and while I couldn’t help but feel like the animators dropped the detail and went with heavier lines to save time or money (or both), these scenes ended up looking really cool, and were definitely some of the most visually appealing parts of the whole series.
There are plenty of moments of where the animators messed around with 3D as well, with mixed results; you’ll notice in the first many episodes that they absolutely loved to do various pans across Haruka’s 3D rendered house. Occasionally, there are 3D cars, or a giant 3D ouroboros that appears in the town from time to time. It was that time in anime where 3D was still being smoothly integrated into the animation, and more often than not it just looks kind of goofy and unnecessary. It fits with the general theme that Noein seems to have of showing off and being slightly patronizing in the process.
Although, my favorite thing about the entire anime was some of the 3D animation, in this case, the monsters (or machines or whatever they are) from Shangri-La. They have a certain Hindu-nightmare quality to them that is starkly terrifying in its own way, and they helped to solidify Shangri-La as an unsettling, evil place, without the viewer knowing hardly anything else about it for most of the series. It’s a weird thing to notice, and a weird thing to harp on, but these creatures were easily the best part of all of Noein, and while I’d hardly say it’s worth watching the series for those scenes where they get the spotlight, those portions did certainly make the whole thing more bearable.
Sadly though, that’s about all this series has to recommend it. It’s a mess in every sense of the word, a frustrating slog to get through. I’ve watched almost 100 anime series/OVAs/movies at this point, and while that’s not a whole lot from a big-picture perspective, I would still put this almost at the bottom, in the same company as things like Please Teacher and Dual Parallel! Trouble Adventures and Macross Frontier (crucify me for the last one if you must, but it was crap).
And it’s a real fricking shame because Noein is rich with potential. Even some of the more forced plot points are cool in theory — the dimension of Shangri-La that is trying to wipe out all the other dimensions, the idea of time travel and interacting with oneself from another part of your life, the multiverse interpretation of quantum physics. This kind of stuff is cool, it appeals to the geek in me; even moreso it appeals to the me that actually studied and majored in physics 6+ years ago. By all accounts I should love this. But it takes all those ideas and decides not to develop any of them fully. It wastes its time on stupid, vapid side plots and trying to sound intelligent. It forgets that being intelligent is only half the story; if you can’t explain it to the people with whom you plan on communicating, that knowledge is utterly useless, and really that’s Noein in a nutshell.
Personal value: 4/10
For a detailed explanation of the above scores, please read this post.