It has been a year since I watched the final episode of Noein and I had intended to put this review up sooner but with 2012 hitting and me entering my other (better) self, now seems like the perfect chance to post it.
At first glance there does not seem to be much that distinguishes Noein from other titles and for me this was a random purchase because the price was cheap. A brief synopsis makes it sound like Evangelion; normal kids battling inter-dimensional beings whilst dealing with emotions. After watching it, I can say that it was a highly enjoyable, memorable ride that mixes that Schrödinger’s Cat multi-verse babble with growing up.
The story is split between two time zones: In the near future, a violent battle takes place between the dimensions La’cryma, protector of humanity, and Shangri-la, a place inhabited by beings bent on annihilating space and time. Standing up against Shangri-la’s aggression is a group of mighty warriors known as the dragon cavalry, super-human beings who are tasked with seeking the one thing that can stop Shangri-la, the dragon torque which sees them travel through time and space in search of it.
In the present, 12 year old Haruka and her group of friends are living in the port city of Hakodate in Hokkaido with little to worry them other than the emotional state of their friend Yuu who is contemplating running away from home and an over-protective mother. Haruka has a crush on Yuu and suggests the two go to Tokyo where her father lives but they encounter one of the dragon cavalry in the form of Karasu (crow). His connection to the two runs deeper than any of them can imagine.
While this anime isn’t revolutionary it is pleasant and does have some complexity to it. The mix of every-day normality with the extraordinary allows Noein to thoroughly explore the subject of multi-verses by giving us relatable situations and likeable characters in different circumstances. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the anime, aside from visuals, is the fact that there is a large cast of characters who mature in a believable way.
The use of time travel and multi-verses allows us the interesting prospect of seeing the cast in different situations – how would a character react if they dropped into a universe where they were dead? How would others in that universe react to them? What if you could go back to the moment you parents met? How would you regard them after seeing it?
This is the biggest plus of the series – all characters get time to develop beyond caricature.
The lead character, Haruka is an everyday happy-go-lucky schoolgirl who maintained an air of believability. When faced with adversity and danger there weren’t any hidden powers called forth to aid her she simply steeled herself and rolled with the events as best she could. Likewise, the other kids had believable concerns that centred on friendship and parents whilst the adult’s grievances and desires provided a lot of interesting back-story and plot development which was refreshing.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of screaming or whining in Noein but when there is it felt real and painful. Witness the struggles of Yuu against his controlling mother. At times it was ludicrously melodramatic while at others it was slow and grating but it hit moments of believability which exposed both characters as desperate and bitter, wounded by each other’s emotions. His mother is given a real and human reason for her actions and her release from those worries is touching.
This also extends to the antagonists. There are a lot of internecine struggles between various factions but it is handled with lightness and ease and is never complicated. The major bad guy’s motivations were believable and painted him in a human manner and I didn’t guess who it was until the big reveal.
At no point was the story difficult to follow and it ended on the right note.
The animation maintains a gorgeous and idiosyncratic style. Characters are angular, sketchy and all the more memorable for it while backgrounds and items are highly detailed. The opening for the series has an impressive CGI monster battle where a highly kinetic camera follows a sweeping battle that takes place across large distances in the air, on the ground and on the giant floating monster themselves. The music accompanying the battle is a grand sweeping orchestral piece which serves to underscore the epic nature of proceedings. The location of Hokkaido is genuinely interesting and a lot of effort has gone into capturing real life locations as documentaries included on the DVD showed. I could easily see myself watching this again. I can already hear the awesome theme song.