Well I better clear the air right from the get-go; this review isn’t going to be very positive. And don’t for a minute think that it’s due to the property’s lack of potential. In fact on paper, this series comes off like a science fiction fan’s dream come true: Quantum physics, multidimensional travel, and converging timelines… There’s just so much to get excited about. Unfortunately, it becomes apparent fairly early on that the purity of such concepts is lost in translation toward a muddled mess of psychological-driven drama. But before we get into all of that, let’s take a moment to discuss the cold hard facts.
Noein the Complete Series consists of 5 volumes (24 episodes) spread across 5 discs. Each DVD comes packaged in a standard sized clamshell case within a cardboard outer slipcase. Total runtime comes in at 635 minutes and the program wears no rating. Were it to, I surmise it would likely be around the TV 14 mark, with animated violence, drama, and a little bit of blood. In all there is no nudity, foul language, sexual situations, or gore.
As is the case with most sub & dub anime, language options consist of both the original Japanese dialog track (Dolby Stereo 2.0) and an English dub (Dolby Surround 5.1) and the option of turning on English subtitles under either if desired.
Extras, which are stretched out across the full five discs include: enhanced 16x9 widescreen presentation, an “on location” multi part featurette with the director and a voice actor (Japanese with English subtitles), an image gallery, alternate openings, Japanese promos, and a bunch of Manga anime previews.
The story, which seems straightforward enough when broken down, goes like this: Twelve-year-old Haruka and her clinically depressed buddy Yuu are starting summer vacation with plans to run away from home together. Yuu seeks refuge from his mother’s tyranny when it comes to the area of his studies and Haruka wishes to see her father in Tokyo. Before any such plans are solidified, they and their schoolmates encounter an odd white-haired man who seems a bit low on patience named Karasu. Here’s the kicker, Karasu claims to be Yuu fifteen years in the future.
At face value, that in and of itself makes the show sound irresistible. Further investigation only strengthens viewer curiosity. It turns out that a violent battle is taking place in space-time all around us, particularly between the dimension La’cryma and the dimension Shangri-La. Subscribers to the multiverse theory of existence will doubtlessly already get the gist of the idea that ours may be one of an infinite number of nearly identical universes where the outcome of just about every single decision, however minute, may play out differently. Noein presents the rather interesting ideas that all of these existences don’t necessarily occur simultaneously. In other words, jumping from one parallel dimension to another could find a person in a completely different frame of time (which of course explains why Karasu is fifteen years older than the present Yuu).
The science is, for the most part, spectacular. The writers clearly did their homework when it comes to cutting edge quantum theory and in the instances where it is integrated into the plot, expect to be impressed. Time travel is never an easy feat to pull off in fiction (believably anyway) and here we have a rare case where it’s done with the type of scientific accuracy one might expect from a Michael Crichton novel. Unfortunately, that’s about the kindest praise I can heap upon the show as everything else combined adds up to a potpourri of mediocrity.
Let’s begin with the visuals. The first few computer-generated image sequences will have even the most jaded viewer thinking they’ve struck gold. The mechanical/ biological “beings” from Shangri-La and the dimension-hopping humans pursuing them are absolutely stunning to behold. La’cryma’s “Dragon Knights” as they’re called hop through real-space like wraiths and appear and disappear at will with a sizzling hum of electrical disturbance and a blue “umbilical cord” trailing behind them. The cord, it’s explained, is what keeps them connected with the dimension from which they came as well as keeps them alive in the event that their mass hadn’t transferred entirely to another dimension. Shangri-La’s minions on the other hand are massive floating organisms that could best be described as dozens of conjoined gothic clowns. They’re slow, enormous, and downright freaky (in a cool way). The battles between these two dimensions are truly one of the show’s highlights.
Anyway, once the grandeur of these sequences gives way to the small Japanese town that finds our cast of middle-school-aged protagonists, the blending of CG imagery and flat cells isn’t quite so seamless. The cells are bright, colorful and overly “cartoony” when placed before a CG developed background of architecture, foliage, and skies.
The sound is decent, especially the score but the English dub can be a bit frustrating thanks to character name mispronunciations. It’s serviceable for those viewers who refuse to read subtitles but this is a case where the original Japanese vocals certainly surpass the dub work.
About my biggest complaint however has to be the story itself, which despite some incredibly massive undertakings, is way too ambitious for its own good. Again, perhaps if the scientific element and the time travel bits weren’t so intriguing, this could be forgivable but as it stands, what a waste of great theories!
The writers, for whatever reason, began with a cast that was too young initially. The lifestyle of twelve-year-old school kids is a bit too contrasting with the heavier themes on which the show needs to operate. Sure there’s a lot of silliness, stabs at humor, and general middle school high jinks to keep the viewer amused, there’s no denying that it gets tedious really quickly. Not to mention at 12 years old, fifteen years in the future would make Yuu only 27. A bit young to have a shock of silver hair and to appear nearly unrecognizable to his friends wouldn’t you say?
Anyway, worse still is the pacing, which could best be described as a train wreck. The plot takes the long way around what boils down to a fairly simple progression and becomes entirely too concerned with nonsense and tangents along the way. Entire story threads (like Yuu’s mother’s past) build across several episodes only to drop off never to be heard from again. Worse still is that in the end you come to realize that they had absolutely nothing to do with the major story arc. This entire series could probably be trimmed down to twelve episodes of truly interesting material rather than twenty-four bloated segments that often drag on like a night of detention.
It also appears that in effort to emulate some of the themes of existentialism and philosophy that appeals to fans of shows like Evangelion and RahXephon, the prose is deliberately muddled and needlessly complicated. Even the smallest revelations require incredible patience and commitment from the viewer. Again, perhaps if the science and ideas presented weren’t so interesting, this whole thing could simple be written off as a waste of time.
As it stands, the biggest tragedy of Noein is perhaps the unfulfilled potential contained within. The concept of inter-dimensional conflict, quantum mechanically-backed reasoning, and time travel based on jumping dimensions makes for some incredibly cool back story. Add to this the mere possibility of somehow encountering an older version of one’s self from a future that will not necessarily come to pass and it becomes clear just how much story-telling potential we’re talking about here.
Unfortunately, the flashes of complete and utter brilliance seen in Noein are lost to a muddled plot (that actually gets worse once the clouds of confusion clear), terrible pacing, and entirely too much forced friction & drama between characters.
What did you think of this review?