Noein Vol. #1 (of 5) (Mania.com)

By:Bryan Morton
Review Date: Thursday, March 01, 2007
Release Date: Monday, February 19, 2007



What They Say
As described by director Akane Kazuki, Noein is the anime genre's "Stand By Me" with elements of popular time travelling sci-fi such as Terminator. In the near future, a violent battle takes place between the dimension La'cryma (protector of humanity) and the dimension Shangri-La, bent on the annihilation of all space-time. A group known as the Dragon Cavalry is dispatched through space and time, searching for the only thing that can stop the invasion: the Dragon's Torque. In the present, twelve-year old Haruka and her friend Yu are contemplating running away from home when they meet a member of the Dragon Calvary named Karasu (Crow). He believes that Haruka possesses the Dragon's Torque - and claims to be Yu from fifteen years in the future...

Episodes Comprise
1 - Blue Snow
2 - Runaway
3 - Hunted
4 - Friends
5 - And Then...

The Review!
Alternate dimensions are a tricky thing " for some reason, you can never seem to find one that's nice and peaceful, where you can live out your days in peace and quiet. Elementary-school girl Haruka's about to discover this at first hand...

Audio:
As usual for Manga releases, you get the full range of audio options here, with both English and Japanese tracks provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1, and DTS 5.1 tracks provided on the 2nd disc in the set. I listened to the Japanese DTS track for this review, which appears to be a simple upmix of the original 2.0 Japanese track and doesn't offer much extra other than some added oomph in the action scenes. Away from the action, dialogue is well placed on the front soundstage, while the audio overall is clean and clear with no obvious problems. A spot-check of the other tracks at various points didn't reveal any problems.

Video:
Video for Noein is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it's hard to write about how it appears on-screen as there are distinctly different styles of animation used for Haruka, Yu and "our" dimension, and for Karasu and his colleagues from La'cryma. The former is bright, vibrant, detailed and very easy on the eye, although the designs of the characters themselves are quite simple. There's some use made here and there of CG panning and other CG effects that feels a little out-of-place, but otherwise nothing worth complaining about. Karasu and his comrades use much simpler, almost abstract designs, while La'cryma is portrayed in dark, low-detail scenes that carry a sense of foreboding about them. As a way of drawing a line between the dimensions the story takes place in, it works quite well, although the contrast between the two styles is quite jarring and takes a bit of getting used to. There were no obvious problems with the encode.

Packaging:
No packaging was provided with our review copy.

Menu:
The main menu's a rather hard-to-read affair, with the various options overlaid onto a transposition tunnel effect. The currently-selected option is highlighted in yellow and easy enough to make out, but the text of the other options definitely isn't the clearest as there's a deliberate ghosting effect applied. Direct access is provided to each episode (no Play All option, sadly " the disc returns to the main menu after each episode and you have to pick the next one manually), while submenus are provided for Extras and Audio Setup. The tunnel effect is also used as a transition after selecting menu options, so the menus, while they look good, aren't the easiest to use.

Extras:
All the extras are on disc one of the set. First up there's a 15-minute feature with director Kazuki Akane and VA Haruka Kudo visiting Hakodate, the city the series is set in. There's also a set of Japanese promo clips for both the DVD and OST releases, creditless versions of the opening and closing sequences, and what are billed as "alternate openings" " although at 3-minutes plus long, they feel more like promotional films to me. Not a bad set of extras though, with the on-location film being the best of the bunch.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Young girl Haruka and her friend Yu are planning to run away from home - Haruka to her father's home in Tokyo, Yu to get away from his mother's overbearing & controlling attitude that's just putting too much pressure on him. Planning and doing are two different things, though, and the pair haven't yet had the courage to go through with their scheme. Life for both of them changes dramatically when they're caught up in the work of Karasu - a strange man in a black cape who at first glance appears to be a ghost. He's very real, though - and claims to be Yu. He's searching for the Dragon Torque, something which it's hoped will be able to save his home dimension of La'cryma from impending disaster.

Atori, another of Karasu's group, has different ideas, though. He's never seen eye-to-eye with Karasu, and also believes that the Dragon Torque is more of a threat to La'cryma than a saviour " to him, it's something to be destroyed, not retrieved. Karasu's not willing to let Atori have his way, and a battle between the two supposed allies soon breaks out. Before they can settle things, though, a fault in their transposition leads to them being recalled home, leaving Haruka and Yu to wonder about just what happened.

Noein is another of those series that makes a lot more sense if you read the packaging first " the series itself seems intent on keeping as much information about what's going on, and who the various factions are, away from the viewer for as long as possible. The way the story is being told makes up for that a little, making watching this disc a little less frustrating than it would otherwise be, but I still found myself stopping the disc, backing up a bit, and rewatching particular scenes to try and figure out just what was going on. It's only around episodes 4 & 5 that things begin falling into place, and the show starts to move away from being a purely visual treat into something more.

So, those factions. At the centre of the story are the Dragon Cavalry " Karasu and his colleages, from the world of La'cryma. They're fighting against the world of Shangri-La, and are seeking the Dragon Torque in order to save themselves. Shangri-La, of course, would prefer they didn't do that. What is the Dragon Torque? Wrong question: think 'who'. Haruka possesses the power of the Torque, which appears around her neck when she uses its abilities " sometime knowingly, sometimes not. She's a normal young girl looking to have a normal life, but with Karasu having identified her as the Dragon Torque it's not looking likely that she'll get it. Finally, we have Uchida and Kooriyama from the Absolute Critical Prevention Strategy Committee, who are investigating the anomalies caused when Karasu and the others appear in our dimension. That's a lot of people to keep track of (and I haven't even mentioned Haruka's circle of friends yet), but it's surprisingly easy to follow them all.

Only about half of each episode deals with Karasu and the Dragon Torque, though. Scenes on this side of the story have a reasonable bit of action to them, while the glimpses we get of La'cryma show it to be a dark and depressing place " you get the distinct feel that the Dragon Cavalry take on the risks of inter-dimensional travel and the search for the Torque as their existence really couldn't get any worse.

The thing about parallel dimensions is that you can have separate incarnations of the same person in each, and that's what happens here " La'cryma's about 15 years out-of-kilter with 'our' world, but the people are there: Karasu is Yu's counterpart, Haruka's counterpart is referred to throughout (although not really seen), and you can see possible connections between some of the other characters. It's a nice touch, and it adds another layer to an already complex story as you try and figure out what happened to the various counterparts in La'cryma.

The other half of the story falls back into more normal slice-of-life territory, and follows Haruka and her friends through their everyday lives, and the effects that Karasu's pursuit of Haruka has on them. Right from the start, Haruka's quite open about telling her friends about what's going on around her, but as only she and Yu can see them, there's a combination of disbelief and curiosity going on as her friends try and figure out if she's telling the truth or just going nuts. Around that, there are their everyday problems to deal with " parents, boys, and squabbles between friends that need to be resolved. This side of the series provides a welcome break from the Torque scenes, which would probably be a bit heavy going otherwise.

In summary:
It's hard to know what to make of Noein at this stage. On the one hand the way the background to the story and the details of who's who are being kept back is frustrating " I like to know what's going on in a show, and Noein is in no hurry to fill in the details. On the other hand, it's visually impressive, has an intriguing setting, and the contrast between the daily lives of the kids and Haruka & Yu's interactions with Karasu and the others works quite well. The series has a lot of promise, but it's not quite making the most of it at the moment. Hopefully future volumes will correct that, but for now Noein is something of a curiosity.

Features
Japanese Language (Dolby 2.0 & 5.1, DTS 5.1),English Language (Dolby 2.0 & 5.1, DTS 5.1),English Subtitles,On Location with Japanese Voice Actor & Director,Original Japanese Promos,Alternate Openings 1 & 2,Creditless Opening & Closing Sequence

Review Equipment
Panasonic TX-W28R30P 28" widescreen TV; Pioneer DV-626D player; Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: C+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: Manga UK
MSRP: £19.99
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Noein