Noein Complete Box Set - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: C+
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe
  • Released By: Manga UK
  • MSRP: 49.99
  • Running time: 600
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Noein

Noein Complete Box Set

By Bryan Morton     November 26, 2007
Release Date: October 22, 2007


Noein Complete Box Set
© Manga UK


What They Say
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 Calvary is dispatched through space and time, searching for the only thing that can stop the invasion: the Dragon's Torque.

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:
For this set, English and Japanese tracks are both provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 versions (the DTS tracks present on the individual releases have been ditched). I listened to the Japanese 5.1 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. It’s worth noting that the English subtitles on this release are “dubtitles” of the English track and not a proper translation.

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:
The set comes in a thin cardboard slipcase, with each disc contained within its own thinpack keepcase. The artwork for each disc and for this box itself are all in the same eye-catching style, with various members of the cast in simple poses against larger single-colour backgrounds – very effective. The rear of each keepcase has the usual promotional blurb, technical information and screenshots. It’s a shame the box wasn’t a bit thicker, but otherwise this is a good-looking set.

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:
There’s a good selection of extras available across the set, starting with a set of features 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. Add in a couple of image galleries, a 15-minute “Storyboard to Screen” feature, following the development of the series, and a dub “blooper” reel. Plenty to keep you going.

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...

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 told makes up for that a little, making watching the initial episodes 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 was only around episodes 4 & 5 that things began 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 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. Likewise, Shangri-La has its own counterparts of ‘our’ dimension.

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, and eventual friendship with, 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.

The series keeps that division between every-day life and the more outlandish inter-dimensional side going as far as it can, too – it’s only during the later part of the series that the division starts to break down, as the appearance of eponymous villain Noein and his plans to merge all dimensions into one take centre stage. It’s at this point that the series begins to go a little bit wrong, as the attempts of the writers to give plausible-sounding scientific explanations to the inter-dimensional shenanigans develops a level of technobabble that would make a Star Trek writer proud. While on the one hand we’re seeing Haruka have to come to terms with the fate of countless dimensions and Karasu and Yu fight in their own ways to protect her, on the other we’re being blinded with a level of science that, quite honestly, isn’t really necessary to make the story work, and that just gets in the way. The important stuff, of Haruka realising the implications of the powers that the Torque gives her, what she can do with them, and what she should do with them, is almost glossed over, and I was left feeling a little bit cheated.

On the good side, Haruka's relationships with Karau and Yu play a large part in her decision, and it's definitely good to see those issues resolved. The ending of the story isn't happily-ever-after, either - there are good things and bad that happen, and sacrifices that have to be made. I always like it when there are shades of grey in a show - life isn't always perfect, and it's good when that's reflected in how shows like Noein - which is, let's face it, largely slice-of-life - wind up their stories.

In summary:
For all its faults, this disc ties up Noein nicely, and leaves us with a fully resolved story and some bittersweet moments to remember it by. Overall, I have enjoyed Noein - it's one of those rare shows that ends up greater that the sum of its parts, and while the flaws will nag at you a bit, they're all bearable, and the end result is a series that's well worth a look.

Features
Japanese Language 2.0 & 5.1,English Language 2.0 & 5.1,English Subtitles,On Location with Japanese Voice Actor & Director,Original Japanese Promos,Alternate Openings 1 & 2,Creditless Opening & Closing Sequence,From Storyboard to Screen,Bloopers

Review Equipment
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.

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