Noein Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Manga Entertainment
  • MSRP: 24.99
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Noein

Noein Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     October 16, 2006
Release Date: October 17, 2006


Noein Vol. #1
© Manga Entertainment


What They Say
Fifteen years in the future, by high-level scientific power, a violent battle takes place between the dimension La'cryma, that protects humanity, and the dimension Shangri-La, that plans the annihilation of all space-time. The key to stopping Shangri-La's invasion is a mysterious object known as "The Dragon's Torque." A group known as the Dragon Calvary is being set through space and time to find it.

In the present, twelve-year-old Haruka and her friend Yuu are contemplating running away from home when they meet a member of the Dragon Calvary named Karasu (Crow). He believes that Haruka has the Dragon's Torque and claims to be Yuu from fifteen years in the future.

The Review!
Epic in design, Noein has the best of intentions but reeks of poor execution in getting its ideas across smoothly in its opening set of episodes.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. While not too unusual, Manga has created a 5.1 mix for the Japanese track but does provide the original stereo mix as well. The 5.1 mix is decent and it provides a much fuller sounding forward mix, but it isn't a show that was designed to use a 5.1 mix heavily so there isn't all that much of a full surround feeling to it. There is a fair bit of action along the way here and it is well represented as is dialogue, which finds some good placement as the scenes shift around well with the cast. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Visually, this series is well designed and well animated though some of its designs may look like they're done to be minimal and on the cheap. The lush backgrounds in many of the locations within the town look fantastic and maintain a lot of detail while some of the character designs, particularly those from La'cryma, have an almost minimalist feel to them in terms of detail. This is true of the human cast as well but they're able to cover it up a bit more with varying clothes and simply be being more familiar. The slightly alien feel given off by the La'cyrmaians works in the shows favor though. Colors are vibrant and rich, black levels look great and the show is free of cross coloration and aliasing. There are a few visual tricks used to change the look of the show at times and these maintain a very strong feel and don't break-up or macroblock at all.

Packaging:
Manga Entertainment seems to have a love of the cardboard slipcover for their releases since they can do some shiny material with it to be eye-catching while still being able to do a simple keepcase cover that keeps costs down. The slipcover, which the keepcase cover is identical to except for the shiny aspect, is decent but something of a hard sell for the casual observer. The front cover has a very subdued and indistinct shot of Karasu in the upper background while the lower foreground has the rest of the human cast in full color. What it shows doesn't really stand out and in afct some of the character designs can make you cringe a bit. From the cover, you can't tell anything about the show or even potentially what genre it might fall in. The back cover fares better with some character artwork lining around the edges as well as several shots from the show itself. Quoting the director about his own show is questionable and listing fan reviews for quotes maybe even more. Isn't that like saying "The internet says, this is great!" The summary for the show is decent though it gives away a bit too much I think and there is a listing for the discs episode numbers and titles along with all the extras. As usual, there is no technical grid here and information is all over the map. On the plus side, the runtime is better than past Manga releases as it's much closer to reality in that they go off of twenty-five minute runtimes instead of thirty. I wish their technical information was listed more cleanly though and in line with other anime, Hollywood and Japanese distributors. The insert is useless as one side has a close-up of the front cover background and proclaims more to come in 2007 while the reverse side is an ad for Tactics.

Menu:
The menu layout is very nicely done though it can be a touch difficult to navigate as it uses a circle formation. While the background alternates between different background shots from the series itself with no characters visible, the actual selection area is made up of some of the computer graphics from within the show and the symbols have English selections laid over those. With a bit of heavy choral music and some sound effects, the menu fits in very well with the theme of the show so far and sets a heavy mood right from the start. Access times are nice and fast and the disc properly read our players language presets and played accordingly.

Extras:
Touted as twenty-five minutes of extras on the back cover, there's some good material to be found here. The first is a fifteen minute on location piece with the director and one of the voice actors as they take a trip to Hakodate to get data for the show. It's a good piece but unfortunately it feels like a lot of the on screen digital text was not translated. Also included is a pair of alternate opening sequences that I'm guessing were used during the original broadcast. I actually liked these better than the final one I think. In addition, we also get the clean opening and closing sequences as well as a section on the original advertising spots for the show when it was released on DVD in Japan.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While it has an odd looking and sounding name, I had been looking forward to Noein solely on the fact that Kazuki Akane was handling the directors chores of this series. While it's not hard to find Escaflowne fans from back in the day, he's had more misses than hits since then with western fans. That said, I'll openly admit I enjoyed his Geneshaft series but I make no bones about my adoration of Heat Guy J, a series that looked like it couldn't be entertaining at all based on the initial artwork but proved to be a real dark horse favorite of mine.

Noein has some of his trademark approaches and a sense of style and design that's familiar, but the opening set of episodes takes a bit of time to really start getting you to feel a connection with what's going on. Too few pieces are given to the viewer to make sense of things. While this is perfectly fine for the lead character to feel, it can get frustrating in trying to piece together some of the basics of what's going on. If you don't have that connection, you feel like you're just watching pretty pictures move about with lots of yelling and flash. As the episodes progress, it does start to gel a bit better and a few of the answers we get begin to show us a glimpse of the larger picture that's being played out here.

Or you could just read the summary on the back cover and get a better idea.

The series revolves around a group of students about to go into middle school in the city of Hakodate. The location provides us with lots of seaside material without the massive skyscrapers and density of Tokyo but it also has a lot of suburban style homes and a seemingly closer connection to nature and greenery. The group of friends that are the focus aren't all that unusual. Haruka is the happy pretty girl who is obviously the lead, Yu is the male lead that's under intense pressure from his mother for his education, Fujiwara is Yu's best friend and all around good guy. Haruka has friends in Miho, the bespectacled girl who is easily excited, and Ai, the best friend of Haruka who has feelings for Fujiwara. There are some growing pains in the group dynamic as pressure from growing up and parents make their presence known but otherwise it's a fairly average group.

Where their lives change is when they go to investigate some supposed ghost sightings in a nearby location late at night. Haruka's had some previous experience with them and she has them again here but it's much more than she expected. Ghostly silhouettes of men in black cloaks and strangely painted faces are flitting about, but in reality they are men from the parallel world/dimension of La'cryma. They've come to Earth in search of the Dragon Torque, something that will aid them in a battle they're fighting in their own dimension against another dimension. The Dragon Torque is supposed to be the thing that will help them but it also has the possibility of destroying all the dimensions. This quest gets very personal for Yu and Haruka when one of the La'crymaians that they come across, one that saves them several times in fact, turns out to be Yu. Or rather, a parallel dimension version of Yu from fifteen years in that future. In La'cryma, the method of jumping to other dimensions also allows for time travel.

Unfortunately for the future version of Yu, one of the members of the group that's seeking the Dragon Torque is mentally unbalanced and turns against the others in order to destroy the Dragon Torque before it can cause the end of everything. Disconnecting their lifelines back to La'cryma, Atori is set in his belief that they must destroy the Torque in order to save it all. What motivations push the others is kept to the background for now and the future Yu, called Karasu, can't let the Dragon Torque be destroyed. Particularly since it's actually Haruka that is the Torque and something rather nasty must have happened to his version of her in the past. Karasu does his best to protect her while trying to not talk much about what's going on, but things start to spiral and the attacks by Atori only cause more chaos as their presence disrupts this dimension.

Visually, I really found myself enjoying the design of the show and some of the more skewed aspects of it. The La'cryma designs in particular are really intriguing since we don't see much of that world but just the characters and a few basic rooms. Their heavily cloaked feeling and the way their blue lifelines zigzag when they enter this dimension is a very nice touch that adds something a bit fantastic to it since they just stop. The regular characters are also pretty good as they alternate with something of a minimal feel but also are rather expressive at times. They're not keeping to a very realistic approach with how they express themselves but rather we get some wild takes and over the top moments which helps to lighten the mood. None of the characters stand out in out over the others but there aren't any that just look bad or make you cringe, except maybe Miho sometimes.

In Summary:
Noein doesn't explain too much in these first five episodes but there are some very tantalizing moments to it. These are unfortunately punctuated by long stretches where nothing seems to happen and you're just waiting for something to happen. I certainly don't mind laid back and relaxed shows but Noein feels like those first parts of Escaflowne that take place on Earth but instead of just being a few minutes it runs several episodes. There is a lot to like here but it's taking some time to really get going. The dimensional concept is nicely executed and has some neat visuals to it and there is definitely a very epic and grand feeling to all of it, but the connection to the characters hasn't quite hit yet and a sense of urgency is still somewhat lacking considering what's going on. With its price and number of episodes though, particularly with some of the discounting going on, this is an easy volume to try and see whether it tickles your fancy or not. It's got me interested but it hasn't captured me yet.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,Japanese 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Behind-The-Scenes: On Location with Actors and Directors, Two Alternate Openings, Textless Opening and Ending, Original Japanese

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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