Noir Vol. #1: Shades of Darkness (Regular & Special Edition) -

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Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 15 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98/44.98
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Noir

Noir Vol. #1: Shades of Darkness (Regular & Special Edition)

By Chris Beveridge     January 02, 2003
Release Date: February 18, 2003

Noir Vol. #1: Shades of Darkness (Regular & Special Edition)
© ADV Films

What They Say
A mysterious email; a haunting melody. Professional assassin Mireille Bouquet's world is knocked askew by an unnerving contact from a young amnesiac, Yumura Kirika, whose killing skills are as deadly as Mireille's, and whose missing memory may unlock the mystery of Mireille's life as well. With their pasts inextricably linked, Mireille conditionally admits Yumura into her confidence. In uneasy partnership, the two-as NOIR-face a conspiracy that quickly calls on all of their lethal resources. It is a journey through the darkness, searching for a truth that they know will mean their deaths.

The Review!
One of the more anticipated releases, Noir is a series that?s likely to divide fans in opinion over it with there being very little middle ground.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. Unfortunately, we weren?t able to listen to the original mix for the show as the disc provides only the remixed 5.1 version of the Japanese. This mix is by no means bad at all, and I think it does an excellent job of bringing out the warmth of the great music score and in providing some really sharp clear moments of vocal directionality, but I really want to have the original mix included as well, particularly for those players/sets that don?t downmix well from 5.1 tracks. Dialogue is nice and clear throughout and we noted no distortions or dropouts.

* Update: According to information from ADV, the 5.1 soundtrack was created by the Japanese but has as of this writing, not been used or released onto a home video format in that country.

Originally airing throughout 2001, the transfer here shines in anamorphic beauty. The transfer looks very close to what I?ve seen on my region 2 copies of the series, which means it has lush colors, no cross coloration and hardly any aliasing that I could see. The color stylings of the series is very well done for this series, in that they gave it a very definite color shading and feel, where there?s a number of very solid colors making up areas that almost look grainy but really aren?t. Watching this on the HDTV was just a real pleasure as there wasn?t anything I could really find flaw with. Watching it in letterbox mode on the non-widescreen sets is interesting as well, as the bars definitely give it an interesting feel, almost more like miniature movies than a TV series.

To contrast the dark sounding title, the cover here is very much a bright white, as it replicates the Japanese first volume cover, including having the French text under the logo. The cover is definitely eye-catching with all the white space as well as the look of the girls? designs. The back cover provides an animation shot from each episode, listing the episode number and title above it. There?s a good summary of what to expect from the show and a listing of the discs extras and production credits. ADV also finally hits it perfectly with their information grid at the bottom, so now all I have to ask is for consistency on all releases with it. Due to this being a review copy, no insert is included.

Done in anamorphic widescreen as well, the menu layout here is a bit confusing with the remotes in moving around. The opening menu features an angled hallway with episode selections being marked by each window and the discs features below it, but navigating to where you want to go is a bit awkward at times. Access times are nice and fast with a quick transitional piece of animation playing, but returning from submenus is faster without that. The layout is pretty standard fare but looks good with its striking colors and motifs from the opening sequence of the series.

There?s a good selection of extras to open the series here with, notably when it comes to the production artwork. Running about fifteen minutes in length (and containing spoilers they warn), translations are provided on an alternate angle and the sketches are broken up by episodes. There?s also a clean opening and ending sequence provided (both anamorphic) as well as a couple minutes worth of original Japanese promos for Noir and it?s soundtrack release.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A love it or hate it series, Noir is something that provides something really good for those who enjoy it for what the creators intended it to be. With it being a pretty much episodic series with some stringing pieces throughout them relating to the characters past, it?s not a very tight overall series, but a series with a number of very tight episodes. Taken on an episode-by-episode basis, this series, especially the first volume, pleases quite a bit. But a part of me really wonders if it would work better by not watching all five in a row, but spacing them out.

Noir opens with the introduction of Mireille Bouquet, a woman in Paris who lives her life as an assassin for hire. A mysterious email sent to her from someone in Japan triggers something from her past, so she heads out there to meet a young woman in high school named Kirika Yumura. Kirika has lost her memory, only to find herself being manipulated by someone. She knows nothing about herself other than what she found when she woke up one day, with an id card and a school uniform. Other than that, all she knows is how to kill quickly and almost perfectly, yet this isn?t something that can cause her to feel regret over it.

Mireille?s first encounter with Kirika is an enlightening one as the two start to talk in a construction site, only to have the people who set Kirika up in the first place come to reclaim her. The shoot out sequences between the two women and the suited men throughout the construction site is just one of those very well done pieces that really shows some attention being paid to the choreography of it. Played against the gorgeous lush soundtrack that they?ve got, it?s a few minutes of a show that really just hits every mark perfectly.

As the two women come to an understanding with each other, Mireille has set things up to take Kirika back to Paris with her. This alone is a really good thing as it brings in a new venue, new types of characters and a complete change in scenery that?s desperately needed at times. With Kirika being so lost already, this move only makes her look more like a lost kitten in a large room as she looks and feels so out of place early on, especially wearing a French flag shirt. But it?s such little things that works effectively to say things about the character without vocalizing it.

From there, the series really moves into its episodic feel and starts telling nice self contained stories, as the two work together as partners in the assassin for hire game, though not letting on that there?s two of them under the nom de plume of Noir. Stories range well from an interesting one where a member of the Peace Defense force is secretly giving out confidential information on their anti-terrorists forces, allowing them to be killed off to simply dealing with their lives in Paris.

One particular sequence that I liked took place in the Les Soldats episode, where the two leads are in the countryside and you have Kirika in a simple country dress. She gets padded down by several soldiers who then think little of her other than useful for questioning. Mireille then starts taking them down from a distance, and with no change in her bland expression, Kirika simply picks up an automatic rifle and starts plowing through other soldiers. The simple image of her in that dress and the floppy hat, emotionless and firing away, is something that really highlights what a good portion of the show is about. That will turn off some people, but it will also attract others. It?s sequences like this that really help push the feel of inspiration from the Hong Kong film industry.

I absolutely adore the look of this series, with its lush backgrounds and the amount of detail paid to the French idiosyncrasies in things like the walls and buildings. The coloring used combined with the softness to some of these areas provides some really gorgeous images. There?s a fair amount of vibrancy throughout the episodes, but the show does lean more towards real world coloring than not.

For me, Noir is a series that?s really easy to pop on and just lose myself in, almost to the point of the episodes blending together after I?ve finished the disc (hence my thinking that these make better single-episode viewings than a marathon). I?m sure it?ll inspire style over substance arguments, but with as many shows as get aired and licensed, there?s room for everything out there. I find Noir to play out exactly as I expected it to and enjoyed all the episodes here. I can?t wait to see more.

Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Production sketches,Clean opening and closing,Japanese promo spots

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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