I often wondered why I'd started Noir so often but never actually finished it so I could write a review. Thanks to three weeks stuck in Adelaide with not that much else to do in the evenings I now know why. By way of color I'll also mention that this review is written some number of thousand feet in the air... in a seat carefully calculated to be just too small to be comfortable.
Imagine coming back to consciousness in a high school room, and having almost total amnesia... absolutely no idea of who you truly are. Kirika, a young school girl is having just this experience. In fact she's not entirely sure she's even really Kirika, she has a school ID in her pocket with that name on it, but she also recognizes immediately that it's fake. It seems that while her memories are lost her skills are intact, and most of them seem to revolve around how to efficiently kill people, which don't seem like the skills a high school girl should have gained. She also has the memory of a contact, Mireille Bouquet... although a deadly and secretive assassin is perhaps not the ideal person to be asking for help.
Indeed Mireille's idea of mercy is to not kill her until Kirika can regain her memory. It quickly becomes apparent that the two are somehow linked. Kirika carries a antique watch which Mireille recognises from a tragedy in her own past. Meanwhile both realise the strange engraved image, of two women wielding swords, has some deeper meaning. They're right, but they're going to have to work out what that meaning is, and how they fit into it, in a hurry. The reason being that all of a sudden there's a lot of shadowy figures packing guns and not even remotely interested in talking things over. It seems they've stumbled onto some frightening and huge conspiracy, and all they know is it wants them dead.
In simple terms the driving energy of this title is not even remotely difficult to determine. Two girls, one young and one more mature, combine innocent appearance, feminine nature and intensely skilled cold-blooded killers in a single package. This is what I call "Girls with guns" and the driving essence of such titles is generally the juxtaposition between cute young girls and extreme violence. It sounds silly, but it generally manages to catch the male audience pretty reliably, after all they like looking at girls and action... why not combine the two?
It's a pretty hard formula to fail with, after all depicting sexy and cool females is one of the foundations of anime. It's rather impressive therefore that this title fails so resoundingly at it. Kirika is, when all is said and done, sort of plain and boring. She starts at a disadvantage of course, Amnesia is great as a plot device but it puts rather a damper on character development. She's very passive and has to wait on the story to give her a purpose, and the story can't really do that without giving away the "secret" that underpins it. Her lack of motivation combines with her plain character design and lifeless voice to make her feel undeveloped and dull.
This leaves Mireille carrying much of the dramatic weight... but sadly she's only marginally deeper. We get to see, far too many times, one tragic event from her past but that's not nearly enough to build a character on. She is clearly intended to be an extremely experienced investigator and assassin, after all she still has her memories, but there's little sign of it. She types at a computer to sometimes pick up a clue needed to push the story forward, but there's no real feeling of her having much of a goal, or doing much investigation or planning to better their chances. Indeed this is true of both of them, their idea of planning an assault is to just walk in the front door and kill everything that moves. Against superior numbers they depend mostly on luck, and secondly on their firearms skills, rather than actually thinking things through. Once again, there's no particular feeling of character or personality coming through in her depiction... and of course there's not much in the way of dialogue between the two of them.
Okay, so the character work is sort of dull. That would be okay if the action is hot. All they really have to do is be cool and deadly in some exciting action sequences. Once again the creators push new boundaries in just how completely they fail in this regard. I've already pointed out that they don't plan, use varied equipment, or even particularly work as a team which reduces much of the complexity from the action. Meanwhile the gun-play has all the raw excitement of a cheap carnival shooting gallery. faceless extras pop out of windows and doorways just in time to catch a single bullet from the character who "sensed" they were coming. On the rare occasions the enemy get to shoot back the lead characters seem absolutely unconcerned, certain in the fact that they are not going to get hit. There's no sense of threat, of tension.... it's insanely boring. I don't think I've ever seen such a competently produced anime that manages to suck any excitement out of every scene. Now I understand why it took so long to actually finish this title.
Even so, I held onto some hope that it would all be worth it in the end, hopeless optimist that I am. I sat through the dull and repetitive action. I became bored with the characters and moderately amused at the creators trying to bring forth some psychological drama with them. This largely seemed to involve one or the other character going into shock or moody silence, neither of which were terribly interesting. I was also impressed that so many of their targets were ultimately accepting of their imminent assassination. "okay, you can kill me now" is really not what I expected, and drained the scenes of any intensity. Come to think of it all the deaths where instant, bloodless and painless. In any case I waited, reasonably patiently, for the secret behind it all to be revealed, the legend known as Noir that lies at the heart of the secret society called the Soldats. I won't spoil it, because I largely couldn't be bothered typing it up, but my suspicions were confirmed.... it wasn't even remotely worth the wait. I guess I can spoil the ultimate reward for this secret and shadowy ritual, which was a nice cup of tea.
It really is an unusual title, though primarily only to anime reviewers and those with masochistic tastes. How they took one of the simplest foundations, were gifted with perfectly decent production resources, and managed to make such a insipid and soul-less waste of time is an interesting question. Although Anarch-kitty informed me the same production team did Madlax where, from what I remember, they managed to duplicate the feat. In any case I Hope my summary is clear enough, this is a title to be actively avoided... there's much much better stuff out there.
I've already touched on most elements of the production. It's quite decent, clearly somewhat budget restrained as environments and action tend to go easy on movement. I've seen good stories told with less though, and I daresay it makes for some quite decent looking stills on the box cover. Pretty much everything else is average though. Character art, technical design, environments and action are all unremarkable and uninspiring. They do get some points for novelty with the show being set in the Mediterranean. I assume the voices are decent, but with such average dialogue it's hard to tell. The music is notable in bucking the trend and being rich and varied. The Ali project provide a catchy opening song and a lot of solid ambient music which draws from the background environment while helping to set the immediate scene. I can certainly recommend watching the opening titles, but that's about as far as I'd go.
Hm, there's quite a lot of reviews of Noir around... but I think it's telling that, for what is now an older series, most of them are only based on the first DVD or two. Indeed my own review, based on the first 6 episodes, makes me whince.