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Noir Complete Series (Anime Classics Edition) Anime DVD Review

10 min read

A centuries old tradition of a pair of maiden killers surfaces in the present once again.

What They Say:
Mireille makes a living killing as an international assassin. Kirika is an amnesiac with uncanny speed and stealth. Under the codename Noir, these two young mistresses of semi-automatics and improvised weapons track and execute criminal syndicates across the globe as they hunt for clues to their connected pasts – but it is they who are actually being hunted.

Caught in the crosshairs of a centuries-old conspiracy, the deadly beauties of Noir aim to expose the secrets of the ancient society orchestrating their lives. Will Mireille and Kirika have a future after they learn the truth about their pasts?

Contains episodes 1-26.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release mirrors the original releases in that we get the English and Japanese language tracks in 5.1 encoded at 448kbps. The series was one of those rare Japanese 5.1 TV series that we got but like a lot of them, they don’t really actively use the rear channels all that much. The mix is decent and it definitely helps the forward soundstage with the clarity of the dialogue and action as well as placement for it, giving the gunshots a little more impact, but it’s also a product of its time since it’s a decade old. It’s definitely a good mix overall but it won’t have you pulling it out to show off to friends. The music definitely benefits from the mix since it gets less compression than the usual 192kbps mixes and the show overall comes across well. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2001, the transfer for this twenty-six episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is spread across four discs with seven episodes on the first two discs and six on the second two. A fifth disc is included for all the extras outside of the couple of commentary tracks and clean openings and closings, so the majority of the bits are given to the show itself. With the show coming at the changing point in animation production, it has an interesting look where it’s old school but has the flair of the change to digital animation. There’s a fair bit of banding to be had in the transfer that’s in the source and with it focusing on a lot of dark scenes there’s a bit of grain to be had in that area as well. The show looks good in an overall sense but there are the minor issues to be had that can be somewhat distracting on a larger monitor.

Packaging:
While this is a five disc set, it’s compactly presented in a standard sized clear keepcase with a cardboard slipcover on it. The slipcover mirrors the keepcase artwork while adding a bit more text to the front and a border. The main pairing is the obvious way to go and the cover used a great piece of artwork of Kirika and Mireille together with guns out, skirts flying and a black background. The back cover has the same dark layout but uses some shadowed images of the leads with some good tagline material over it while below is a breakdown of the extras. The right side has a look at the overall plot and we get a decent strip of shots from the show tiself that adds a bit of color. The rest of the bottom is given over to the technical grid and a few of the usual boilerplate material that is well laid out but could be better served by being a bit bigger. No show related inserts are included but there is artwork on the reverse side. The left panel has a breakdown of what’s on each disc plus all the extras while the right side has another full length shot of our lovely leads.

Menu:
The menu design for Noir is fairly straightforward but it works rather well in setting the tone and atmosphere for things. Each disc is a static screen that has a piece of character artwork set against a black background that has a fuzzy look to some soft light, such as the city lights from a distance, giving it a very cosmopolitan feel while still being moody and atmospheric. They’re simple but there’s something appealing about it since it fits the small cast well and the way that each character has to stand on its own. The navigation is kept to the side and it has the usual basics and is quick and easy to use with no problems to be had. Like all FUNimation discs, the release did not read our players’ language presets and defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
This release brings all the extras (though not hidden extras) that we’ve seen before and puts the majority of them on a fifth standalone disc. The show discs themselves have a few extras with a couple of commentary tracks and the clean opening and closing sequences. The main extras disc has a ton of material though with promos and music videos and a slew of interviews with the cast that goes into the show well. It’s a positive with the interviews that they have both English and Japanese casts dealt with here so both sides get a lot. Add in some promos and a look at the show itself and it’s great to see all of this included here.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When Noir was released in 2001 and got its eventual DVD release here, it was the series that put the studio Bee Train on the map for most fans. While the genre of girls with guns had been done before and since, Bee Train did it with a particular style and a blending of music that really worked well. Yuki Kaijura was a rising star at that point and this cemented her position even more since the music was so key to the feel of the show. Few shows really hit that mark right when you hit the opening sequence and just the first few notes get you in the right mood. While I watched the series as it was originally released in singles, I haven’t seen it in the intervening years since then. So going back into it, and in marathon form, definitely made for an interesting change in perspective on it.

The series focuses on the pairing of Mireille and Kirika, two assassins who come into contact with each other at the start of the series through dangerous circumstances. Mireille is a professional assassin for some time and comes from a ruined family on Corsica that lost its position years ago when her parents were killed when she was a child. Kirika is on the opposite end as she’s a high school girl in Paris where Mireille is based out of that has lost her memory but is a pure natural with a gun. She has a series of men in black that are hunting her down and she’s worked out a situation where she and Mireille will pair up to figure out the truth behind it as the two women have a deep connection with each other. When Mireille started up her gig, she named it Noir and that has a long history involving two young maidens who operate as assassins.

Noir has an awkward start in how the two come together, with Mireille not really doing any serious checking up on Kirika and not even any further testing and training to see if the two can work together as assassins, arguably one of the most intense jobs out there that requires complete faith and trust in your partner. The opening to the series definitely has an odd feel to it as it’s done in a way where you’re supposed to enjoy the cool and stylish way it happens, but the substance is weak as they want it to just segue to the good stuff that follows. And it does follow, though it could be tighter as well, but that’s a general line to say about most things Bee Train is involved in because it wants the style to dominate. When you get into that mode and accept it, it and other shows do work well because the studio definitely excels at it in general.

The series has a long overall goal to it as it explores the history of what Noir is in that there’s the ten century old history to it about the pair of maiden assassins for an organization known as Soldats that has long controlled the world through various means. The Soldats are after Kirika, which keeps a series of men in black with sunglasses coming after them that are easy fodder, but it does slowly tease out what they’re about. The bulk of the series is about investigating the mystery as Mireille discovers her own connection to them and it becomes very personal, from learning that her parents were members of it and they were killed by the organization because of it. The threads for it all play well, teasing here and there with bits of information and long, serious looks, and though the mystery isn’t that deep it does get to the heart of matters and works as a good motivator for both of the women.

What drives the series are the characters, because the story could be told over half the episodes and be a pretty tight and engaging work. Mireille is definitely the more interesting and nuanced of the two since she’s older and has established herself. Her past is far more defined as well as its explored, and given prominence by hers going first. With her Corsican roots and the ties to the Soldats that she discovers, it challenges her psychologically and gives her a chance to really emote throughout the run. With each new thing she realizes, combined with the challenge of dealing with Kirika and the revelations that come about her own past and her true meaning in life, she’s the most human character here and the one that’s easiest to connect with.

The weak side of the series is definitely in Kirika. With her something of a blank slate personality, she does get a bit more as the series goes on and she works off of Mireille. It lets her start to connect with someone but she has little real personality throughout it because she hasn’t a clue who she is. And she doesn’t really try to create her own personality but rather focuses on figuring out what the Soldats are and what Noir itself meant since she finds that is where he true meaning is. With her being such a natural assassin at such a young age and so many years missing in her life, there’s an allure to this type of character but there isn’t enough meat placed on it as it progresses. Kirika has potential but it never feels like it’s properly capitalized on. She plays well against Mireille when they work on their jobs because of her skill, and her innocence is fun to watch as well, but it the pairing ends up being more about Mireille for the majority of it.

In Summary:
While it’s been years since I last saw Noir, it’s a show that has definitely leaves an impression because of what it did at the time and the way it created such a buzz. The blending of the style, music and animation is something that works very well and even with ten years gone by since its original release, it still holds up fairly well. It’s certainly been surpassed by other series over the years in all departments, but it’s one of those shows that firmly carved out its place in (Western) anime history and this release puts it all in one really solid collection at a great price. With the series bring about a pair of spiritual sequels in Madlax and El Cazador, this one is great to have in a collection like this and earning its place as an anime classic. While it may not hold up as well as it could since its original airing ten years ago, it’s very much worth experiencing again.

Features:
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Original Japanese Promos, Interviews with Houko Kuwashima, Kotono Mitsuishi, Tarako, & Aya Hisakawa, Kirika Music Video, Commentaries for Episodes 15-16, Two Interviews with Shelley Calene-Black (Mirelle) and Monica Rial (Kirika), Interview with Hilary Haag (Chloe) and Tiffany Grant (Altena), Interview with English Cast, Noir: The Unsoled Story, Textless Opening Song, Textless Closing Song

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: August 9th, 2011
MSRP: $49.98
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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