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Noir Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Classics Review

11 min read

Noir Blu-ray CoverA 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 but now encoded in the lossless Dolby TrueHD format. 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 upgrade here certainly works out in general in making this a richer and warmer show, especially when it comes to the nearly iconic opening sequence, but it still has the core issue to it. 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 nearly fifteen years old and is focused more on dialogue with light action punctuating each episode. 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 lossy DVD 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 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across three discs in a nine/nine/eight format while including a fourth disc, this one a DVD, with all of the extras. That looks to be just a copy of what we got in the previous DVD set, so it’s your standard definition encoding there. With the main show, this is definitely a welcome upgrade across the board over the DVD releases for obvious reasons. While the bit rate is all over the map as you’d expect for a show of this nature, there’s a lot of high twenties in here that helps to get the most out of the sort material. The series still retains some of its natural grain, which helps to give it a richer look overall, and the banding comes across in a very minimized way compared to previous DVD releases. Colors are warmer and richer with a number of the backgrounds while the black levels are solid throughout with good detail to be had. The show has a great look to it in general, but it was never truly high end. The encoding here shows a few of those flaws, and simplicity in the animation, but outside of some mild judder that still exists here and there, this is a very solid upgrade for a great price in a compact set.

Packaging:
While this is a four disc set, it’s compactly presented in a standard sized Blu-ray 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 itself 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 this release works with simplicity and understatement and does so in a very good way. The menu navigation along the bottom doubles as the pop-up menu and it’s like a file folder piece done in black with the white/purple text that comes together well for both aspects, especially in checking out what episode you’re on during playback. The other 80% of the screen is a soft white with a cutout for the series name across it. Underneath it, you can see animation moving around from various clips, but you can see it underneath the white as well which is a little disconcerting at first. It’s not the menu you’d expect, but the more I worked with it, the more I liked it. Submenus load quickly and easily and we had no problems getting around in setup or during playback with the pop-up menu.

Extras:
This release brings all the extras (though not hidden extras) that we’ve seen before and puts the majority of them on a fourth 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, which is a DVD and not a Blu-ray as it uses the previous collection disc of extras, 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 caught it again back in 2011 when the Anime Classics DVD edition came out. 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:
I last revisited Noir when FUNimation brought it their collection of it on DVD back in 2011 and I had quite a good bit of fun with it. Coming into it as a full collection instead of the singles changes the view of it and that made it a lot more engaging to see the threads come together over two days instead of a year and a half of releases. The blending of the style, music and animation is something that works very well and even with nearly fifteen 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. With this Blu-ray edition, the series looks better than ever, sounds great and has all the right bells and whistles for a fantastic price even before any discounts. If you haven’t upgraded before, this is the edition to do so with in just about all the right ways. I never thought that after the various releases this one would get the nod for a high definition release, but the payoff is definitely there.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 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: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 14th, 2015
MSRP: $49.98
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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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