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"Noein": Muddy Beginning, Clear Ending

Noein has quickly become one of Manga Entertainment’s most profitable series, allowing the company to continue their resurgence after Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Well, the series is finally ending, but will it start making sense?

Previously, Haruka had finally begun coming to terms with Karasu and the possible future that is La’cryma, not to mention her latent powers as the Dragon Torque. Heck, even Yuu, who’s been a gigantic wuss so far, has gotten some balls of his own. Unfortunately, things don’t get any easier for the two, as Kosagi, jealous of Karasu’s love for Haruka, tried to kill our heroes before shutting herself off from La’cryma. Kunio, the last Dragon Knight, became so obsessed with Shangri-la that he partnered up with Noein, the big bad evil guy, and successfully managed to kidnap Haruka and bring her to Shangri-la. There, Noein tried to convince Haruka that combining all dimensions into one, thus erasing existence, was a good thing, but Karasu and Yuu arrived to stop them and save Haruka. Now, they are safe for the moment, but they’re stuck in Shangri-la. Meanwhile, Shinohara, evil scientist that he is, had gone above the good guys’ heads and proceeded with his Magic Circle experiment, which will only end up helping Noein in the end. Even Dr. Mayasumi, Haruka’s father, is unable to stop him. Will the dimensions collapse?

This volume starts out with “Illusion.” Karasu and Yuu complete their rescue of Haruka and run away from Noein, who has all the time in the world to hunt the young girl down. Our heroes rest up in preparation of the final battle as Karasu and Yuu finally begin to see eye-to-eye. As you can probably expect from the description, this is essentially a breather episode to transition from one big event (Noein pulling everyone into Shangri-la) to the other (the big final battle). It is nice to see that Yuu and Haruka finally know the truth about Karasu’s Haruka, but it’s still a rather standard episode. Those expecting the series to not take a break once reaching Shangri-La will be very disappointed. Oh yea, and there’s also some background information about Shangri-La’s origins and some hints on Noein’s origins, though the viewer might not be able to pick all of them up until their second viewing of the series. Overall, not much really happens in the episode, so there’s not much to talk about.

Next up is “To the Future.” Essentially, Noein shows Haruka a future where teenage versions of Ai, Isami, and Miho are all kinds of messed up. Isami’s a punk, Ai’s leg has to be amputated, and Miho is the ultimate recluse. As you can probably imagine, this future is a little bit disturbing, especially when things really start to go wrong for the characters. This is helped by their futures actually being logical extensions of their current personalities (instead of, say, Ai falling in love with Yuu or Isami being the first person on Mars), making this future quite chilling. I do have to wonder what happened to that world’s Haruka, though. It’s implied that Yuu’s off at school in another city (something foreshadowed a few episodes before), but the lack of any mention of Haruka is a bit odd. Also odd is the inclusion of Atori in Miho’s visions. With Haruka it makes sense to appear in the vision since she’s the Dragon Torque, and Yuu manages to tap into that somehow, but Atori appearing, after being missing for the entire episode, just comes out of left field. I guess his run-in with Haruka mid-series might be the cause of his newfound power, but it still doesn’t quite sit right with me. It’s not enough to devalue the episode, though, as it’s still quite a disturbing episode.

After that is “The End.” As one could guess from the episode title, Noein’s on his way to completing his ultimate goal, with Haruka unable to do much to stop him. The only thing she’s able to do is transport her house, which holds Atori, Miho, Ai, and Isami, to Shangri-la. Meanwhile, Uchida and Kooriyama team up with Tobe (who’s finally revealed to be female) and Kosagi to stop Shinohara’s Magic Circle project. This is essentially another transition episode, except this one isn’t a breather so much as a build-up episode. Things start building up and the atmosphere gets really tense as everything starts collapsing. The only problem is that nothing really happens. While it seems as though a lot of stuff is happening at once, nothing substantial is actually achieved by episode’s end except for one big shocker of a secret that plays into the next episode. Even the super-mecha that appear feel as though they were only created just to give Karasu something to do while Yuu and Haruka take on Noein.

Just as there’s an end to everything, there’s always “The Beginning,” the final episode. Noein reveals his origins, those big mecha invade our world, and Shinohara looks to be triumphant in the end. It’s a good thing Noein revealed his origins in this episode, as puts some meat on this episode’s bones. While it’s a tragic story and not really too surprising once you think about it, it fails to explain exactly how Noein is able to traverse dimensions or how he turned into a big white energy thing. Another huge problem is the supporting characters. In the end, Haruka and Yuu were the only ones who actually mattered, while everyone else was basically window dressing and kept busy until the end credits. I would’ve thought the B-plot of Shinohara’s Magic Circle would play a bigger part and that the good guys would have done more to stop him, but even that turned into something to keep the side characters busy. Don’t get me wrong, the finale is still pretty good and overall satisfying (even if the epilogue only showcases Haruka and her friends and not the supporting characters at all), but part of it does feel very empty once you finish watching and begin to digest what you just saw.

If you’ve been watching Noein on Sci Fi’s Ani-Mondays (or on DVD, obviously), you know about the series’ uneven animation. Well, the last volume, of course, doesn’t really do anything to change that. We get all the different styles during the last few episodes. There’s the super-stilted, off-model animation; the super-fluid, crayon-esque animation (from the Karasu vs. Fukuro battle); even the ultra-crazy animation from the beginning of the series. It adds up to very little consistency, but if that was enough to annoy you, I doubt you’d have watched past Episode 5 anyways. The CG is its usual wonderful stuff, full of glossy pastel colors that provide the animation with a charge without looking separate from the 2D animation. Unfortunately, we don’t get the cool time-stoppage color palette (where everything’s a mix of red and blue) from previous discs, but that’s a minor nitpick. Basically, the visuals keep up the same level as previous episodes on the disc. If you didn’t like the visuals before, you still won’t like them, but if you didn’t mind then, you won’t mind now.

Likewise, the dub is pretty much the usual. Of special note is how Melissa Fahn, Yuri Lowenthal, and the others are able to distinguish between the young child voices they’ve been using for the past twenty-some episodes and their older teenage forms that show up at various times on the disc. In many cases, the differences are very subtle. You can tell it’s the same voice actor, but the way it’s pitched and the quality of the voice make the character sound older, instead of simply using the same exact voice as some other series tend to do. I also have to applaud Crispin Freeman for his excellence in differentiating between Noein and Karasu. The differences are even more subtle, but they’re still there and it really brings out the two characters. I’ve criticized the dub in the past for lacking the spark some other dubs have, but the entire cast went all out on these past few episodes and it truly shows. The Japanese cast also provides some great performances, though they didn’t have the rocky start the English dub had, and I can’t tell the subtle differences in characters’ voices as well as I can in the English dub. There’s not much new in the soundtrack, but when it’s as good as Noein‘s is, you don’t really need anything new.

With all the featurettes used up on previous DVDs, this one officially just has a textless opening and an image gallery, along with trailers. But if you select the Noein logo on the main menu, you get a ten-minute blooper reel based on the dub. At first it’s not too impressive, as it’s just characters flubbing lines, but eventually the voice actors start ad-libbing, making lewd jokes or making fun of the storyline and it gets really funny during the second half of the feature. My favorite is when Yuri Lowenthal and Crispin Freeman argue over how to pronounce “Haruka.”

Unfortunately, Manga still has problems with the packaging to this thing. As I’ve said in previous reviews, the screenshots on the back of each volume aren’t necessarily from that volume, and the screens used for this one are from Volumes 3 and 4. Plus, they use stock art of Amamiku (Ai’s Dragon Knight self), even though that model hasn’t been seen since Volume 2. Come on Manga! Between this and the bullcrap you pulled with Tactics, you’re starting to slip a little bit off your high-horse.

Overall, those who have been watching Noein will enjoy the finale, as it does provide adequate closure while leaving just enough open for a possible sequel.

Episodes on Noein – To Your Other Self Volume 5:
Episode #21: “Illusion”
Episode #22: “To the Future”
Episode #23: “The End”
Episode #24: “The Beginning”

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