Haruka is a 12-year old girl who likes to hang out with her four friends, having a special devotion to Yu, a boy whose mother is making his life miserable. Haruka and her friends are suddenly attacked by a group of black-cloaked superhumans, and it turns out that their target is Haruka herself; the leader of the group, Karasu, claims that he is Yu from the future, and that Haruka has a power that will save the people of his reality. While Haruka has her doubts about Karasu and his world (called La'cryma), her feelings about La'cryma's enemy, Shangri-La, and its lord, Noein, are quite clear: she quickly learns to despise them. But what can a 12-year old do? And what is the connection between the dimension-hopping denizens of La'cryma and Shangri-La, and the mysterious engineering project Haruka's father is (now unwillingly) aiding?
OK, I admit it: THIS is a work of genius, a true epic, and any flaws it has do not merit the subtraction of a single star.
The main strength of Noein is its cast. One of the comments on one of the boxes calls it "anime's version of Stand By Me", and that's about right. While I think the series actually starts rather slowly (I almost gave up after the first disk), the relationships between the kids make the show, especially the continuity of those relationships over time. The La'crymans have poignant interactions with these, their "past selves" (sort of; more on that later), and late in the series this is kind of reversed when the kids are made to experience, as older versions of themselves, one of the bleak futures that Noein swears they will face.
I have to take issue, however, with another box blurb calling this "the anime Donnie Darko". As I recall, the main character in Donnie Darko ended up accepting his doom. Not here. Haruka is a fighter, though she's understandably often at a loss to know what to do. Fortunately, she has both Yu and Karasu to help. Karasu and the La'crymans actually belong to a parallel universe with a past similar to, but not quite identical with, our own, and Karasu at first decides to protect Haruka because of her similarity to the Haruka of his world (and guilt feelings about her fate), but over time it becomes obvious that if anyone has the power to restore happy futures to the universe, it is THIS Haruka, this twelve-year-old.
It's a given that Haruka and Yu/Karasu are a couple, but there's another future couple among the kids, Ai Hasebe and Isami Fujiwara. I have a certain weakness for second-banana romances (Duero and Parfet in Vandread, Tadashi and Akira in Special A) and found the Ai and Isami one particularly poignant, since we don't get to see much of La'cryma's Haruka, but see a good deal of its Ai, and the sadness she experiences, which is a byproduct the war against Noein.
Still, Haruka is clearly the main character, with a strong moral sense and yet flexible enough to cope with the bizarre events inflicted on her. I love her line, when asked if anything strange had happened: "It's all been weird recently, so I'm kind of used to it." The series occasionally takes little detours to explore the pasts of Haruka's parents (and of Yu's mom), all thanks apparently to Haruka's power to see the timeline, and to influence things in her future.
Other characters include Miho, the other kid, who's into the occult, and later becomes close with Atori, a freak-show La'cryman who was originally obsessed with killing Haruka but reformed; and a policeman/scientist pair who really don't provide much to the story except some background and context.
Speaking of the science: the story posits that La'cryma is ruled by "quantum" principles rather than the familiar macroscopic rules.(Perhaps this is supposed to explain their superpowers?) In particular, the whole framework for the series is based on the idea of the multiverse, where an endless number of futures are created by branching when an event occurs (when two outcomes are possible, they occur both ways, according to this viewpoint, creating two branches.) On the other hand, the story also relies heavily on what in physics is called the Copenhagen Interpretation, which says that a quantum event can only occur if it's "observed"- until then it remains in an in-determinant state (this idea gets used in Noein's story several times)- but when it IS "observed", it only occurs in a particular way. The problem is that the multiverse idea is actually in competition with the "observer" idea as an explanation for quantum events, so the story is actually pulling concepts from what are usually thought of as contradictory explanations. But that's a minor quibble.
Art-wise, this is probably the most mixed-bag series I've ever seen. There are really three art styles here: computer-animated backgrounds and machines; a simplistic, though pleasant, style for most of the characters; and a frankly grotesque style for the La'crymans (for the men, anyway). The conventionally-animated characters become particularly sketchy in the action scenes. On the other hand, the computer-animated Shangri-La "assault ships" are THE most bizarre things I've ever seen, kind of like Hindu art crossed with mecha and filtered through an LSD trip. They have arms, legs, faces (several, and with expressions), and a little propeller at the end as a flourish. I'm a little unsure how Shangri-La, which has no technology (because it doesn't really have people) can create these things, but I've got to admit, they're certainly impressive in a surreal way.
I'm not too fond of the music- it's not really good enough for the show, in my opinion- but that's another minor quibble.
A show with a lot of ambition that mostly succeeds at its goals. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: No sex or fan service, but a lot of death, and some dismemberment and mutilation (one of the villains hardly looks human by the time he bows out.) Really not suitable for 12 year olds, even though they are the main cast members. 15+, perhaps.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Noein © 2005 Kazuki Akane / Satelight / Noein project
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