Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 21st 2007
Karasu whisks Haruka away to La'cryma while Yu panics and her friends and teacher, who don't know what's going on, frantically look for her. In La'cryma Haruka gets to see what this (from her viewpoint) alternate future dimension looks like and why the Dragon Knights have been going on about its devastation by Shangri-La. She also discovers that, in this future world, some of the faces are strangely familiar. While the leaders of La'cryma wish to call upon the power of the Dragon Torque to protect their crippled world from Shangri-La, Karasu has other ideas. Unable to get over the death of “his” Haruka, he vows to protect this one at all costs and flees back to the past world with her, where her friends wait with lots of questions. The Dragon Knights aren't about to let Karasu go, however, and the mad Atori is still in that world seeking to destroy the Dragon Torque, not caring that his actions could have calamitous consequences.
In addition to the extradimensional intrigue, Yu still has his own serious problems with his mother's overbearing emphasis on his upcoming entrance exams. But might the truth coming out about why she pushes him so hard be the ticket to improving his situation?
The main strike against the first volume of Noein was that its plot was so obfuscated that it took great effort to make much sense of it. That problem is corrected in episodes 6 and 7, where not only is enough information revealed for a viewer to finally understand much of what's actually going on with this whole dimension/time-hopping business, but it's accomplished without feeling like you've been subjected to the kind of “info-dumping” normally required to explain something like this. With that out of the way, the story is free to become a thoroughly engrossing mix of hard-core sci-fi and very ordinary dramatic elements.
A common plot device in sci-fi stories across all forms of media and all nationalities is the individual from a dystopian future world traveling into a past world to seek a solution to/prevention of future problems. The slight twist Noein puts on this concept is that the person who is the “solution” is taken 15 years into the future to do her thing, rather than the future individuals trying to deal with matters in the past. And what an unpleasant place La'cryma is, with its shades of Twelve Monkeys, fights against alien invaders on a devastated surface, and bugs as a main source of nutrition. Given how bad the situation is, it's no wonder that Karasu's fellow Dragon Knights have a problem with him trying to protect the one girl who could possibly save them all.
Of course, it's also not hard to see why Karasu would want to protect her, given who he was in the past and how utterly likeable a character Haruka is. She may be on the spunky side but is not overly cute, energetic, smart, mature, or anything else that is normally done to excess in anime characterizations. She is a balanced and believable girl who is surrounded by equally balanced and believable friends. Yu's tendency towards stress-induced anxiety is partly remedied once his mother is finally forced to confront why she is pushing him so unreasonably hard, a sequence of events which takes up the better part of two episodes to play out but never for a moment feels boring or like the sci-fi story is being interrupted. In fact, it's consistently amazing how effectively the story can tuck all this very normal real-life stuff in amongst the extreme sci-fi elements and get it to work. It is not something a lesser series could pull off.
Although the action scenes are strictly a side event rather than the main focus, they are not given any lesser attention. The vivid imagery used and way the movements are handled makes them stand out in an environment normally replete with shortcuts like isolation shots and stills. The animation and artistry do an excellent job of giving them distinct looks and making them feel exciting. Even the power-up scenes feel fresh because they are kept short and don't have people standing around marveling at them, unlike in most major shonen series.
The other visuals are great, too, although the overall artistic style is a marked departure from the norm for anime. The all-CG Shangri-La ships/creatures are exquisitely-detailed marvels on the level of a Gankutsuou, and the vision of the alternate future of La'cryma is suitably industrial and unpleasant. By contrast, the backgrounds of the present-time Hakodate are very realistic recreations of actual locations, as elaborated upon in the Extras. The character designs are a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing, with Karasu being the weakest design and Yu and Haruka the strongest. The color palette used also distinguishes it from most other anime; while not at all muted, it's not the bright, cheery color set one normally sees in recent anime titles. CG is used very extensively, especially for vehicles and trolleys; its integration with the 2D animation is moderately good, but there are better examples.
The one minor weakness to the second volume is that its dramatic musical score gets thoroughly overwrought at times. Its balance is better on other occasions and it is most notable by its absence on still others. The opener and closer continue to be bland numbers.
The English voice acting, which was one of the highlights of the first volume, continues to be top-rate. Nearly every actor is well-chosen for the role and performs it admirably; even scenes where two characters are clearly drunk are handled well, with appropriate amounts of slurring and adjustments to tenor. The English script strays enough for the dialogue to sound good in English, and does make a few minor changes in places, but the adjustments are never enough to be a problem.
The main extra this time around is the 16-minute second part of the travelogue on Hakodate begun in the first volume, where the director and Haruka's seiyuu explore various locations used as the basis for the background art in the series. Viewing this leads one to appreciate more fully just how accurately the background artistry represents the actual locations. The only other extra this time is a set of “player cards,” which is nothing more than shots of key characters. As before, a Spanish subtitling option is included along with the standard English sub. At a base price of only $19.95 for five episodes, it's also one of your more economical first-run anime values.
The title character of the series, the mysterious otherworldly Noein, makes no appearances at all in these five episodes, and the Dragon Torque only appears infrequently, but that doesn't matter. While not a pure sci-fi endeavor, it is nonetheless a distinctive and engrossing entry into the sci-fi genre with a high level of merit across the board. If the first volume didn't hook you, this one almost certainly will.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Excellent writing and English voice work, great balance of sci-fi and character drama.
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