Reviewby Theron Martin,
While the Dragon Knights and elementary school gang try to locate the missing Haruka and Yu, Uchida, Kooryiama, and Professor Mayuzumi come to an agreement that the Magic Circle Project must be stopped, lest it trigger a dimensional collapse. Such a collapse is precisely what Noein wants, however, and it is he that Yu and Karasu must contend with in Shangri-La. He shows Haruka the most unpleasant futures for her friends in an effort to manipulate her into working his will, but none are more unpleasant than his own. With a disaster that could cause the quantum collapse of the universe at hand, it falls to an intrepid few and one Dragon Torque-endowed 12-year-old girl to stop Noein's nihilistic plan.
At turns intense, ominous, spectacular, confusing, and even emotional, the final four episodes of this convoluted exploration of quantum physics and existential philosophizing never get dull. Though the writing resorts to sci-fi standbys like doomsday plans, branching alternate realities, potential futures, and madmen twisted by tragedies in their youth, its creative application of quantum mechanics, effective characterizations, and talent for staging incredible action sequences (mostly) prevents the series from losing steam going into its conclusion. The grand climax in the final episode does not carry quite the dramatic punch one would hope for given the build-up, but few will walk away from this one feeling disappointed.
Whether or not fans will walk away understanding everything is another story, as even intense concentration may not succeed in piecing together all the details; this is not a block of episodes you want to watch casually. Fortunately the series can fall back on the stabilizing influence of its steady character development, and this time Atori gets the feature treatment. By the end of volume four he had already showed signs of regressing from the dramatic personality change which afflicted him in volume three, but the way he interacts with, and is affected by, Miho (and why) shows both a newer, more integrated personality potential and thoroughly enjoyable character by-play. The set-ups for the tragedies afflicting the future versions of the elementary school gang resonate remarkably well for as time-worn a gimmick as they represent, and their resolutions provide an emotional punch which may catch viewers off guard.
And yes, the series finally resolves the longest-standing mystery in Noein: the true identity of the old guy with the straw hat, who keeps appearing to Haruka but never introduces himself, gets revealed. The definitive identity of Noein also gets revealed, although claims to that effect were made at the end of the previous volume.
Little can be said about the artistry and technical merits that has not already been mentioned in previous reviews; by this point the series' unique look either works for you or it doesn't. The CG renditions of the living Shangri-La airships still amaze with their exquisite detail and near-flawless integration with the regular animation, and the 17-year-old designs for the elementary kids (the only truly new artistic element) stay convincingly consistent with their younger designs. Action scenes never disappoint with their detailed motion and fluid movements, and the CG animation is flawless, but the emphasis on exaggerated movements can make the regular animation look jerky, especially in this volume.
Little more can also be said about the dramatic but effective soundtrack, which uses a few minor new themes but mostly still relies on its core orchestration and vocals. Music director Hikaru Nanase, whose other credits include notables like Chrono Crusade, Galaxy Angel, and Scrapped Princess, never overcomes a tendency to lay it on a bit thick, especially in action scenes, but some novel sound effects by the Shangri-La airships balance out that minor flaw. The English dub performances also maintain the standard of the last couple of volumes: the performances of Haruka, Atori, and Uchida are gems, the rest of the cast stays solid, the pronunciation of Haruka's name varies from VA to VA, and preferences will generally fall along normal sub/dub lines. The English script varies a bit more than it should at times but never becomes a major problem.
The only normal Extras are a textless opener and a brief gallery of screenshots, but as with some previous volumes, an Easter Egg can be found by pushing “up” on the remote control while the cursor is on Play on the main menu page. Select the “Noein Volume 5” circle and you get several minutes of audio cuts featuring bloopers and often-crude alternate dialogue, some of which pokes fun at the pronunciation issue. Spanish subtitles also remain as an option.
The quality of the writing may slide a bit, but the final volume still delivers. To its end one of the most economical dubbed series of the year remains a great and entertaining view.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Characterizations, action scenes, CG visuals.
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