Reviewby Allen Divers, Jan 29th 2003
DVD 1 - Shades of Darkness
Professional hitwoman, Mireille Bouquet, and Japanese student, Kirika Yumura, are drawn together by the haunting melody of a pocket watch. Skilled in the art of killing, both search for the answers to Kirika's amnesia that could solve the mysteries of Mireille's past as well. Soon it is clear that someone else is pulling their strings, forcing them into a game of survival. Doing what they do best, Mireille and Kirika can only play the game in hopes of discovering the game master.
From ADV, comes "Shades of Darkness," the first volume in the Noir series. Containing the first five episodes, "Shades of Darkness" introduces the main characters of the series as well as quickly establishing the driving plot of the show. Juxtaposed against a vibrant world, the dark story of Noir follows the lives of two assassins whose pasts are linked by a haunting melody. At times suspenseful mystery, while at others strong action, Noir spins an intricate tale in an artistic manner sure to entertain a large audience.
"Shades of Darkness" contains the first five episodes of Noir presented in anamorphic widescreen. The extras include the standard array of production sketches, clean opening and closing and the original Japanese promos. Stepping away from the norm, the production sketches are presented in a slide show format with music from the show. Surprisingly, a warning is played at the beginning suggesting that many of the images could be spoilers for the episodes included. Showing just how big of a series this is for ADV, a second version of the first volume is available with a box for all the volumes in the series.
Produced by Bee Train, the animation comes across as crisp and clean with a look that appears to mix traditional cel animation with newer computer aided animation. There's no bulky CGI getting in the way, but it's quite clear that many of the colors are beyond the traditional media. The animation manages to stay with the heavy action in the series, giving the characters an almost fluid feel. The creators also do a good job in helping the seriousness of the storyline to come out with well thought out sequences and shots that rival many good dramatic movies. Despite its violent tone, the creators took an interesting step in keeping the actual blood letting down. While blood does make an appearance, it's shot in a very dramatic fashion, leaving much to the imagination of the viewer. The overall feel and style of the art and animation goes a long way in helping to accentuate the overall story being told.
Not to be outdone by its strong visuals, the soundtrack of Noir also works to help create the proper atmosphere. Both the English and Japanese casts are well chosen, fitting into their appropriate roles. The concentration of both soundtracks centers on the characters of Mireille and Kirika, with both sets of actors creating the appropriate tone for their particular language. Being set mostly in France, the English track carries a few French accents for some of the incidental characters. While always a dangerous prospect, the effect simply adds a bit of flavor to the sound track and isn't overdone. The English track does a good job of staying in line with the original Japanese script, making a few changes for lip sync and timing. Both soundtracks share the same music and sound effects, keeping both versions very much in sync.
The music is something special to mention, as Bee Train has a habit of pushing hard with the incidental music. The music for Noir takes on an almost haunting gothic sound mixed with very modern electronic sounds. Taking a very different approach from what is often expected, the music tends to be very obvious, helping to push the emotions of the viewer. In some scenes, the effect is rather jarring, but looked at in context with the dramatic action of the scene, fits quite well. While the music grows and wanes as the scenes change, the composer maintains the overall melody which derives itself from the back-story of Mireille's and Kirika's respective pasts.
The story of Noir centers on the lives of two assassins, Mireille Bouquet and Kirika Yumura. Brought together by mysteries in their pasts, Mireille and Kirika form an unstoppable team of assassins. Walking that thin line between good and evil, Mireille and Kirika move from job to job hardly pausing to debate their actions. While the outward story of Noir seems stuck in a standard cliché, the back-story builds quickly in these early episodes to add depth to the plot and the characters.
Where most back-stories tend to take their time to appear with slow foreshadowing through the first few episodes, Noir simply dumps the thing right on the viewer in the first episode. From there, each of the remaining episodes of the first volume continues to build on the backstory forcing the main characters to develop. With the back-story in full motion by episode 3, both Mireilla and Kirika are showing solid signs of development. With Noir starting off so quickly into the back-story, there is a danger that it could peter out too soon, causing the last few episodes to struggle for viewers' attention. While that does seem to create a challenge for the storytellers, Noir is moving well as a strong suspenseful action mystery.
So far, Noir is proving to be an exciting action packed suspense thriller. While it's easy to be distracted by the pretty visuals and fast action sequences, its strong story quickly grabs the attention of the viewer. In 5 episodes, Noir has moved quickly into its back-story and the characters are already beginning to develop that good depth that makes it easier for the viewer to relate to them as the main characters. Its mix of strong visuals, heavy action scenes and suspenseful plot should give Noir a nice edge in finding an audience. As long as Bee Train can manage to keep up the pace established in this first volume, Noir should prove to be one of the strongest titles to hit North America in 2003.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B
+ Strong suspenseful story presenting very artistically
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