The Fall 2020 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Rai wakes up from 820-years long sleep and starts his new life as a student in a high school founded by his loyal servant, Frankenstein. But his peaceful days with other human students are soon interrupted by mysterious attackers known as the "Unions."
How was the first episode?
Here is a list of facts about Noblesse:
- It is animated.
- It is based on a Korean Webtoon.
- It is partially funded by Crunchyroll and branded as a Crunchyroll original.
- The animation was predominantly produced in Japan.
- An OAV episode was released before the first TV episode.
Here is a list of my opinions about Noblesse:
- It is bad.
- It is boring.
- It is ugly.
- I do not want to watch any more of it.
Well, apparently this is not sufficient as a review so I guess I'll go into more detail.
There are a lot of things to dislike about the premiere of Noblesse, but first and foremost is the fact that it's not actually a first episode. Apparently, there was an OVA released four years ago that serves as the actual first episode and as far as I can tell, there was only a half-hearted attempt to make that knowledge public. As a result, I found myself dropped into the middle of the plot with characters constantly referring to things that had happened previously and no explanation of who Raziel is or why he's going to high school.
It wasn't too hard to fill in enough of the blanks to at least get an idea of what was happening – he's a vampire, he was asleep until recently and thus has no idea how to really navigate the modern world, he's made friends with two Totally Normal Boys who had some kind of run-in with baddies and had their memories wiped so they think they were in a car accident or something. But while I was able to suss out the basic plot, it made it terribly hard to care about what was going on. Without proper setup, the tonal whiplash was quite severe, as the episode zoomed from soldiers getting killed in a jungle to fish-out-of-water school shenanigans to discount Wolverine's sad backstory.
It's an ugly show too, saved from the title of “Ugliest Crunchyroll Original” only by the existence of Gibiate. However, while Gibiate was at least hilaribad with its terribly integrated CG monsters and outdated character designs, Noblesse is just kind of stiff and off-model, especially in longer shots. Dollar Store Wolverine's lip scar particularly irritated me, as it often looked different from shot to shot, and in anything but closeup, looked like he had lines around just one side of his mouth or had a permanent :T face.
If you're really into hot vampires and have watched the OVA first, maybe you'll like Noblesse more than I did. Me? I prefer werewolves for my angsty supernatural boyfriends.
If you intend to check out this series, first watch the OVA episode Noblesse: Awakening, which is also available on Crunchyroll. (Curiously, though, it is not yet linked to this title.) It is more the true first episode, the one which explains the concept in play here and shows the events that several characters are referring to. You will have trouble following this otherwise, and I am evaluating this episode in the context of that one.
Although this first episode has some merits, it also has a lot of problems, and those problems start with Raizel. He is the great Noblesse, the one who protects those who operate within the shadows to protect humanity, and that means he is supposed to be ultra-powerful. (In the OVA he can make others kneel before him with a command.) But he is also 800+ years outside of the times, so the clear intent here is to show that he has at least some vulnerability by being unfamiliar with current technology. The thing with the cute cat emblem on the cast and the cute emoji will doubtless also prove to be a running joke intended to humanize him. The problem is that he has not even a glimmer of a personality beyond the emoji thing. He's handsome, aloof, and cool, but he's also just there to be admired and bowed down to. Despite him being the titular character, he is by far the least interesting character in the cast so far. That is usually a troubling sign.
The series does a little better with M-21 trying to set up his redemption and the hotheaded redhead who tries to protect everyone, even to the point of getting in a fight with a tough opponent while his right arm is in a cast (as a result of events in the OVA). If the series emphasizes them more while keeping Raizel in the background most of the time (much like a lot of how Overlord plays out) then it might fare a little better. Sadly, the mercenaries who just show up in Japan at the end of the episode mean that he's probably going to have to step out and be a badass at some point.
Although both this and the OVA episode are animated by Production I.G, much of the staff has been replaced. This is not for the better, as the artistic quality here is a couple of notches below the OVAs, to the point that this is one of the weakest entries of the season so far on the artistic front. On the whole, it's not awful, but I am not seeing a lot of potential here, either.
So just as a heads up, if you're going to watch Noblesse you'll first need to watch the 2016 OVA Noblesse: Awakening, because this new Crunchyroll/Webtoon coproduction absolutely assumes you have. Crunchyroll, despite streaming the OVA, apparently just didn't think that fact was important to mention, so I, dear reader, spent the entire first episode of this TV anime wondering if they'd accidentally uploaded episode 3 by mistake. If you don't have the time or inclination to turn this into a double-length premiere I'll try to summarize as best I can: Rai is an immortal vampire who just woke up from an 800-year nap, and enlists the help of his immortal servant Frankenstein to acclimate to the world by...joining the Japanese high school that Frankenstein is the dean of, apparently. Meanwhile an organization trying to perfect modified humans wants to find Rai for undisclosed reasons, and four of their members had a scuffle with Kai, leaving three of them dead and the survivor in his debt. That guy's named M-21 as a “failed experiment,” and most of the actual TV series' premiere is about him.
Knowing all of that is 100% necessary to get at all invested in this premiere, because there is zero attempt to catch up new viewers. M-21 has a whole monologue explaining his backstory, but it's filled with names of characters who never appear outside of that OVA. Heck it's not even stated outright that Rai is a vampire, though that at least is obvious from everything about his design. Without the prior context, this episode is a bunch of incoherent, unconnected events that culminate in M-21 punching a street punk real hard and then having some kind of character epiphany, and it made for some pretty dire viewing before I went back and watched the actual first part of this story.
But honestly, doing that only made the TV series look worse. Awakening isn't astonishing, but it's a slickly-produced, well-paced introduction that features some fantastic action animation. If you're at all planning to try Noblesse and haven't already read the webtoon, then start with that OVA if you want to get the best first impression possible. Then weep as you move onto the TV series to find the production values have plummeted off a cliff. Obviously a full-cour series isn't going to have the polish of a 30-minute short film, but it's still disappointing to compare a four-year-old video to a new production and see flatter colors, stiffer character designs, and a major downgrade in direction and fight choreography. It really makes me wonder if just hastily adapting the OVA as a rushed first episode wouldn't have been a better choice. Sure, it still wouldn't look great, but you also wouldn't be required to see the superior version before sitting in for this damp follow-up.
As an introduction, this first episode of Noblesse is a directionless mess that limps across the screen for 20 minutes before just calling it a day. If you're absolutely hankering for some hot dudes having fights, and just can't stand the rapping in Hypnosis Mic then maybe this will be enough. Otherwise, there are any number of better shows airing now or already completed that do everything Noblesse the TV series does far, far better.
If you haven't read the South Korean webtoon this show is based on or watched the ONA that adapts the manhwa's first “season” (roughly 90 chapters), you stand to be very, very confused going into the first episode of Noblesse's TV anime. Not that knowing one or the other is enough to make this a particularly engaging half-hour, but at least it'll make some sense and you'll have a vague idea of who the characters are and what the story's world is, although if you're coming to this from the webtoon, there are a few differences that at least caught me a bit off-balance. One is simply that the action of the story has been lifted up wholesale and plopped down in Japan rather than South Korea where it was originally set, and this leads to the other change, which is that the characters who had Korean names now have Japanese ones: Ik-han is Manabu and Shinwoo is Yu. Fortunately Frankenstein and Raizel still have their originals, so it's only half-weird.
The story picks up after Rai has been awake for a bit (after sleeping for over 800 years) and is established at the school that his servant Frankenstein currently runs. Manabu and Yu are his pals, he's beaten back the first round of bad guys, and now he's ready for the next major step in his 21st century adventure: getting a smartphone. Yep, that's Rai's big moment in this episode, not that you can necessarily tell; he's about as stone-faced as a character can get, emoting roughly as much as your average rock. Thus while he's ostensibly the character the story's about, he's also the absolutely least interesting, with most of his actions consisting of “sitting there,” “standing there,” and in one major burst of energy, “breaking apart chopsticks.” Just a thrill a minute with this guy.
The episode does try to balance it out by having some other action throughout. It opens with a probably-nefarious group fighting in a jungle, featuring a guy who can hack with his feet and another who licks blood off of knives, and then ends with a group of generic thugs showing up at school to punish Yu for the terrible crime of touching the boss' girlfriend while trying to keep her from falling over. This is the slightly better scene, not so much for its context as for the actual action, although how Yu isn't screaming when the thug boss punches through the cast on his (recently) broken arm I will never know. (Possibly drugs from his recent hospitalization; don't tell the guys from IWGP.) This fight, which is ended by the artificial human Rai and Frankenstein have taken in, seems to be geared towards setting up the new guy as an ally, which, since the nefarious group from the jungle has just arrived in Japan, is probably a good thing.
The story may well pick up in the next episode, but I can't say that this one does much to make me want to watch it, especially when the source material is at least prettier. The stiff, awkward animation also doesn't help, and the uneven pacing of the episode just felt like the knell tolling for the adaptation. Maybe if Frankenstein at least still had his beautiful webtoon hair this would be worth it, but as it stands, I'd suggest reading the comics instead.
discuss this in the forum (198 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history