Reviewby Theron Martin, May 22nd 2007
In addition to securing the Dragon Torque, the Dragon Knights must now deal with renegade Karasu, who has resolved to do everything in his power to protect Haruka, even if that means battling an old friend to the death. Wild card Atori must also be dealt with, but another even more dire threat looms in the background: the mysterious masked being who calls itself Noein, and the menacing aliens of Shangri-La who seem to be working with/for Noein. Through it all Haruka struggles to learn more about the power of the Dragon Torque she possesses and the ability it gives her to perceive and cross over to other dimensions, an ability which may have more frighteningly powerful potential than she ever imagined.
Meanwhile Kyoji Kooriyama and Kyoko Uchida delve into the explanations of quantum mechanics as they relate to alternate dimensions and decide to hunt down a particular scientist to discuss their concerns over a potentially very dangerous project dealing with that subject, a man who also happens to be Haruka's father. And Yu struggles to deal with his jealousy over his older self's apparently tight relationship with Haruka.
The above synopsis does not even come close to describing all that that happens in this volume, partly because of some genuinely surprising twists the story takes but mostly because there's just too much going on through these five episodes to describe everything without giving a lengthy dissertation. So much happens that each episode feels longer than it actually is (and at more than 25 minutes per episode, they are already a little longer than the norm for broadcast animation), yet the pacing never feels rushed. Even with all its plot development and sci-fi goings-on, the storytelling still somehow finds time to delve into character development and lots of explanatory exposition and throw in great action scenes, too. Most series could not accomplish all that this one does in half again the same length of time.
The most amazing things about the series – and this volume in particular – are the successful melding of dramatically different story elements and nonreliance on traditional anime elements. Its children actually behave like children should instead of the normal goofy animated take on their behavior (and note that I did not say “anime” for a reason), and from that comes the volume's few light-hearted moments. While allowing the kids to express themselves, it also delves into explanations of some of the fundamentals of the extremely complex theoretical world of quantum mechanics and how it relates to the dimension-hopping themes of the series; a point of particular relevance to the plot is the notion that mere observation of an event can have an effect on the event, which in this case is extended to mean that Haruka can make alternate realities actually happen just by using the Dragon Torque to see them – a scary notion. This isn't your normal sci-fi technobabble, as all of what Uchida explains in episode 11 and elsewhere is based on actual philosophy and science. By extension, this means that the entirety of the series and its dimension-hopping mechanics is, in fact, based on actual philosophy and science rather than just the fantastic musings of its creator. As a nice touch, the visuals accompanying Uchida's explanation in episode 11 include a sly reference to the famous Schrödinger's cat thought experiment, which will probably fly over the head of all but the best-educated viewers. Despite much of the cast being kids, this is definitely not kiddie fare.
As with previous volumes, this one further explores some of the underlying psychological elements. What does it say about a person who's jealous of an older alternate-dimension version of himself? The writing also continues to delve into the “what is reality and what is an illusion” mode of thinking, and while most people wish at some point that they could revisit the past and look for ways to have seen events play out differently, Haruka actually subconsciously has the power to do that. But is she old enough to understand and appreciate it?
Coming up more prominently in this volume than the previous ones is the creepy side of the story. We have all seen horror and/or supernatural stories about phones that are supposed to be disconnected and nonfunctional suddenly ringing, allowing the listener to communicate with people from different times and places than should be physically possible, but the gimmick gets used quite effectively here. Most series also could not pull off having a CG-created alien which looks thoroughly ridiculous (think of a giant seahorse with a hand on a tentacle) and yet also still carries an aura of menace, but this one does. The reappearance of Noein, whose role in the scheme of things and connection to Shangri-la (and also what Shangri-la is) is finally made somewhat clear, adds the final bit of edginess.
The highlight of the visuals is unquestionably the boldly stylish action scenes, which use distorted graphics and a pulse-pounding musical backing to give a strong sense of the kind of frenetic movement one would expect to see in fights like this. The lowlights are a few thoroughly unappealing adult character designs and irregularities in visual quality. The series retains its unique look while continuing to heavily employ CG artistry in its aliens and perspective-shifting shots of buildings. Background art, as before, meticulously recreates the real-world settings used for the series, and the animation supports the series well, whether dealing with the action scenes, more fantastical visual effects, or the exaggerated reactions of some characters.
As with previous volumes, the musical score normally works quite effectively but can get a bit too heavy and overly melodramatic in key scenes. The opener and closer remain unchanged. The styles of delivery for the English cast may not always match up perfectly to those of the original Japanese cast, but one would have to get quite picky to find fault with the accuracy of the casting relevant to the characters; Melissa Fahn and Yuri Lowenthal are especially good choices for Haruka and Yuu, respectively. No fault can be found with the quality of the performances, either, beyond possibly Ai. (And she has few lines in this block of episodes anyway.) The English script also sticks relatively close to the original.
Included with these five episodes is part 3 of the location-scouting documentary seen in previous volumes, an image gallery of screen shots, and a “NOEIN: Storyboard to Screen” feature, which takes clips from all three volumes and breaks them down into one-after-another comparisons with their components parts; a nice inclusion for those interested in the animation process. As with previous volumes, this one also has an Easter Egg, which can be accessed by selecting the “Noein Volume 3” circle on the main menu. It provides a collection of humorous alternate dialogue outtakes, many of which are actually quite funny but most of which are definitely not PG-rated in content. Set-up options include Spanish as well as English subtitles. This volume also comes with a very economical list price (MSRP of only $19.99), making it a great bargain.
Manga Entertainment, a company which never shies from licensing and distributing thought-provoking sci-fi series, has done an excellent job with this one, too, with one exception: the three freakin' month wait in between volumes. Hopefully this is not a sign of the future. Otherwise this volume has a lot to recommend it: intense, stylish action, involving storytelling, complex explanations, and surprising plot twists. If the first two volumes didn't convince you that this is one of the best of recent sci-fi anime series, this volume should.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Dense writing capably brings together diverse elements, spectacular action scenes.
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