Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Blu-Ray - Complete Collection [Anime Classics]
Mireille Bouquet is a Corsican assassin living in Paris. Going by the code name “Noir,” she is surprised to receive an email from a girl named Kirika Yumura in Japan, saying “Make a pilgrimage to the past with me.” Kirika, it turns out, is also a skilled assassin, albeit one who has no memory of who she might really be. The two return to France and set about trying to solve the secrets of their pasts: who killed Mireille's family, who Kirika really is, and what the mysterious cult known as “Les Soldats” has to do with all of it. But will their pilgrimage to the past rob them of a future?
Not all older series deserve the Blu-Ray treatment. For some it is because the show just isn't as iconic as people might like to think, while for others it's because the quality was never BD worthy in the first place. Noir, fortunately, does hold up well enough that its transfer to Blu-Ray is worthwhile, although this is more in terms of story quality than visuals, as it has some quality issues in its animation that only become more glaring in high definition.
Even if you've never seen Noir before (and it has had two previous releases; a complete DVD set from Funimation and a single-disc release from ADV), there's a good chance you're familiar with the genre that it helped to solidify: girls with guns. While Noir is hardly the first show in that vein, it is one of the earlier ones to take it seriously, eschewing campy fanservice and goofy subplots (à la Dirty Pair) for an emotionally rooted plot that examines just why these two particular young women are running around with weapons. The heroines are Mireille Bouquet and Kirika Yumura. Mirelle hails from Corsica, from whence she fled with her uncle when her parents and brother were assassinated. Strangely, her uncle raised her to be an assassin herself, and the deaths of her family have haunted her since she left the island. One day she receives a strange email asking her to “make a pilgrimage to the past with me.” When she follows up on it, she meets Kirika, apparently a Japanese high school girl, a mostly emotionless assassin who joins forces with Mireille. Returning to Paris, the two begin working under Mireille's code name of “Noir,” French for “black.” The series follows their one-shot missions of varying darkness (episode six is about when things start to get grimmer) until eventually episode ten the over-arching plot involving a medieval cult known as “les soldats” (the soldiers) kicks in. This also fully introduces the other two weapon-toting women of the story, the twisted Altena and Chloé. While not precisely foils for Kirika and Mireille, they do form an interesting juxtaposition to the other two, and Altena in particular has implications for both Kirika and Mireille's truths.
The concepts of death and killing are handled differently for each character, which is one of the key strengths of the show. For Kirika, whose apparent lack of emotion hides a deep hurt and an incredible need for human connection (seen very clearly in her attachment to her fake school ID and the episode with the painter), sees death as the ultimate release. It is peace and freedom to her, an escape from a life that cannot find joy in. Mireille, on the other hand, looks at death as a job. If she becomes attached to anyone, as she was to her parents, death can steal them from her, so by compartmentalizing it as “work,” she robs it of its power over her. This comes back to bite her in her relationship with Kirika, particularly as the story progresses and Kirika looks to Mireille as a means of fleeing her life. As Noir, they take on the darkness of the world's sins, thereby excusing their own acts. There's a question of whether or not you can be both human and either Noir or a Soldat, and the answer reached at the end is one that sums that up without offering a definitive answer.
Noir's vocal tracks are both characterized by a lot of long, moody pauses during which Yuki Kajiura's powerful (although occasionally overwhelming) soundtrack can be appreciated, and both dub and sub casts are very strong. I generally preferred the Japanese track simply because Houko Kuwashima (Kirika) and Kotono Mitsuishi (Mireille) could both pronounce Mireille's name (mee- ray), while the dub insists on calling her “Miri-elle,” which annoyed me unduly. ADV also gave many bit parts French or German accents, which are fairly atrocious; accents, I find, generally work better in less serious shows. On the other hand, the acting in the English track is very good, with Monica Rial (Kirika) and Hilary Haag (Chloé) being standouts. People who are used to them as the Squeaky Queens in dubs should absolutely listen to them here, as it's clear that both women are generally typecast and capable of much more than they tend to be given.
Noir, the first of Bee Train's girls with guns trilogy (Madlax and El Cazador de la Bruja are two and three), is probably the strongest of the three. Despite hailing from the far-off days of 2001, which is apparent in the character designs, it holds up very well, using a cultish background comprised of Tarot and Christian imagery to hold up a story of two young women tortured by the darkness forced upon them. The animation isn't always spectacular (Kirika's acrobatics are the exception) and the vocal tracks tend to speak softly and scream loudly, but this is worth watching – even if you've seen it before.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : A-
+ A few rescued Easter egg extras, powerful soundtrack is one of Kajiura's best. Story holds up well and builds fairly organically. Transfers nicely to BD. Each character has her own clear reasons for what she does and wants.
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