Reviewby Mike Crandol, Jun 30th 2003
DVD 3: The Firing Chamber
When Noir's latest hit turns up dead before Mirielle and Kirika have a chance to do the job themselves, they are faced with a new mystery. Eventually the assassin reveals herself to be a young girl named Chloe, who calls herself "the true Noir" and appears to be in the employ of Soldats. Mirielle and Kirika are later contacted by another Soldats agent who claims to have the original book from which the cryptic photocopy entrusted to Mirielle was made. But Chloe dispatches the agent before he can reveal the book's location, and then she embarks on a seemingly unrelated assassination mission in Germany. Chloe forms an unlikely bond with her target, a reserved former member of Soldats who befriends the young lady even though he knows she intends to kill him.
Noir finally begins to live up to the hype with this third entry of the series, "The Firing Chamber." After getting off to an intriguing but somewhat sluggish start in previous volumes, episodes 10-12 up the action, deepen the mystery, raise the stakes, and introduce a fascinating new character who hints at the chilling truth behind Kirika's missing memories. Cloak-and-dagger assassin Chloe identifies herself as "the true Noir," and it is plain that her past is closely intertwined with Kirika's, though exactly how remains a mystery. Revealing more pieces to an already fascinating puzzle only raises more questions, and the series captures its audience hook, line, and sinker. Any doubt that Noir is not an A-list anime can now be put to rest.
Chloe is what really makes Noir interesting; her appearance marks when the story goes from merely entertaining to something really engrossing. For a cold-hearted killer, Chloe exhibits more personality in three short episodes than Mirielle or Kirika have shown in the entire series to this point. At first she seems downright evil, one who murders without question or cause. But later she reveals a softer side as she shares tea with the two leads and joyously skips home, childlike, into the arms of her guardian Altena. Her wardrobe rack symbolizes her dichotomy, where her tattered assassin's cloak shares a place with frilly dresses a more normal young girl might wear.
But it is the truth that lies hidden under her cloak that really makes her a great character. Her physical similarity to Kirika coupled with her superior assassination skills and dark nature hint at all kinds of possibilities surrounding Kirika's hidden past. Providing tons of clues but no definitive answers, Chloe dares the audience to unravel the mystery. Noir remains very slow to tip its hand, and it will likely be some time before the truth comes to light, but in the meantime it's a delight to watch the pieces gradually fall into place.
The series is clearly in no hurry, continuing to be very impressionistic in nature. The emphasis is on creating a mood rather than crafting an elaborately detailed story. This is not a bad thing by any means--Noir is a hauntingly beautiful show. It packs the narrative information in quickly when needed, freeing up the rest of its time for exciting action sequences or, more often, quiet introspective moments. These slower scenes are seldom boring thanks to the combination of Noir's incredible music and gorgeous art design. Yuki Kajiura's score is just as great as his work on .hack//SIGN but nowhere near as intrusive, and the beautifully rendered backgrounds stand as works of art in their own right. The art and music work together to create some incredibly emotional scenes with little or no dialogue to back them up.
But the quality of the animation itself is somewhat unfulfilling. Though the opening sequence features some incredibly lifelike action, most of the in-episode gun battles lack the fluidity and kick of similarly-staged scenes in other series like Cowboy Bebop or Gunsmith Cats. There's just something unconvincing in the way Mirielle, Kirika, and Chloe's victims immediately slump right over time and time again. The total absence of blood in a series clearly meant for older audiences also dilutes its credibility. Noir's neat-&-clean corpses seems like a copout next to much bloodier "juvenile" shows like Rurouni Kenshin or Dragonball Z.
Like Hellsing's mostly-British cast, Noir's dub attempts to create the appropriate French and German dialects for its players, though curiously enough only the supporting characters speak with accents. This is forgivable given the strong performances provided by the female leads. Shelly Calene-Black expertly matches the usually wacky Kotono Mitsuishi as the serious Mirielle, and Monica Rial successfully recycles her Hyatt-voice as Kirika. But best of all is Hillary Haag as Chloe, who uses her sweet girlish voice to creepy new effect.
Kirika's Japanese voice actress, Houko Kuwashima, is interviewed in the supplemental material included on this third volume, which continues ADV's string of top-quality releases for this series. The clean opening and closing sequences have been included on every volume thus far, which may sound redundant but is actually pretty handy; no matter how far along you are in the series these excellent sequences are always at your fingertips. Concept art galleries and some original Japanese promos round out the package, but the best thing about this release is the first-rate presentation of the episodes themselves. Presented in anamorphic widescreen with a 5.1 audio mix for both English and Japanese versions, Noir looks and sounds just as good as a big-budget theatrical feature.
Earlier installments of Noir showed immense potential that threatened to never be fully realized. With "The Firing Chamber," it finally begins to make good on the promise. Unless it pulls an Evangelion at the end, Noir should prove to be one of the most rewarding anime series currently being released. In the meantime, have fun soaking up the glorious atmosphere and intriguing mystery that give these episodes unparalleled charm in the anime world.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : C-
Art : A
Music : A
+ Thoroughly engrossing mystery tale is further enhanced by great new character
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