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by Nicholas Dupree,

Synduality: Noir

Episodes 1-12 Streaming

Synduality: Noir Anime Series Review
On an Earth ravaged by mysterious alien beings called Enders, humanity has managed to survive in isolated colonies, re-building society by gathering precious resources via Drifters – mech pilots who brave the wastelands to scavenge and seek glory with the aid of their android parnters known as Magus. Kanata has dreamed for years of becoming a drifter to follow in his late parents' footsteps, and become a capable partner for his friend and mentor, Tokio. His dream becomes that much more possible – and complicated – when he discovers a mysterious Magus named Noir, and the pair's destinies become intertwined.

The biggest worry with mixed media promotions like Synduality is that they'll be lazy, incomprehensible advertisements for some other part of the nascent franchise. While there are some late-game allusions and even cameos from the story of the Synduality: Echo of Ada, everything you need to know in the context of Noir's central story and characters is perfectly clear – with this story taking place some 20 years after the game.

That's not to say that everything is established gracefully. Noir follows a school of sci-fi world-building that loves to drop Capitalized Proper Nouns into dialogue and explain those terms later. Sometimes, that allows for naturalistic exposition, trusting the audience to follow along with the dialogue and connect the dots as they go. Other times, it just overloads the viewer with more new terms to keep track of, hastily adding things like “Raintight” and “Amasia” to a mental list already burdened with the likes of Coffins, Spacemen, Blueshist (yes, really) and a dozen other bits of in-universe jargon. While perfectly comprehensible, it's the biggest weak point of the writing by an easy margin.

The other, more subjective weak point is that Noir doesn't have much of a plot. It has character arcs and plenty of mysteries waiting in the wings involving the eponymous Magus and a shadowy organization trying to procure her unique power. Still, those elements rarely rise above foreboding pre-credits scenes. The meat of this anime's runtime is instead dedicated to episodic adventures meant to introduce the expansive secondary cast or to throw said cast into wacky shenanigans and side quests. It's reminiscent of director Yūsuke Yamamoto's previous work on Aquarion Evol, focusing squarely on establishing character dynamics and relationships over answering the more prominent questions or introducing higher stakes. It's not until the very last episode and its major twist that the story starts building to something more complicated than fighting a giant monster, and if anything, that twist adds more mysteries to the pile of plot threads part two will presumably resolve.

That can be an alienating approach to storytelling and is likely to lose some folks as early as episode two when the show introduces a Team Rocket-esque pair of recurring joke villains. Noir is in no rush to get serious. While it uses each episode to highlight an aspect of Kanata and Noir's growing partnership, the tone is almost always light and occasionally absurd. If that works for you, it can be a hoot – I lost it when the grandiose, masked antagonist Macht Ewigkeit was introduced in the waiting room of a high-class brothel, having mistakenly taken some gossip about the ladies there “taking you to paradise” literally and desperate to meet these supposedly divine sex workers. At its best, these comedy and action scenes perfectly align with the endearing ensemble cast and make for a compulsively watchable show about Kanata and his friends' adventures in their cool robots. If you want something more serious – or just a sex comedy that's less mired in purely teenage perspectives – you will need to look elsewhere or have the patience to wait for the follow-up season to get to the bigger plot.

However, if a stealth ensemble comedy that occasionally turns into mech action is your bag, Noir is a great time. The cast has a solid rapport that allows them to fit perfectly into whatever story they encounter, be it a trip to the inexplicable post-apocalyptic water park or trying to win a Magus' freedom from the equally inexplicable post-apocalyptic Casino colony. Kanata and Noir are pretty archetypal, but they have a very genuine and supportive relationship that makes them likable partners and good comedic foils for the rest of the cast. It's the secondary characters that shine, though. Whether it's the Fujiko Mine-adjacent Claudia who will help our naïve protagonists just as soon as swindle them, robot-Idol Ciel and her desire to find a human partner worthy of her trust, or Tokio's irresponsible mentorship, each one adds a bit of flavor and humor to any scene they're in. That chemistry is strong enough to keep each episode afloat and breezy while being able to shift toward the dramatic whenever it's time for some action.

That action is rendered fantastically. Studio 8-Bit has a lot of experience handling CG mechs, and they've put all of that into the fast and fun robot fights here. The designs for the “Enders” are painfully generic – you've seen one black-purple monster, you've seen them all – but the Coffin mechs are more than enough to make up for it. The mechs have a modular, almost toyetic frame that initially seems clunky but quickly proves perfect for most fights' grounded, close-quarters combat. The chunky designs offer a believable body for each Coffin's weighty yet graceful movements, zipping across the ground on tread-skates while having enough centered weight for both aerial maneuvers and melee. The standout sequence comes in episode seven, when Ciel serenades Kanata through a battle in a sequence straight out of Macross. While not always the most memorable of sequences, the action here is consistently playful, easy to follow, and packs just the right punch.

The question is how well the show will transition into a continuation that presumably has to start engaging with its dangling plot threads. The main cast and their dynamics are firmly established, but they're not necessarily dynamic enough to carry a more dramatic story all on their own. Similarly, that habit of dropping proper nouns and cryptic foreshadowing could easily bog down future plot beats and make what was a good time into a chore. While the season finale's big twist is intriguing, it also fundamentally alters the main cast in a way that might not gel with folks who enjoyed the friendly dynamics of this first cour. Those are lingering worries, but for its first outing, Synduality: Noir is a good time nonetheless.

Overall : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A

+ Great CG mech action, likable ensemble cast that carries the episodic stories and humor
Leaves all the important stuff for Part 2, lightly overloads on technobabble

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Production Info:
Director: Yūsuke Yamamoto
Series Composition: Takashi Aoshima
Deko Akao
Takashi Aoshima
Masaru Hatano
Hajime Kamoshida
Masahiro Yokotani
Shinpei Ezaki
Futoshi Fujikawa
Yūji Haibara
Tatsuya Igarashi
Takahiko Kyōgoku
Hiroaki Shimura
Katsumi Terahigashi
Yasunari Watabe
Yūsuke Yamamoto
Episode Director:
Miho Arai
Shinpei Ezaki
Sho Kitamura
Tsutomu Murakami
Atsushi Nakayama
Munenori Nawa
Seung Hui Son
Masahiko Suzuki
Takayuki Tanaka
Shin Tosaka
Unit Director:
Takahiko Kyōgoku
Yasunari Watabe
Music: Masato Nakayama
Original story: Hajime Kamoshida
Original Character Design: neco
Character Design: Kenichirō Katsura
Art Director:
Ayumi Fukuda
Kenta Masuda
Eriko Nakamura
Chief Animation Director:
Kenichirō Katsura
Kazuaki Morita
Hideki Sakai
Sorato Shimizu
Asuka Suzuki
Animation Director:
Akihiro Ino
Shintaro Inokawa
Tomoyuki Kameda
Hyun Kook Kang
Kenichirō Katsura
Yasuhito Kikuchi
Sung Jin Lee
Shao Lei Li
Yoshihiro Maeda
Etsushi Mori
Kazuaki Morita
Yūshi Morita
Tomoyuki Ōshita
Hideki Sakai
Kei Sakai
Zearth Sato
Masahiro Sekiguchi
Hiroko Shigekuni
Hideaki Shimada
Takuma Shimizu
Eun Ah Shin
Yūichi Takahashi
Noriko Tejima
Shinichi Wada
Hideki Yamazaki
Masaru Yonezawa
Sound Director: Jin Aketagawa
Cgi Director: Yasuhide Oppata
Director of Photography: Satoshi Yamamoto
Key Animation Director:
Rieko Sakurai
Pu Gun Yun
Executive producer:
Shunsuke Matsuda
Ken Ōkawara
Haruhisa Ōya
Noriaki Tanaka
Koji Tezuka
Yōsuke Futami
Hiroshi Matsuda

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Synduality: Noir (TV)

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