One of Crunchyroll's two airing original series is based on the Korean webcomic Noblesse and follows a vampire in high school. Also there's a lot of well-animated fights! But what is it really about? Camaraderie? A sparring between good and evil? Ramen? Jean-Karlo and Nicky do their best to find the series' common thread.
This series is streaming on Crunchyroll
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Oh hey, ramen and sports! This looks like a fun slice-of-life I can sink my teeth into, let's see what—
Waaaaait a minute...
This is a vampire
anime! Dangit, bamboozled again!
It turns out, Noblesse is based off of a Webtoon, and while I don't want to disrespect the entire medium it unfortunately has the uncanny aura of one where someone shoved all of these tropes from these other
anime into a blender and hit "frappé", thinking the result would be gold. ...Also, I will be That Guy and curmudgeonly call Webtoons "webcomics" until the nice young men in the white coats take me away kicking and screaming.
But yes. Noblesse deeply wants you to care about its big stakes, secret government agencies and
running around having flashy fights, but then you have the show sit down to point out Big Scary Vampire Dude likes his ramen extra-soggy.
Noblesse also ran from 2007 to 2019, and previously in 2016 it's first "volume" or arc of story was condensed into a 31 minute original net anime called Noblesse: Awakening, that's ALSO on Crunchyroll but NOT even grouped with the series even though the series uses the ONA as its pilot and picks up right where it left off, constantly referencing it as the inciting incident of the story. So basically if you're just gonna start with the series proper, you're going to be confused as hell!!
I know I sure was!
Those have you who read preview-guide may have noted the premiere coming off as jumbled and confusing because of this so I'm going to quickly summarize the events of the ONA for people reading here. Basically, our main character Cadis Etrama Di Raizel, a powerful noble was taking a dirt nap for the past 800 years until someone fished his bed out of the ocean Dio Brando-style. He wakes up in an abandoned building and decides to just get up and stretch his legs, eventually stumbling upon his old servant, Frankenstein, who is now the Director of Ye Ran High School. Since he's been asleep caveman-style he decides he needs to be re-educated and makes friends with some of his new classmates, who nickname him Rai. Meanwhile, an evil organization called the Union, that uses modified humans as soldiers, sends one of them codenamed M-21. In their quest for Ultimate Power, the Union puts Rai's new friends in danger. They are then saved by a combination M-21's partner sacrificing himself and Rai sweeping in for the rescue. Afterwards, the kids get their memory erased of the incident and since The Union was trying to dispose of M-21, he has no other option but to desert and take refuge in Frankenstein's house.
For what it's worth, I read all that and think, "Heh. 'Raizel'. Now I wanna play Soul Reaver
again." Anyway, Noblesse begins after... all that, with our protagonists Tashiro and Manabu going to school but not remembering... all that. And they're friends with Raizel, too.
But troubles start when a commando unit from The Union tracks Raizel down—and then another pair of Nobles appear and also enlist at Ye Ran Academy.
Gotta give Noblesse credit, it's got a good pace to it and doesn't linger on stuff. If you have to toss a big cast at us, best to just rip off that band-aid.
And yet I still stand by my statement that despite all this plot, the other 70% is still totally just lame-ass fish-out-of-water jokes like Rai learning to use a cellphone or drawing a cute kitty on Yusuke's cast (after he broke his arm in the ONA).
See, I actually love the slice-of-life stuff. It's halfway enjoyable to see these stuffy, self-serious characters caught off-guard. You could have made this entire series just the fish-out-of-water stuff and it would have probably been a better comedy series than its attempts at seriousness. You seen one dark series about elite underground government agencies with morally-ambiguous methods, you seen them all. And vampires, well, not everyone can be Dio Brando. But phallus-waving competitions between a stuffy vampire brat and a school security guard who might be a werewolf? Hey, that's actually fun
It's a bit tonally awkward and stiff like Rai passing a b-ball without dribbling but it does wear on you and start becoming endearing even though it's super juvenile and lame. I would rather have seen it embrace it because it's the only thing mildly interesting among all the other already-used tropes. It gets a little better as the cast grows and starts playing off of each-other. At which point our main character Rai basically does nothing but sit around and sip tea because he's got the wits and personality of a bag of hammers.
Though, tbh, I'm not quite sure if it's also just reviewer Stockholm Syndrome at this point. The first ramen joke is lame but then by the tenth time it's suddenly hilarious because it's the only oasis in bouts of dry exposition, even if it's about as shallow than most puddles.
At least for me, the other thing that called out to me was M-21, our aforementioned potential lycanthrope. He has a bit of survivor's guilt after his one friend, M-24, dies helping him escape The Union. He bears the weight of all the other fallen human experiments that were denied lives, and seeing him grow more and more comfortable in his own skin around others and embrace his humanity feels nice.
Yeah, M-21 is basically the real protagonist in my eyes as Yu-chan and Rai don't have much in the head department, they're also lacking any succinct emotional conflict.
It's like RWBY all over again: a better writer or editor would look at these tiny plot bunnies and realize, "Hey, this is actually more interesting than everything else you've got going on, lean in on this stuff". But the story is so in love with its delusions of grandeur that we gotta go through a mediocre song-and-dance that's been done to death.
is a good comparison, though I'm going to note that as a production, Noblesse isn't incompetent, and most of the time the action by Production I.G. is actually quite good, I'm just often bored to tears by it because I don't find much of it original and the first half of the series fails to hook me emotionally when they're mostly just fighting random thugs.
I was assured when I saw the Production I.G. logo because even if this show is the dullest regurgitation of boring tropes ever, at least the fights look good
. It's a shame, because when these lifelong soldiers find themselves having to help a guy who just wants to score with a cute girl, their attempts at dating advice is the stuff of prime entertainment (once they've been properly corralled into helping, that is).
What this also means that it's totally forgettable though, unlike RWBY
or Gibiate where I can laugh at how absolutely incompetent they are that their awfulness sticks in my mind. Noblesse tries just enough that I feel bad mocking it in the same way, but it's also not good enough to be really worth my time, and if I wanted to watch I.G. do some sick vampire action with bits of family moments, I'd watched Blood+ again like I did in middle school, on my old CRT TV and everything.
Hell, you could watch Trinity Blood and marvel at the luxurious fashion, or Nightwalker: The Midnight Detective
and enjoy the lovely 1990s OVA visuals, or Phantom Blood
and Stardust Crusaders
from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and enjoy the bizarreness of it all. If you have
to do vampires, you're gonna have to do a lot of legwork to make up for the handicap of telling a story about vampires
. When the idea for your vampires are "Humans are weak and pathetic, so beneath the contempt of these super-cool and awesome
creatures that the creatures figured helping them was no big because the humans could never do anything to hurt them, they're just that
weak", I'm not gonna think your vampires are cool
. I'm gonna feel like you're trying entirely too hard.
I'll take friggin' Don Dracula
I also watched most of those too! But still, Noblesse doesn't really do anything new with the concept of vampires. The biggest change is that true Nobles aren't inherently malevolent and instead represent represent a sort of Trickle Down style ecosystem which I guess works when everyone gets to live up at Franky's house and gets a fair job that pays. Sometimes to Franky's detriment as House Mom.
Yeah, the whole "It's good that vampires stand above humanity, they are inherently superior"-thing rubbed me the wrong way. This series is named after the idea noblemen used to have that they not only were better than other people, it was their duty to prove how much better they were. I think Moriarty has a grapefruit to share with these guys...
The superpowers are all vaguely defined too and only express themselves in the cool powered-up anime battles. Rai himself doesn't really do more than stand around compared to some of the more Brawl-y
characters like Yusuke though, or Seira who actually gets a cool weapon.
Like if you're supposed to be the ultimate being why would you have problems learning information enough that you have to go to SCHOOL with a bunch of babies? Couldn't you just read about it?? Why would the ultimate being be bad at video games if they're supposed to have heightened senses, etc?? The most we see him do is some cool blood magic and mind control.
Apparently, they're not so powerful that a human can't kill them—it's revealed later that Frankenstein (the House Mom) killed more than a few of them in his prime. And even The Union has tech that can at least restrain the Nobles.
Crunchyroll has been putting a lot of time, effort and money into adapting
webcomics into original properties, and so far it feels like the deluge of light novel adaptations. The difference is, we had some good light novel adaptations—I struggle to think of a
web comic adaptation I could point to as on-par with Spice and Wolf or That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime. And I do apologize to Tower of God and God of High School fans, but I need more to go off of than just really good fight scenes. So I'm thinking Noblesse is just another body on the pile. You could have made a good series out of this. At best, you have something that—had it been released fifteen years ago—would make for fantastic AMV fodder.
What is better in life than meeting your good Internet friends?
While, I hesitate to call this bad, these are still just "moments" though and they never come together to make a cohesive show. There's not a big larger message or an ethos to get behind other than "Nakama" at some point, it's enough to string the show along but most of the time the show makes ME want to take a 800-year long nap, and since there's nothing to keep you around or that makes the show super-memorable, it'll probably be forgotten within the next few months. Even in terms of action, there are some better and more ambitious shows this season from Jujutsu Kaisen to Akudama Drive. Noblesse might share some tropes with other anime like it but what makes them memorable is when they give you something to really chew on.
I'm in agreement with you. The flashes of humanity between the characters just don't salvage what is an otherwise-forgettable action show with better-than-average visuals. But I suppose the visuals and passably-hunky character design will be enough to draw in the folks who haven't seen these character archetypes done to death. I'd hope that Crunchyroll starts making sure the webcomics they decide to adapt are actually compelling, but the content mill demands Content™️ so I guess they can't be more choosy.
Anyways, the lesson here is : don't let your noodles get soggy and don't let your anime be wet noodles! With so many options for anime out there everyday, it doesn't hurt to be more choosy with how you spend your time. Not everything shiny and new ends up being good or original.
Also, if you wanna make a story about how cool vampires are: don't.
Look, some of us just can't help but be tempted by a pretty face, alright?
Just be more careful how you go about it. You might just end up embarrassing yourself lol.