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Noein – To Your Other Self, Vol. 1
A UK region 2 DVD review by CNash

In my review of Serial Experiments Lain, I remarked that the series was what Digimon scribe Chiaki Konaka can do when he's allowed to write more than just children's stories. Noein – To Your Other Self almost turns this idea on its head; it's what Digimon could've been had it been written for a more mature audience. It shares a few plot points with Digimon – the cast of likeable teenagers, the concept of another dimension existing alongside our own – but also explores other elements, going into more detail about the lives and personalities of its main characters.

Noein is set in two realities. One is the normal Japanese city of Hakodate, and the other is the post-apocalyptic wasteland called La'cyrma. In Hakodate, schoolfriends Haruka, Yuu, Ai, Isami and Miho have just begun their summer break, and have too much time on their hands. Spurred on by rumours of black-cloaked "ghosts" that have been sighted around the city, they decide to go ghost-hunting late at night – and unwittingly involve themselves in a plot by the inhabitents of La'crymosa (including the enigmatic Karasu and psychotic Atori, who are the "ghosts") to capture the mystical item known as the Dragon Torque. With this item, they may be able to prevent La'crymosa's destruction at the hands of the merciless Noein. Their search for the Dragon Torque leads them directly to Haruka and Yuu – these two children may hold the key to finding the all-important item.

Also hot on the trail of the paranormal are two "investigators", Uchida and her partner Kooriyama. The extent of their involvement in the plot has yet to be revealed, but – although they're a little slow on the uptake – they're starting to realise the connection between Haruka and the "ghosts" of La'cryma.

What makes Noein stand apart from other series involving groups of children and parallel worlds is its willingness to delve deeply into the lives of each of the children. Half of the episodes' runtime is dedicated to exploring the relationships between the characters: Haruka and Yuu are plainly very much in love, but Yuu's domineering mother stands in their way; Ai and Isami are engaged in a playful love-hate relationship that neither will admit; Miho is very excitable and loud, but often provides deep insights into the situation that turn out to be correct. All of these characters are believable in context, too – they don't openly accept the supernatural situation they find themselves in. Only Haruka and Yuu seem to really believe it, as they're the ones targeted by the "ghosts", while the others are content to dismiss them as mere shadows and hallucinations. And Uchida and Kooriyama's "buddy-cop" scenes, while intended as mild comic relief, shows signs of developing further as their involvement in the series increases.

Let's not forget Noein's crowd-pleaser scenes: battles. While on the surface, they appear to be simple energy-flinging fantasy affairs à la Naruto, they're not just for show – all of the battles happen for a reason, and are never simply included to fill space. In their execution, they're mostly traditional animation with some CGI effects, which works fine. And drifting over to comment on the animation itself: I found that while CGI is sometimes used in odd places (to render suburban buildings or cars, etc), it complements the cel animation rather than detracting from it. At least once every episode, a gigantic CGI "ourobouros" shimmers into existence over the city; this never fails to instill a sense of awe.

The series' English dub track benefits from some of the most recognisable English voice actors in the business – Melissa Fahn, Crispin Freeman, Richard Epcar and Mona Marshall all give exemplary performances. The background music is also a standout, much more memorable than most generic animé compositions – it employs choral chanting and some orchestrated effects reminiscent of Joe Hisaishi's work for Hayao Miyazaki. I wasn't too keen on either of the image songs played over the credits – they're all starting to sound very samey these days.

Noein is a slow-boiling series that blends characterisation and plot continuation so that sometimes the characters drive the plot, and other times the plot drives the characters. It's an interesting mixture; the dark and absorbing plotlines appealed to my sci-fi needs, while the excellent characterisation fleshed the plot out with believable figures. Too often, animé has been all about style and lacked substance, the characters merely cyphers in masks used as pawns in a grand scheme. In Noein, the plot can't move without the characters; they form the backbone of the series. You'd probably enjoy this series if you were enthralled by Lain, but I have a feeling that although they're very well developed, the mere fact that the central cast are all young teens would put a few people off. In either case, I'm looking forward to volume 2.

sound and vision

An anamorphic 16:9 transfer that although converted from NTSC to PAL displays a good level of colour and detail. The familiar over-exposed look to some scenes is deliberate, and the CG elements are well blended with the traditional cell animation.

Japanese and English tracks are offered in Dolby Stereo 2.0, Dolby Surround 5.1 and DTS Surround. The 5.1 mix puts the surrounds to effective use with location atmospherics, echoes and specific sound effects, and there is clear seperation throughout. The DTS appears to be almost identical to the 5.1 track.

extra features

Volume 1 of Noein comes with part one of a documentary that looks at the real-life town of Hakodate. Director Kazuki Akane and Haruka's Japanese voice actor Haruka Kudo look around the city – a popular tourist attraction, with its three famous hills and cable car to a summit overlooking the city – and take note of all the locations that were flawlessly recreated in the series. The attention to detail by the animators is impressive; they drew perfect representations of Hakodate's schools, parks, suburban and city areas, and even captured the magnificent vista from the top of the town's highest hill.

The usual trailers: Naruto, GiTS 2nd Gig, Robotech, Tactics and Karas.

Noein – To Your Other Self, Vol. 1
[Noein: Mô hitori no kimi he]

Japan 2005
150 mins
Kazuki Akane

DVD details
region 2
16:9 anamorphic
Dolby stereo 2.0
Dolby surround 5.1
DTS surround 5.1

release date
19 February 2007
review posted
11 March 2007

See all of CNash's reviews