The Bible has its Genesis. The Matrix has The Second Renaissance. BLAME! has NOiSE.
Through the eyes of police force member Susono Musubi, this one-volume prequel gives readers a glimpse of the world before the Netsphere went haywire. Witness the events that threw the technologically advanced society into chaos: the cancerous growth of the Megastructure, the birth of the parasitic lifeforms called Silicon Creatures, and the development of the ruthless killing machines known as the Safeguards.
Also included in the compilation is Tsutomu Nihei's debut work BLAME which served as the prototype of the acclaimed 10-volume series, BLAME!.
NOiSE was digitally published in English by Kodansha Comics USA on June 28, 2016. It was published in Italian by Panini Comics under the Planet Manga imprint on July 8, 2003 and in Spanish by Ediciones Glénat on November 2003. It was also published in English by the now defunct Tokyopop in December, 2007.
This manga was quite interesting. The story is very dark in that dystopian future with a secret to hide sort of way, and even though this type of narrative seems to be not all that different from the pack, the subtle touches to the story are done extraordinarily well. However, I would like to note that the single most important aspect of this manga is the art, since without it, the story could not be conveyed as well as it is here. The art is done in a sort of drab boring shade of black, with a melancholic and heavy greyness permeating throughout the work
as well. In spite of these color schemes though, the art becomes very interesting when one is reading the manga considering that it has this sort of "otherwordly" quality to it, primarily conveyed by the somewhat blurry effect that is consistently in use. It almost serves to show how the main character is feeling in the story, constantly moving against time to try and find an answer to the mystery concerning the "order" and what has happened to her friend Clawsa. Thus, it essentially shows the jumbled mindset of the main character and does so quite effectively, and this really helps in immersing you into the story- not allowing you any breathing room whatsoever. In this way, it also feels somewhat claustrophobic in a sense- that feeling that something is always closing in...closer...closer.
But enough of my praise concerning the art and story, the main character- Musobi Susano- deserves plenty of praise as well. You will notice that as you read, that there is very little in the way of dialogue and I believe this serves to further place the reader into Susano's shoes- effectively portraying her feeling of loss and confusion as she wonders aimlessly through the desolate city streets. In essence then, the characters actions speak for themselves and I feel that this is much more effective then including more dialogue, since less dialogue serves to invite more subjective judgments on the part of the reader, rather then simply only following what the character says and taking that as how you should feel if you were to be in that position. I feel then, that this invites more reader immersion as well as more subsequent enjoyment for this simple reason.
As you can see then, I thoroughly enjoyed this manga and I cannot wait to read BLAME! Oh and on a side note, this was my first review here so I hope you enjoyed it.
Question: how do you classify a work as being “the bottom of the barrel”? For most people it’s quite simple, their most hated work is also the one they hold as the worst they’ve seen. I, in the other hand, try to separate what I feel about a work from any critical judgment of it. That is not for buying any illusion of objectivity, it’s simply because I feel like it would be dishonest from my part to do it. That is why I’m at the same time put off and fascinated by a work like NOiSE, one of the few that I got to
classify as an absolute failure. For those who are usually annoyed by the length of my reviews, you can rest assured that this one is not going to be as long as the previous ones. I don’t think I’ll have anything positive to say about the work anyway.
Story and Characters
When elaborating a story you’d think that “Where to start?” would be among the first questions that go through the authors mind, both in regards to the setting as well as the timeframe in which the story decides to kick-off. Whether it’s an anime or manga, the job of the first episode or chapter is to properly establish characters and setting and offer a decent hook to grab the audience’s interest. The issue that is immediately apparent in NOiSE is that the series starts directly with a hook that has no setting or characters to stand on. We’re introduced to two characters, the protagonist, Susono Musubi, and Clawsa, investigating a place where missing children were found dead. The chapter jumps straight into the plot, with the most basic and confusing characterization possible: there’s no establishment of what kind of people these characters are, outside the fact that they’re police officers, no comprehensive explanation about the setting and no proper notion of how these two elements relate to each other.
You might see here and there someone criticize a work by saying that the characters, for example, have no personality, but believe me, I’m not exaggerating by claiming that the characters here have little to no dimension whatsoever. Musubi has her job as a police officer as her only trait and behaves in the predictable manner for that role, Clawsa is nothing more than cannon fodder and the antagonists, two organizations called The Order and the Safeguards, have objectives and actions that are vague to the point of being nonsensical. From the bad works I’ve read or seen over the years that gave me enough of an impression to award it with a score, one characteristic the majority seemed to have, at the very least, is that they were followable, something that only occasionally NOiSE barely manages to be. That is one of the traits the can lead me to call a work an absolute failure, when even following the narrative is a struggle, not for an specific writing style, but due to sheer incompetence. The details laid out by the plot don’t properly connect with each other, the information given by the characters has no ground to stand on within the line of events or the setting and I still have no idea of what the title means, for Christ sake!
Now, I’m someone who appreciates subtlety and the ability some works exhibit to convey meaningful information or emotion in a concise manner, reason why my favorites include series like Toradora!, Shiki and Ergo Proxy. However, there is a difference between being subtle and having no distinguishable worthwhile substance and this is a work that crosses the line going from subtlety to emptiness. I do understand that NOiSE is a prequel to BLAME!, another work of Nihei Tsutomo, but there’s no excuse to why it couldn’t work as a standalone story. A prequel is supposed to flesh out the world and events prior to another story and for that it’s necessary to be well crafted and capable of being appreciated on its own rights. The Star Wars prequels, for once, receive particular hatred for being a bad chapter of a beloved franchise, but they didn’t work not for being part of a larger series, it was for being bad movies in the first place.
Good Lord, it seems that nothing here is salvageable! The first thing to notice about NOiSE’s presentation is that it has particularly bad use of framing. Complementing the fact that the narrative is a clusterfuck, the transition between panels is confusing, to the point I had to read some pages three times to understand how characters went from one place to another. This is, off course, not helped by the art. For once, it has very schizophrenic use of gradiance, with it being entirely absent from some chapters, while others are all in varying shades of gray. Most of the panels have stark distinction of black and white, which could be a way of conveying a gritty, hopeless cyberpunk setting, but loses its effect due to the many problems of the work and the poor quality of the drawings. If there are recurrent set pieces, they are barely recognizable, and weirdly, the art style seems remarkably afraid of straight lines, for some reason. Could be simply result of the overall poor quality or a form of conveying the crapsack nature of the world, but it generally contributes to the damage that is already being done to the presentation.
I have not seen much of Nihei Tsutomu’s works. Aside from NOiSE, I’ve read the first two chapters of Biomega, which were bad enough to make me drop it right there, and watched an ONA based on BLAME!. All of them displayed the same issues and gave me, overall, very little faith in anything else coming from that same author. I can’t say I’m not curious, though!, As I sad at the beginning, a work like NOiSE fascinates me to a degree. Sometimes a movie, or manga, or anime can be bad, but also very intriguing on its own rights, compelling us into trying to grasp what was the thought process that leads to such embarrassing result. Recently, another work from Nihei Tsutomu to garner some attention was Knights of Sidonia, a 15 volume manga that was adapted into a two-season anime series, and I’m very skeptical of its quality, but still very curious about how it fares. Whether this author has evolved and learned to do characterization and setting right or if he still has no idea on how to differentiate between subtlety and vacuity, I’ll have to find out for myself.
Noise is not a stand-alone work. It's the prequel to Blame and hints at the background for that manga (i.e. how that world came to be). It's <150 pages over six chapters, with two additional chapters separate from the main storyline. If you've read the author's other works, then you know what to expect.
The art isn't perfect. It's busy, sometimes unclear, and faces can be off. It's very different from the clean approach taken in most manga, but it works. This is a dirty, dark world (literally...I don't think the sun made an appearance), and the art matches. Two areas stand out in a good
way though - the backgrounds and certain character designs. The author's put some solid work into depressing urban backgrounds and does some impressive things with the human figure. I'm always entertained seeing how he distorts people and corpses in unsettling ways.
The story is similarly a mixed bag. The author takes a minimal approach to storytelling - you don't get several pages of narration giving you the setting at the start. There isn't a ton of dialogue to clue you in either. Much of the dialogue is painfully simple in fact - no multi-page internal monologues here - and the focus is honestly not on the characters. You just explore using the characters as a vehicle, without relying on any troubled pasts or grand aspirations. Every piece that you see leaves more questions than it answers - the author doesn't even attempt to hit the 5 W's. I happen to enjoy this, but I also give a lot of leniency to shorter works so that they have more freedom.
I enjoyed Noise more than my overall score would indicate - it brings something different from most other manga - but it's definitely imperfect and I can't score it highly. As to whether you should read it, well, you shouldn't be looking at Noise without having read Blame first, and if you read Blame then you know how you feel about the author's style. If you insist on starting with Noise, the first chapter (<40 pages) gives a good sense of what Noise will be. Your questions probably won't be answered, but then again, there's only another 110 pages to get a slightly larger glimpse of this setting.