This is what ushered anime into the new millennium. Noir is the very first classic of the third millennia A.D., and as such is a very interesting specimen of times gone.
Now, I must stress that the score I gave it is not an accurate measure of Noir’s actual value. True, Noir is a must watch for anybody who loves japanese animation, but it achieves this by doing absolutely everything wrong. There is so much not right in Noir that calling everything bad in in out is almost as singular an experience as watching the series itself. And yet, it is perhaps exactly this absolutely wrong approach Bee Train took to Noir’s creation that seperates it from much of the rest of anime and elevates it into levels reserved for things that must be seen to be believed.
So yeah, Noir tells the story of two females. The first one we are introduced to is Mireille Bouqet. She works as a professionsal assassin. The second female is Kirika Yuumura, a japanese high school student who sends a mysterious message to Mireille, asking to meet her.
That is the basic setup of the first episode, and the entire story itself. What follows from there onward is the exact same thing throughout twenty six episodes that we see in the first one. Let me go into a little detail about this.
But first, a truism: There is a song named „All you need is love”. That title is actually correct. You REALLY only need love when it comes to creating a story. If you love the story you write –and I mean REALLY love it-, you’ll instinctively know exactly what is wrong with your story and exactly how to fix it. Even if it won’t be original, it will be good to experience because the love you have for it simply won’t let you leave it a bad experience. It is also important to note that the creative drive of many –if not all- of the stories created primarily out of their author’s love for them – that is, the creation of their story- can have their origin traced back to a single idea the author had, that the author wanted to expand upon.
Another truism: It is not enough for a story to merely expand upon a single idea in order to be heralded among the greatest of stories. For that, a story must also be about something different by the end. Death Note started out being about a notebook that can kill people, and it ended up being about the battle of wits between two deductive geniouses and a question about the nature of justice. Spice & Wolf started out being about a wolf- goddess, and ended up being about economics. Etcetera.
One of the stunning things about Noir is that it actually IS one of the greatest stories despite violating both of these truisms. It starts out being about women commiting preposterous action sequences, and stays being about women commiting preposterous action sequences. Now let’s examine this closely:
First episode. In the space of a single cut, Mireille goes from France to Japan, and meets with Kirika. not soon after she arrives, both of them get ambushed by black suits. It turns out that not only Mireille, but also Kirika can kill people pretty well (with the phrase „pretty well” being both an overstatement and an understatement at the same time here). Kirika, in particular, has no idea why she can kill so well: she lost all her memories, and all she can remember is the name „Noir”. Which, incidentally, is the pseudonym Mireille works under as an asassin. Mireille takes interest in Kirika because she has a pocketwatch that may or may not play music when it’s lid opens up, and definitely has something to do with the death of Mireilles parents when Mireille was a small child.
The events described above already contained the two things every episode of Noir builds on: building the relationship between Mireille and Kirika, and a ludicrous action sequence. (And let me just say that it’s rare to find an anime series so reliable outside of the magical girl genre or things like Pokémon or Digimon – seriously, in 26 episodes, you get 26 times the girls fire a gun.)
The action sequences of Noir: This is it; this is the meat and potatoes of Bee Train. These sequences are the very core ideas implanted into Ryoe Tsukimura’s and Koichi Mashimo’s brains, they are the very reasons Noir exists, and they are also the hallmarks of the series. In every episode, the girls assassinate various targets, ranging from corrupt politicians, judges and corporate executives to war criminals and “revolutionaries”. And every time Kirika and Mireille leap into action, Noir turns into a unique mixture of tragicomedy and trash.
You see, the action sequences of Noir suck! They are preposterous, unrealistic, ludicrous, ridiculous and some other mean words. An action scene in Noir goes like this: Mireille and Kirika enter the compound of their target, at which place they are greeted by the bodyguards of the target. A surreal shootout ensues. Surreal, because of what these scenes are based upon: the concept that even the viewer could take on the enemies Mireille and Kirika face. There are two things you need to know about the people those two gun down on a regular basis: 1) they are always male; 2) they suck at their job! Enemies in Noir could not hit the broad side of a bus, even with unlimited ammo, from three feet away; they stand in the line of open fire, practically freeze in place when they run out of bullets, and never look behind themselves. Their reaction time is about the same as that of your grandmother playing Modern Warfare 2 for the first time on the Xbox 360. They never stop firing when the girls are behind cover. They never move back behind cover. They never so much as slightly injure the girls. They all act like complete morons.
The girls, on the other hand, might as well be godlike beings who almost never miss, can hit a target in the span of half a second after spotting it, constantly show up behind the backs of their targets (they violate the laws of physics and time-space almost every episode), and have this uncanny ability to somehow force their opponents to wait for the girls to shoot first.
Other times, they are the worst assassins ever. They make no plans about approaching their targets at their most vulnerable, opting instead to fight their way through the bodyguards of their target. They make almost no attempts at stealth, and have half- minute long staring contests with their targets before executing them.
Consider a video game adaptation of Noir that is 100% faithful to the source material. You control either Mireille of Kirika, against hordes of mooks who stand in place firing everywhere all over the place, except for that one spot where you are standing. They keep standing there when they run out of bullets. The body of your character has no hit detection in the first place, and the game constantly has auto- aim turned on for you, ensuring that every shot is a direct hit, without even having to aim. You have unlimited magazines for your pistol, and you can spot enemies from a hundred yards away, whereas they can only see about five feet in front of themselves. You can stand in the way of open fire and literally never get hit no matter what happens. Also, you can pause the game at any time, select a location on the map, and teleport your character there, with no regards to distance and height of the destination.
At times, Noir throws all common sense out the window! Two people are fighting, one holding a pistol, the other wielding a knife, and THEY BOTH JUST STAND THERE LIKE THEY SAW A FUCKING GHOST! A staircase full of armed suits simply lets the girls walk up in front of them for half a minute!
This is why I said Noir violates those two truisms: Bee Train obvious loved these action scenes and put a lot of work into conceiving them, but despite all that, they fail to entertain in the way they are supposed to.
Instead, they entertain in a completely different way! You see, it’s important for a story to maintain the illusion that the main character could fail. This is what brings tension into a story. But with Noir, after the first two episodes, you lose all sense of worry over Mireille and Kirika: you know full well that they could send an entire army against those two and the girls would come out unscathed, with every soldier lying dead in front of them. However, this opens the door to an entirely different way to enjoy Noir: what zany way of killing a hundred people will they think of next? Getting deep into Noir, a strange kind of curiosity starts to overtake you. You become fascinated with how these ridiculous gunfights get pulled off with a completely straight face, and you’ll want to see how the girls break the laws of physics and space-time in the next episode. By the end, you’ll be outright laughing at the absurd ways the scenes play out, and you’ll actually start enjoying yourself! It’s the strangest sort of entertainment, but nonetheless, it’s working, and it’s one of the most fascinating things you’ll ever see.
Interesting side note: Although Bee Train was originally conceived in order to “rehabilitate animators”; you’ll be hard pressed to find another piece of Japanese animation made in the 00’s that cuts more corners in terms of actual animation than Noir. Conversations are littered with still shots, collapsing dead bodies are obscured by the environment (or outright cut away from), and there’s no blood at all. (Thankfully, this cheapskate approach does not carry over to the beautifully detailed backgrounds and razor sharp character designs – Mireille in particular, has character design as slick as Chadwardenn’s hair.(Dat hair man (Mireille’s), dat hair!))
The good news is that this all adds up to Noir’s style: when you get down to it, all Noir cares about is it’s plot. So it takes no time building the world around the two girls, neither does it care about any sense of time or place (if one scene plays out with the girls in Corsica, but the plot requires them to be in Paris in the next scene, they’ll simply be there, without a single shot of their travel – Kirika and Mireille are the most unlikely jet setter of all anime). So gunfights are mere obstacles in the way of Noir’s plot advancement, and it actually fits that it can pull off stuff like Mireille holding a gun on a poor bastard without him even knowing it, but never showing her actually shooting the guy. It kind of makes you not care about budget restraints.
So, it only cares about the plot, right? Then it must mean it’s good, right? No, not really. Noir’s plot is a farce, a mere vehicle to get the girls from one ridiculous action scene to the next, even if even then it cares more about advancing itself then producing a situation in which we would worry for the girls.
So then, is at least it’s presentation engaging? Well…
It’s the most straightforward plot in existence, really. It doesn’t care about side characters or side storylines (every character that returns for more than one episode in Noir is a main character). Once the target of the week has been established, it’s off to his (it’s almost always male) execution, with nothing in between. During the time it takes to establish the target, however, that bit I mentioned earlier about the relationship between Mireille and Kirika comes into play. Know this: Noir isn’t really heavy on dialog. Most of the relationship between the two girls plays out in facial expressions and long silences with equally long stills of the girls and their surroundings. This wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself, but the directing in these scenes is so static and lifeless, that if it wasn’t for the action sequences and the nigh constant (and pretty freaking awesome) background music, Noir could be the first animated television series that could get certified for Dogma 95.
Taking the above into account: yes, watching multiple episodes of Noir in a single sitting is a chore. The action scenes have no tension, the non- action scenes are mostly boring, and the characters sometimes have quite frankly infuriating emotions, either from the standpoint of common sense or ethics. (By the way, this is why Noir is such a good glimpse into times gone. Modern day anime pulls out all the stops and doesn’t care what it does until it successfully forced you with’ it’s emotional manipulation into whatever state of mind it wants you to be. Noir is satisfied with merely showing it’s characters having those emotions, however dumbfounding or unsympathetic those emotions may be – they aren’t forcing them on the viewer.) (And it’s not like any character in Noir is that interesting or well written either.)
Also, Noir’s BIG PLOT TWIST is just illogical and dumb. Somehow, nobody was around the Bee Train studios to tell them that people do NOT age selectively – that is, 10+ years of aging for one person is 10+ years of aging for another person too.
Still, despite all those things (or perhaps maybe even precisely due to those things), as an experience, there is nothing in the World like Noir. Even Bee Train couldn’t reproduce it, seeing as Madlax, produced by Bee Train right after Noir, took the ideas of Noir’s action scenes to their logical extremes and ended up with something that is both gut- busting hilarious and migraine- inducing dumb at the same time (no, that does not mean it’s intentional (yes, that means it’s unwatchable)).
Make no mistake: Noir isn’t “so bad it’s good”, it’s a legitimately memorable viewing experience, one that is comparable to nothing in existence, even though the sum of it’s parts would in any other way suggest otherwise, and something that should be mandatory viewing for any person who claims that he/she loves anime, if only to know: “yes, there are thing like this in the World too”.