Noein (To Your Other Self): Volume 2 Review

The first five episodes of Noein: Volume 1 presented a unique and unusual take on the traditional teenage science-fiction anime genre, curiously mixing pre-teen drama with the hard science-fiction of quantum physics, but director Kazuki Akane managed to successfully balance both elements reasonably well. With a fair amount of attention in the opening episodes given over to the ordinary lives of the young people involved in the drama, and some fine detail and sense of location presented in the Hokkaido setting, the series consequently benefited from the kind of strong characterisation that is uncommon in this type of animated drama outside the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. With superb character designs, a revolutionary animation technique and a fully orchestrated music score, Noein set itself up pretty well with an intriguing premise that only really needed to prove that it could bring some conviction to the futuristic parallel dimension setting of La’cryma which thus far had only been barely sketched in.

The emphasis in episodes 6 to 9 does indeed appropriately move from Earth to La’cryma, fleshing out the situation with regards to the parallel dimension and their struggles with the forces of Shangri-la. The principal concern about this part of the story from what had been suggested so far, was its apparent lack of originality, the futuristic setting owing much in look and feel to the dystopian worlds of The Terminator and Twelve Monkeys, where a ravaged, orange-glowing devastated earth is no longer safe for the underground dwelling humans to venture. Like those films, things have gone so badly wrong on Earth that it necessitates characters making backward time-travel to a significant point in time that the fate of the world hinges on to try to rectify the situation, but there are a few intriguing differences and added complexities in Noein.

Firstly, there’s the quantum physics element which makes the whole issue of time-travel and its inherent paradoxes a lot more complicated. The person on whom the destiny of the Earth depends here is Haruka, a young girl who is the key to the Dragon Torque that can protect La’cryma from the increasing attacks by the forces of Shangri-la. As Haruka comes from a parallel dimension fifteen years in the past, her abduction from Earth should in theory have no consequence on the time-lines that branch off from her disappearance. However, Karasu believes that there is evidence to suggest that Haruka comes from their own timeline, and tampering with their own past could hold greater dangers than any of them realise.

The other intriguing element that differentiates Noein from these standard science-fiction situations is that it just doesn’t leap into its futuristic denouement and leave behind its initial smalltown setup. It manages to simultaneously develop both stands of the storyline, maintaining that important balance between the normally cold hi-tech futuristic world and the human elements that lie beneath it. As well as giving all the characters greater depth - since the principal figures in this futuristic world are the potential future equivalents of the childhood characters so well developed in normal world – the not clearly linear progression of their character development also gives rise to many intriguing possibilities about the circumstances that must have marked the apparent changes in their personality. This much more human dimension fully supports and gives real meaning to the science-fiction premise of infinite potentiality suggested by the theme of branching parallel dimensions. With this relationship between our past and future selves even developed here in the parents of Yu and Haruka, this would increasingly seem to be the main purpose or theme of the series.

Trying to further establish and flesh-out the connections between these two worlds, the series inevitably settles down a little in these intermediate episodes, and the pace is initially just that little bit slower as it gives the viewer time to consider the implications of what is going on. The revelations about what could be in store and the nature of the circumstances that could bring it about are intriguing however, as are the links and disparities that are growing between the characters in the two worlds, so the series never falters or remains less than fascinating. That’s not to say that there is a shortage of action either, as the Dragon Knights of La’cryma take on the encroaching Shangri-la forces in some spectacular battle sequences and the story remains capable of pulling some surprises. The animation here makes effective use of 3-D CGI effects, but the quality of the animation still remains high elsewhere with excellent character and prop designs (the Shangri-la forces look appropriately menacing), as well as delivering a wonderful flow to movement and a degree of subtlety in facial expressions. The huge orchestral score also cuts back slightly on its excesses from earlier action sequences to find more thoughtful and considered arrangements and accompaniments for the episodes here.

Noein: Volume 2

contains episodes 6 – 9 of the 24 episode series and is released in the UK by Manga Entertainment. The set is made up of two dual-layer discs. The same 4 episodes are on both discs, the second disc being given over to DTS audio mixes. The DVD is in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.

The quality shown on the first Noein: Volume 1 set is maintained here on Volume 2. The animation technique allows for a much smoother flow – each episode being made up of over 6,000 animation cels (twice the average number of a normal animated TV series) – and the video transfer supports that well with a strong and largely stable image, perfectly balanced in terms of colouration and tone. The transfer is however interlaced and would appear to be an NTSC to PAL conversion, so in effect this rather negates any benefits that might be accrued through the technique. Fortunately, the normal side-effects of interlaced frames and ghosting are scarcely noticeable during normal playback, only really being evident in a slight blurring during panning sequences and some softness in the image. The transfer is identical on both discs.

As with Noein: Volume 1, the purpose of the 2-disc set is to provide the viewer with the maximum of audio choices without compromising the bitrate of the video transfer. Consequently Disc One has English Dolby Digital 2.0 and English Dolby Digital 5.1 dubbed choices, as well as the original Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1. Disc 2 has English DTS and Japanese DTS mixes, as well, strangely, as another English Dolby Digital 2.0 option. All the options are strong and relatively clear, with the kind of differences you would expect them to exhibit. Evidently, the surround mixes are most effective, the DTS mixes having a slight edge with a fuller, more rounded tone, but the difference is not so significantly better than the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix to justify making this a 2-disc set. In terms of dubbing, the English voices are very well cast, sounding very close to their Japanese counterparts and being equally strong in delivery.

English subtitles are optional and, thankfully, in a white font that doesn’t play havoc with the colour scheme. It should be noted however that the subtitles would appear to be dubtitles, i.e. they are identical to the English dubbed adaptation, rather than being a strictly literal translation. When watching the episodes in Japanese (my personal preference here), I noticed that this did on at least one occasion cause English subtitles to appear where no character was actually speaking in Japanese.

The On Location with the Japanese Voice Actor & Director (19:52) featurette continues from the first set, Kazuki Akane and Kudo Haruka continuing to explore the Hakedate settings so meticulously depicted in the series. It’s filmed home-movie style, so it remains light-hearted and fun. The only other extra this time is a Image Gallery (1:00) which uses still images from the latest episodes and jazzes them up with effects. Disc 2 just contains Trailers for other Manga titles.

Rather than just tread water while building towards an undoubtedly explosive finale, in every respect Noein builds upon the situation established in the opening five episodes of Volume 1. As well as deepening the characterisation and clarifying the confusion that may have resulted from the unusual premise of the opening episodes, Volume 2 adds further complications while maintaining a superbly judged balance between the action and the character development. An already promising series has just got a whole lot better.
Manga Entertainment’s UK DVD presentation is excellent, though with only four episodes included in Volume 2, I’d maintain that better use could have been made of the 2-disc set’s second disc than using it for separate DTS mixes, but this is still good value.

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