Noein (To Your Other Self): Volume 3 Review
Noein: Volume 2 maintained the strong balance set out during the opening episodes of the series, giving equal weight to the development of the characters in the pre-teen drama in Hakodate, Japan as well as the futuristic quantum dimensional parallel world of La’cryma,– an important factor since the characters in the alien world are in fact futuristic parallel versions of the children in present-day Japan. Noein: Volume 3 continues to develop these characters – revealing the purpose of some so-far only secondary characters and also in filling in the details and the science about how and why these two dimensions have collided, without letting up on the action or the pre-teen drama.
Haruka is back from La’cryma and everything seems fine, the young girl even introducing Karasu, her visitor from the future, to the rest of her friends. However, several La’cryman factions are still struggling to gain control of the Dragon Torque, a powerful tool that binds the dimensions and allows access to them, which may help them in their war with Shangri-la. Unfortunately, the Dragon Torque has a physical presence in the form of Haruka herself, and the battle for control of it presents a great danger to the children and the earth itself. None is more dangerous than the increasingly insane Atori, whose intention is not to gain control of the Dragon Torque but to destroy it. Such an action would not only affect our world, but have devastating consequences for the infinite parallel dimensions.
Dr. Uchida meanwhile has been called before the Absolute Critical Prevention Strategic Committee (Abcom) to report on the disturbances in the area. A government-business partnership has been experimenting with quantum-teleportation technology in Hakodate – the Magic Circle Project - and they are prepared to use it without giving proper consideration to the risks and the strange events that have been occurring there. Helping to explain Haruka’s role in the centre of all this, it is revealed that her father, Dr. Mayuzumi, once worked on the project, but left after disagreements and has not been seen since. Wielding an ability to move between dimensions, Haruka is only now starting to understand just how powerful the tool is, with a mysterious wanderer to guide her.
Yu’s concerns however remain very much in the real-world – or do they only appear to? He knows he is a poor soccer player and is really a bookworm at heart and should really leave the small town concerns behind and go and sit his university entrance exams in Tokyo. But the choice is not so easy – with no-one to guide him, Yu procrastinates endlessly, lacking self-confidence and moping around over petty concerns that leaving Hakodate will break up his friendship with Isami. Parallel to this, the futuristic parallel versions of the two boys – Karasu and Fukuro – prepare to battle out their disagreement on the policy for dealing with the Dragon Torque.
All this confirms the impression from the first two volumes that the underlying theme of the series is distinctly anchored in real-world concerns. Behind all the hard science talk of quantum physics and parallel dimensions, what the series is really concerned with is choice and potential and the impossibility of knowing who or what our future selves will be. The young children here are at that particular stage in their lives, having to choose whether to remain in Hakodate and the limited opportunities that are left to them in a small seaside port far away from the rest of the world, or whether to go out into the bigger world which provides infinitely more possibilities for them to deliver their potential. Inevitably, the choices will affect their relationships with the friends they leave behind – perhaps not quite to the extent that they will start to hurl bolts of light at each other, but the real-world wrench will certainly be a difficult one.
While all this is merely developing progressively from stories set in motion in the first two volumes, Noein: Volume 3 still has the capability to throw in some surprises. The extremely powerful and dangerous, yet still enigmatic and unfathomable presence of an invisible masked figure again makes an appearance, remaining a wildcard element that prevents everything from playing out too predictably. Destiny? God? Whatever it is, it’s an element that cannot be factored into simple cause and effect – there are other powers that cannot be controlled or influenced and this makes the progress of the story just that little bit more interesting, unpredictable, human and often quite moving.
Noein: Volume 3 contains episodes 10 – 14 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 5 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 of the animation and the DVD transfers remains high. 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 amazingly stable image, which is 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 previous volumes, 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 sound mixes 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 in particular having a slight edge with a fuller, more rounded tone, but the difference is not 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 are dubtitles, i.e. they are identical to the English dubbed adaptation, rather than being a strictly literal translation. When watching the episodes in Japanese there are several occasions where English subtitles to appear when no character was actually speaking in Japanese, and an occasional Japanese phrase or two is left untranslated. None of this will matter too much. The English translation is fine and has some nice turns of phrase, though how accurate it is to the original is anyone’s guess.
Disc one contains some examples of the rough artwork for the series in From Storyboard to Screen (17:36), showing several sequences in key frame, animatics and completed art. This looks very nice indeed. Interestingly, some of the backgrounds use real location photos for backgrounds. The third and final part of the On Location with the Japanese Voice Actor & Director (13:37) sees director Kazuki Akane and voice-actor Kudo Haruka continuing to explore the Hakedate settings so meticulously depicted in the series – going on a tram, visiting the graveyard seen in the first episode, going to the Red Brick Warehouse and having lunch at the period-style tea-shop that the young kids in the series visit in an early episode. The interviews are not terribly in-depth, but the director is probed about his own childhood in Hakedate as an influence on the series and the characters. The only other extra is an Image Gallery (1:41) which uses still images from the latest episodes. Disc 2 just contains Trailers for other Manga titles.
Reaching the midway point of the series, Noein’s visual and animation strengths are still there, the huge impressive operatic score is still there and the storyline is developing quite nicely, expanding on the first two volumes, further developing characters and explaining the science of the events that are occurring, but also still holding more in reserve and only suggestively teasing that there are further powerful elements and surprises still in store. The quality of Manga Entertainment’s DVD set is still excellent with only minor conversion issues and having little impact on the fine animation.