Anime highlight: Noir

I happened to rewatch a couple of episodes of Noir recently, and was surprisingly absorbed in. My general opinion on the series was that the episodic stories were pretty good while the overarching plot disappointing. To me, the characters’ backstory felt unengaging and too convoluted for a series otherwise grounded in reality. I like the more stand-alone episodes, though. While they have improbable amounts of plot armour, they have interesting stories and flesh out the characters nicely. More importantly, they gave life to a very convincing Europe both culturally and visually — if France exists in the early-00s anime world, it is probably in Noir. To be sure, Urasawa’s overlooked Master Keaton and later Monster also do a great (and arguably better) job at offering Europe-centric drama, but these exotically European anime remain few and far between.

Doing a comprehensive review isn’t the aim of today’s post, though; I have rewatched only up to three episodes and would simply like to take the example of episode 3 to highlight a few choices and details that made the series very engaging so far. This post could have been different if I had more free time with my newly-obtained summer job, but all things considered this kind of article can also be interesting once in a while.

Noir episode 3: The Assassination Play

Mireille and Kirika (business name: Noir) are hired to kill a businessman having purportedly killed the husband of the client whom Mireille sometimes sees in a graveyard she visits. Upon confronting the target, they find out that he and the woman who hired Noir cooperated to assassinate them. In a very disadvantageous situation, Noir emerges the victor thanks to Kirika’s skills and clever tricks but the circumstances behind the Assassination Play remain obscure.

This scene is a great example of subtle foreshadowing and characterisation. Mireille talks with the woman who hired by her (the woman, however, doesn’t know Mireille’s identity). We are told about a former friend, or lover, of Mireille’s, and this fleshes out as a human. Like a lot of people, she had former significant others, or deceased friends. The irrelevant details are left unexplored: they aren’t necessarily important or interesting, and this makes her all the more convincing as a human more than a character.

I also like the close-up on Mireille’s eye at 00:17, showing her slight reaction to the client’s story about her husband’s liking to belladonna lilies. Maybe it’s because she simply feels a connection with the woman, or perhaps it’s because she’s wondering if there is any resemblance with her own relationship. The details are vague, but simply because the viewer doesn’t know the specifics shouldn’t mean a character cannot have realistic body language.

This is complemented by Mireille’s reaction to the client’s statement that “even if belladonna lilies were poisonous, they’d still be his favourite flowers”. The suggestion that her husband wouldn’t mind if his favourite flower (or woman) were poisonous seems innocent to the viewer, but this is actually hinting at the client turning out to be an assassin herself. This is smart, subtle foreshadowing. It steers clear of being corny by understating the comparison, and it doesn’t harm the plot if the viewer misses it.

The dialogue closes with two pillow shots on nightly Paris, setting the atmosphere while showing that the next scene, taking place indoors where it is harder to show time elapsing, happens later in the day.

I also very much like this scene. Mireille enters her target’s room, but it turns out that Noir was set up. Guns are now pointed at her, and then shows up her client. No childish, out-of-character “you tricked me!” or “you set me up!” to make things clearer for the viewer. Instead, Mireille is reinforced as a character that doesn’t seek to blame others for her shortcomings, and the scene lets the viewer take a guess as to what exactly happened. All of it is still appropriately discussed between Mireille and Kirika in a later scene, but delaying the clarifications where a lot of series would have it otherwise successfully builds tension and rewards the thinking viewer.

An example of one of the many clever “tricks” used by Kirika in the series. She draws the enemies’ attention towards an opening door by making corpses lean on it, and then run towards the other entrance. I don’t want to make this anime sound more highbrow than it is, but it is again nice that we are treated with actually skilled characters that do not need to shout “a decoy!?” to figure it out and ensure younger viewers understand.

In this scene, electricity is cut and the enemy uses night vision devices. To counter this, Kirika spread over the floor popcorn from the casino room in which they were trapped to locate her targets. What I like about this scene is the small detail that Kirika directs her gun towards the target without moving her head: she cannot see anyway, so it wouldn’t help. It’s a great way to flesh out her skills as an assassin without overdoing it (for example, by having her shoot without moving her head in a situation where it would help).

A well-done camera effect showing Mireille aiming at her attacker. The animation of her aim and the breathing sounds do a very good job at conveying the surprise and adrenaline of the moment.

At the end of the episode, Mireille is shown printing a news article with a picture of the burnt resort that we can identify thanks to the few well-placed long shots throughout the episode. The part where they burnt the resort wasn’t narrated, and the characters make no mention of it. The way this detail indicating Noir’s professionalism and experience is included but not narrated or mentioned in the dialogue shows how controlled the pacing is and how well the show is storyboarded.

Do you have any thoughts on Noir yourselves? If you haven’t seen it yet and think you’d enjoy an anime with intelligent action, strong atmosphere or great direction, Noir has all of that.

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