Noir (Nowaru) (2001)
Directed by Koichi Mashimo

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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Two young but deadly women, Kirika and Mireille, meet and start working together as assassins under the name Noir. Within a short time, however, while carrying out certain of their dangerous assignments, the pair become aware of a powerful secret organization that is exerting control over their lives and decide to attempt to find out more about this group.

Koichi Mashimo's twenty-six part animated television series Noir is not only fun and engaging but is also genuinely affecting and surprisingly beautiful.

A few episodes of Noir can stand on their own, but the majority are interconnected so that a single complex story is told by the series as a whole. The two central characters around whom this narrative revolves are both interesting, exciting, and tragic persons, and, as the story unfolds from episode to episode, the viewer is drawn into their world so that he becomes deeply involved with them emotionally. He sees how Kirika and Mireille have been made to suffer throughout their lives and feels concern and sympathy for them as a consequence. He is also frequently intoxicated by the bravery, cunning, and athleticism they display in the course of their constant adventures. By so mingling numerous action sequences, repeated evocations of mysterious deadly threats, and quiet reminders of past and present sorrows, the director has created a surprisingly affecting and satisfying narrative.

What is more, the skills of the director and the animators make Noir such an evocative program that it does not need to rely exclusively on dialogue to convey its emotive impact. Kirika, in particular, is quiet, but her silence is often more expressive than any lines could be. Most of the dialogue is, however, decently crafted, despite the inclusion of a number of nonsensical, portentous lines. These cryptic statements are clearly intended to be profound or ominous, but they are invariably just puerile. Fortunately, they are little more than aberrations in a generally well written script.

I will concede, however, that the program is not always perfectly paced. Some episodes of Noir are slow moving, and most do have slow moments. Nevertheless, the series as a whole is engaging. The action sequences are well handled, as are the various scenes that develop tension by making the viewer aware of the dangerous persons controlling much of the heroines' fate. Many of the program's quieter moments actually heighten the tension being aroused, as they provide the viewer with opportunities to anticipate the scenes of extreme excitement and danger which inevitably follow them

Finally, I should note that the animation of Noir is better than that of most television series. Backgrounds are generally nicely painted watercolors. The designs of the female characters are quite attractive and those of their male opponents are rough and harsh. Although it is never truly brilliant, the program is both surprisingly sensitive and skillfully realized.

Noir is well made, entertaining, and very different the majority of animated series from either Japan or the United States. It is certainly worth seeing.

Review by Keith Allen

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