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ADV Films presents
Noir #1: Shades of Darkness (2001)

"Let's start with the simple fact that I kill people for a living."
- Mireille (Kotono Mitsuishi)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: February 18, 2003

Stars: Kotono Mitsuishi, Houko Kuwashima
Other Stars: Aya Hisakawa, Tarako
Director: Kouichi Mashimo

Manufacturer: MOFC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (15+ for violence)
Run Time: 02h:05m:00s
Release Date: February 18, 2003
UPC: 702727027123
Genre: anime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+AA- D+

DVD Review

Noir, the stylish 2001 anime from director Kouichi Mashimo, owes a large debt to La Femme Nikita. The story revolves around a pair of female assassins with a mysterious, intertwined past, and the focus is their work as contract killers. Episodic in nature, each show follows the two as they complete a mission, and slowly, more of their connection is revealed.

Mireille Bouquet is half of our team of lethal ladies. She receives an odd e-mail with an accompanying audio file that triggers a memory from her past, so she goes to meet Kirika Yumura, a young girl who she discovers has lost her memory, but who can kill quickly, cleanly, and efficiently. There's a bit of business about Kirika's watch, which plays the same tune that was in the e-mail, and it's clear that many surprises are in store as their relationship to one another is further revealed. For some reason or another, Mireille promises to kill Kirika once she figures out who she is, and Kirika seems ok with that, so you know these two aren't exactly mentally healthy (as if the "killing people for money" thing wasn't enough).

This DVD includes the first five installments, and as yet, the episodes are fairly standalone, with only a few links to the overarching story. In each, Mireille receives an e-mail indicating the latest target. Then the two go and kill him. Rinse and repeat. There's not a lot of character development, and any movement in the continuous story actually serves to bog down the fun, frenetic pace of the missions.

There's much that is good about Noir, despite the rather thin narrative. There are gun battles aplenty; each more elaborate than the last, all captured in signature Luc Besson style. Lots of anonymous henchmen are dispatched with creative maneuvers; I especially like Kirika's first episode trick involving the strangling of a man with his scarf—pretty smooth for a high-schooler.

Kouichi Mashimo does a wonderful job staging the action scenes. He mixes things up, playing with lighting, often letting scenes play out in silhouette, never letting things get monotonous. The exotic locales are a nice touch as well—the series is set primarily in Europe (finally, a show that doesn't involve the phrase "Neo Japan"). Sadly, he goes a bit overboard with the melodrama, and there are far too many repeated flashbacks to hammer home thematic elements (episode two, for example, repeats roughly three minutes of episode one). There are also far too many of those anime moments that scream pretension—simplistic imagery, characters sitting frozen for minutes on end, staring into space. It's nothing as overblown as Evangelion, mind you, but after watching a few episodes in a row, these things begin to grate on the nerves. For this reason, I'd suggest watching in small doses, as plowing through an entire disc in one sitting certainly undercuts the impact of the show. As separate installments, each episode is slick and entertaining; as an entire series, they start to look a bit messy and convoluted.

And yet, it's a show about girls who kick ass and take names, so it's an easy sell. I think we can all agree that the coolest assassins are always women.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Simply put, this is about the best looking anime transfer I've yet seen. Colors are spot on and show no blooming or bleeding. Blacks are deep and show good shadow detail. Fine detail is excellent, showing off the intricate animation quite nicely. I noted no artifacting, and just a touch of aliasing in a few shots.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Japaneseyes

Audio Transfer Review: This is a nice 5.1 mix, though not as aggressive as I was expecting. I suppose it's understandable, though, since ADV actually created it out of the original 2.0 DD tracks. The front soundstage handles most of the action, featuring good directionality and panning effects and strong support for dialogue, which always sounds clear and natural. The surrounds are used mostly to enhance the score, though they do support the action scenes quite a bit. Added bonus: LFE is surprisingly strong for a remixed track.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Farscape: Season 2, Colorful, Excel Saga, You're Under Arrest: The Movie, Devil Lady, Zone of the Enders
6 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Clean Open and Close
  2. Production Gallery
Extras Review: This disc includes a typical ADV anime extras package. There's the clean opening and closing animation, a gallery of production art, and an ADV trailer gallery with spots for Farscape: Season 2, Colorful, Excel Saga, You're Under Arrest: The Movie, Devil Lady, and Zone of the Enders.

This first disc is also available in a series box that holds all seven eventual discs, and includes a T-shirt.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Noir is an entertaining series, despite the confusing storyline, and it certainly looks great. I hope the convoluted plot is leading somewhere, but if it isn't, I'll content myself by looking at the pretty pictures.


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