Noein: To Your Other Self, Vol. 1 (2005)

It seems it’s harder to cast a serious eye on today’s anime. In the post-Pokemon age, anime is considered a joke (especially if Hayao Miyazaki’s name isn’t attached to it); a spectacle of sorts with tons of spiky haired heroes and heroines battling monsters and robots in a hyper colorvision world. Sure, it’s grown in popularity ever since we used to frown at the loner walking the school hallways in his Akira T-shirt, but the quality of the output has fallen tremendously. For every Cowboy Bebop and Serial Experiments Lain, there’s a million Y-Gi-Ohs and S-CRY-eds.

Noein appears to be right in the middle; it’s not ground-breaking, but not a drain on your brain capacity either. It relies on several formulas other animes have already perfected, but luckily for them, the predictability doesn’t hinder its plot. Noein is a 24-episode sci-fi series being released on five volumes. The first volume only has five episodes, which really isn’t enough to get a full feel of the series. What you do get is a nice introduction to the characters and plenty of questions left unanswered, which should entice viewers enough to come back for volume two.

The first few minutes of Noein is straight out the contemporary anime handbook. Two unknown characters battle in a stylized manner as they shout angrily about events that are unbeknownst to us yet. There’s a lot of talk of dimensions, some guy named Karasu, and, of course, there’s lots of explosions and more explosions. None of it makes any sense, but hey, it looks cool and that’s all that matters, right?

After the action frenzy, things calm down and we’re introduced to the protagonist, a young girl named Haruka who is starting to see strange men in cloaks around her town. She’s best friends with her classmate Yuu, a boy who has some serious drama at home. Convinced the mysterious cloaked men are ghosts, Haruka, Yuu and some other friends venture out at night to find them. When they encounter one of the mysterious cloaked men, who actually turn out to be from the future, Haruka and Yuu demand the man to identify himself. The man, named Karasu, says he’s Yuu 15 years in the future. There’s also some mentioning of “finding the dragon torque” to secure peace in the future, but all of that is still ambiguous in this volume.

The rest of the episodes set up more background on the two main leads. We learn both Haruka and Yuu come from unstable households and plan to run away to Tokyo together. Yuu, who is in a rough relationship with his mother, is forced to study all day to get into a good school, which is putting a damper on his social life and mental stability. Occasionally, his future self pops up just to terrorize him and call him names, which causes Yuu to cry and whine even more than usual. Although I try to keep an open mind on Yuu and judge him fairly, I can’t. He just sucks. Luckily the majority of the action revolves on Haruka.

The rest of the story lines deal with school yard drama and puppy love brewing between the friends. In one scene, after a fight over a boy, Haruka and a friend get into a hilarious slapping match that would put a smile on Jerry Springer’s face. It’s in these scenes where the series really shine. Because it’s too early to see exactly what’s happening with the cloaked men / dragon torque / dimensions, it’s the sub-plots that are the most enjoyable because, well, they make sense.

And that’s what it all boils down to. These first five episodes comprise the series in preparation mode. It’s popping its knuckles, stretching its neck before it steamrolls you with tons of action and plot when volume two comes around (or so I hope). Although every thing is still preliminary, it seems to be heading in the right direction. Anyone who is mildly curious of Haruka’s connection with the dragon torque is sure to come crawling back for more, regardless if they even like the series or not. And that’s its biggest strength. No matter how many times I roll my eyes at new developments to its plot or more confusing questions left unanswered, I can’t complain because, well, I’m still watching, aren’t I?

Of course, this might make or break the series, especially if it’s a pro at piling on questions and then not following through, but it’s too early to tell. Judging from the last episode, it definitely seems to be one of those series that get better as it goes along. And I guess that’s better than a series that starts with a bam and then gradually deflates. Noein won’t be the savior of its anime counterparts, but it won’t tarnish their already ruined reputation, either.

RATING 6 / 10