A name of destiny that has been ordained in the past.
Two women who reign over death.
May the Black Hand over the newborn
please protect the peace.
Noir is an animated Japanese series that seriously attempts to cross over into a worldwide mainstream audience. The setting and characters are not overtly Japanese or instilled in Japanese culture. The series takes place all over the world (though mainly stays put in France), and the only reason that the people in the series speak Japanese is ... well, because it was made in Japan. Compare it to most American television series where people from aboard usually speak some form of English, even in places that should logically never have heard of English before.
It centers around two stunning, yet deadly contract killers and their various adversaries/allies.
Mireille Bouquet is the daughter of a powerful Corsican family who used to govern complete control of the island. That control was destroyed when Mireille's parents were executed by a powerful, secret organization named Soldats for reasons which even they aren't happy to share. Mireille now lives in Paris where she makes her living as a contract killer.
Kirika Yumura is a young, Japanese girl who has lost everything apart from a schoolgirl uniform, a fake student ID card and her impressive assassination skills. She contacts Mireille in the hopes that she can help her regain her memory.
The two team up to form an unprecedentedly effective contract killing team - Noir. The episodes that follow run along as stand-alone stories, often centering around the Sicilian Mafia or some Nazi war criminals, but each episode also has a little extra bit that pushes the overall story ahead. In each episode, we learn a little more about the girl's lost memory (often told in harrowing flashback sequences), and we delve deeper into the somewhat shady and traumatic past of Mireille.
Without wanting to give too much away, Mireille and Kirika pasts prove to be directly intertwined in a way that will not only jeopardize their friendship, but their lives as well. Things are only complicated with the appearance of Chloë, a skilled assassin with a preference for blades and knives instead of guns, who claims to be the true Noir. Thus a contest is formed, with Mireille and Kirika being played as pawns in the conspiratorial grasp of the powerful Soldats. The outcome of which is truly phenomenal, and the final revelation of the protagonists' secrets leave a lingering resonance.
The animation is very much based on as many still-images as possible. There are a lot of frozen reaction shots and action sequences are mainly shown through a lightning fast series of animations, followed by a slow motion shot that gives you ample time to reflect. A favorite movie technique used again and again by the animators is: bad guy hiding behind pillar/rock/any sort of hiding place, looking frantic. Camera pans to reveal a member of Noir standing right behind him, gun drawn, face blank. Cue slow-motion shot of bad guy noticing Noir, then being shot. The animators obviously wanted you to watch this show, not for numbing action sequences á lá Schwarzenegger, but for the pure poetry in motion that these sequences are.
But don't be fooled into thinking the animation is boring. The backgrounds are damn near picturesque quality. The animation is life-like. The reaction on people's faces evokes genuine emotion. There's animation magic happening in these 25 minute time slots.
The soundtrack is equally stunning. It mixes Gregorian chanting with classical piano interludes, gothic chamber strings, and pulsing techno beats in one seamless package that never fails to amaze. Even though the same pieces of music are used again and again in each episode, you somehow never get tired of it.
The mysterious storyline and beautiful action sequences cement this show's desire to be taken seriously and to aim at mature audiences. It's not Dragonball Z, folks. The show makes no attempt at humor, and you are rarely sure whether the supporting characters are good or evil. One moment they're helping out Noir; the next they're indiscriminately killing people left and right. You constantly feel like you're in the shoes of Mireille and Kirika - you feel like you're being played around with, and you're never quite sure who to trust. At one point Chloë promises to kill them both; the next moment she shows up for an impromptu moonlight tea party.
So far, no American or English distribution has been decided, but the show has been fansubbed and liberally distributed through various electronic outlets. A good way to treat yourself to a refreshingly different anime show.