“Noir. It is the name of an ancient fate: two maidens who govern death; the peace of the newly-born their black hands protect.”
Such is the narration that opens each episode of Noir, a brilliantly developed and artistically appealing anime series. It is noteworthy for its dense symbolism and esoteric references, its enchanting visuals and soundtrack, and its position as the first of the “Girls-with-Guns” trilogy of shows released by the Japanese animation studio Bee Train.
The series is centered on a nineteen-year-old assassin by the name of Mireille Bouquet, who makes the acquaintance of an amnesiac sixteen-year-old named Kirika Yuumura. What makes Kirika distinctive is two things: her own skills as an assassin rival those of Mireille, and all she can remember is her alias “Noir,” a name attributed in the underworld to the deadliest of hired killers. As the two form a partnership, they find themselves opposed by a mysterious organization called “Les Soldats,” and so the two young women must unravel the secrets behind the Soldats and their connection to the name and history of “Noir.”
Memory plays an important role in this series. Not only is Kirika attempting to discover her own past, but Mireille is forced to come to terms with the truth behind her family’s murder when she was a child, and how their deaths continue to shape her decisions. These two women are bound to a common goal of learning more about their past–and thus have a chance at determining their future.
The Soldats are an interesting element, providing not only an endless line of faceless enemies for the main characters to shoot down every episode, but also providing the mythical backdrop for the series as a whole. Antagonists like Chloe and the High Priestess Altena do not have to do much in order to leave a chilling impact on the audience, and it is only toward the end that their true potential and malice are revealed. There is also a lot of emphasis, both explicit and implicit, on the nature of sin and the issue of humanity’s redemption. Being assassins, Mireille and Kirika know a lot about committing sins, but only as the series progresses do they realize just how much they’re wading through the blood of their victims.
If I have one issue with Noir, it’s that takes a minimalist approach that can prove quite frustrating to the audience. There’s not too much dialogue and some of the flashbacks from the first episode are reused extensively over the course of all twenty-six episodes. But the emphasis is more on the beautiful and elegant imagery of the series, giving us rich landscapes like Paris, Corsica, and the medieval manor where Altena resides.
Noir is a rich and moving show, balancing well-styled action scenes and appealing scenery with a thematic exploration of violence and personal tragedies. You’ll hardly forget the stirring image of Mireille and Kirika back-t0-back in a fight for the truth, nor will you forget the stirring techno-trance hymn “Salva Nos” that envelops each gunfight like its own prayer.
Bibliography: Noir. Directed by Koichi Mashimo. Written by Ryoe Tsukimura. Prod. Bee Train. Madman Entertainment. April 6, 2001 – September 27, 2001.