Noir was the first installment in Bee Train’s holy trinity of (yuri-ish) girls with guns anime, and is the second of the trio to be reviewed here on YR, following in the footsteps of El Cazador de le Bruja. While its spiritual successors may have been pretty good, Noir is the one that set the bar for what to expect from this type of anime.
In the heart of Paris, a contract killer with a tragic past is led to an amnesiac Japanese teenager with a Liam Neeson-esque very particular set of skills. Seeing as how their pasts are somehow connected and eager to get some answers, the two team up as a murder-for-hire duo known as Noir, setting into motion events that all point to a millennium-old legend that involves a secret society that operates from the shadows.
The basic premise of Noir is one that’s pretty intriguing and ripe for all sorts of drama. Even though things slow down for a while after the first episode, little by little, matters escalate, and the girls’ predicament becomes much darker and more dangerous. Compared to El Cazador, there isn’t as much comedy, and the tone remains rather serious throughout. I wouldn’t automatically say that’s a negative, as the greater emphasis on a serious story does pay off and helps to create an atmosphere that makes what’s going on more believable and impactful. That said, those who enjoy a little more diversity will probably be disappointed. This is an anime that’s very focused on gunplay and oftentimes resembles a John Woo flick. Missions the girls are sent on—they’re usually given missions via email by mysterious sources—span the globe, and seemingly always end with some bigshot criminal getting 86’d, which can grow a tiny bit repetitive. Things get far more interesting when an Illuminati-like secret organization starts to rear its head and begins pulling Mireille and Kirika’s strings. This expedites the drama and causes the girls to confront their pasts, which also greatly adds to the character progression and sense of emotional involvement. The cat and mouse game involving the girls and the Soldats (that’s the organization’s name) really makes the story engrossing and ultimately leads to the emotional resonance that puts this anime a notch above many other girls with guns anime, in my opinion. This subgenre isn’t renowned for the quality of its stories, but Noir does a better job than most, while still delivering some quality action.
Now let’s talk about the characters a little bit. It sounds strange calling a cold-blooded killer cute, but that’s exactly what Kirika is. Despite being a walking death machine, she’s exudes a sweetness and innocence that makes it really easy to like her. She starts out a very cold person (no doubt, a product of her youth), but slowly, she starts to become more humanized, and over the course of the series, she ends up growing a little bit. This reflects in her relationship with Mireille, which at various times ranges from scorn to fondness and everything in between. But Kirika’s only one piece of the puzzle. One might consider Kirika’s personality to be somewhat stale, but I don’t think the same can be said about Mireille. As the elder of the two girls, Mireille exudes a smooth confidence, that when combined with her brains and beauty, makes her a very sexy character. However, underneath the attractive exterior of this skilled assassin lies a young woman who’s haunted by events from her past. Both girls are more than just heartless killers, and having them journey together in order to find out about their respective pasts proves an effective tactic to developing some sort of attachment to them. For comparison’s sake, I think there’s a bit more substance to these, compared to Nadie and Ellis from El Cazador.
Elsewhere, there’s a revolving door of antagonists—some more interesting than others—that enter the fold and make life difficult for the girls. Chloe, Altena, Silvana, and Shaoli are just a few of them, with Chloe and Altena playing major, major roles in the story. It’s kind of cool that in an anime with a lot of male mob-types, the ladies turn out to be the most deadly adversaries. Special recognition should also goe out to the main “bad guy” in this anime. Without saying too much, unnerving is a great way to describe that person and their tendencies. They’re just creepy. Other than Kirika and Mireille, the number of truly memorable characters is somewhat small, but based on the strength of the main duo and a handful of others, the cast still manages to be pretty good.
While the story and characters may be up to task, the same can’t really be said of the visuals. 2001 is when this originally aired, and doesn’t that seem like an eternity ago? For the most part, the backgrounds are sufficiently detailed, but the inconsistency regarding the other elements was my biggest issue with the animation. At times, perfectly fine, and at other times rushed and unflattering, the variation in quality is a bit of a black eye for the series. One specific scene was recycled and repeated many, many times over, which didn’t help matters at all. One other thing that especially irked me was the lack of blood in an anime where so many people die. There are probably dozens of casualties, yet we only see blood on a few occasions. I know it was done for censoring purposes, but it’s still strange to not see it. Nevertheless, the visuals are a mixed bag that has its share of good and bad.
As lacking as the animation was, thankfully, the sound is the complete opposite. Much like how she did for fellow shows El Cazador de la Bruja and Madlax, Yuki Kajiura is responsible for the music, and she once again hit it out of the park. The original soundtrack checks all the boxes and delivers all the things you’d expect from a Kajiura-composed anime. I haven’t even mentioned the great OP and ED, but you probably get the idea by now. In an anime that has plenty going for it, I think the audio is up there at the top of the list.
Despite what the above art makes it seem like, most of the yuri in Noir is just inferred. But that’s not to say that there’s nothing good going on, however. Over time, you see Mireille and Kirika become more attached, with their relationship shifting from a strict working relationship to friendship, and even though it’s not explicitly stated or shown, I think that there’s enough evidence to deduce that their involvement with one another could definitely be construed as more than just friendship. Something that does become more apparent is that Chloe is not going to confuse anyone as to her interest in females. Much moreso than Kirika or Mireille, she’s a bit more open with that. Without saying too much, there are 2 kisses in the series, and I won’t mention who they involve, but they’re there. While more obvious yuri is always welcome, the implied nature of the two main girls’ relationship gives people all the ammunition needed to ship them to their hearts desire, so go ahead and ship away.
The girls with guns subgenre has seen its fair share of strong entries (like Canaan) and duds (like the recent Hidan no Aria AA), but Noir is far closer to the former than the latter. Sure, the animation budget was tiny, but the compelling story, engaging characters, top-notch music, and subtle—yet effective—yuri more than make up for that drawback. Even though it’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, Noir still stands as one of the premier anime for people who prefer their yuri a little more mysterious and murderous.
Certainly an enjoyable series. While I couldn't quite get into it at the beginning, the story and the characters completely engrossed me in the later episodes. The relationship between Kirika and Mireille is also a very unique one and, considering how tangled and difficult their past is, I think it has a lot of depth that, perhaps, we don't see that often in yuri (or yuri-ish) anime.
Overall I'd place it somewhere in the middle of the Bee Train's trilogy, with El Cazador being on top as I actually enjoyed it most of the three.
Thanks for writing this review, it brought me back some nice memories ^^
Noir was the first anime I watched. I was delighted to see such story and character depth, to hear a wonderful soundtrack… the visual flaws seemed unimportant when countered by all those positives. Unfortunately, this set the bar very high right as I started exploring the medium so I was disappointed by everything else available to me at the time (maybe 5 years ago) on my streaming provider. The characters, plot, atmosphere, and overall sense of style in this series continue to be the standard against which I hold all other anime. Very few seem to measure-up. Thanks for posting a review and raising awareness of Noir. More people should take this series for a spin.
Yeah, it's a little rough early on, but I think it steadily improves as it goes along. It's funny how, if you stay away from the classroom, yuri-ish anime often has a tendency of developing into something a bit deeper. I kinda wish more shows would follow suit.
I haven't actually watched Madlax yet, but I'd probably put Noir just ahead of El Cazador, personally.
The review's been long overdue, but I'm glad it could stir up some nostalgia for you~
Starting with a something like this doesn't leave a ton of room for improvements in those regards, especially with yuri-ish anime, in my opinion.
Shows like Noir are definitely nice finds for people who aren't initially scared away by the guns and seemingly darker tones, so I wholeheartedly hear ya.
Noir is close to Canaan? I'd beg to differ. Normally the newer is compared to the older and gold-bar standard. Canaan can compare to Noir for all I care. Imho, Cazador can compare to Noir as well.
Great review, great underrated anime. Any other gold-standard yuri-ish archetype animes are yuri household names (Utena, Kannazuki, Marimite, whatever else). In terms of depth, Noir is close up there, and really established the parameters of what I think of in a yuri anime.
I mentioned Canaan and Hidan no Aria AA because they're two of the girls with guns anime that have already been reviewed on YR. Had the order been reversed and had Noir been reviewed before those two, it would've been the other way around~
It is a shame that Noir doesn't get as much recognition as some of the other stalwarts of the genre. As you said, from a quality standpoint, it's definitely one of the better yuri-ish anime that immediately comes to mind for me.
It's hard to say this without an air of condescension, but Noir is a grownup an anime for a grownup audience. That is the main reason it's so often underappreciated by fans of other works. It consistently delivers mood, emotional resonance, and *style* with huge peaks and troughs in action/ introspection cycles; bursts so short and pauses so langorous that they tend to be a bit alienating to anyone looking for mere sex and violence and mystery– other shows deliver those in spades. It's a character story through and through. The mystery and action are there for the characters to play against– to make them decide to do on not do certain things– rather than keep the viewer stimulated. It's such a great production despite its obvious budgetary limits. I'm just thankful jt was made.
Sorry to ramble, but I think these are simultaneously the artistic strengths and commercial weaknesses of the show.
No, that was great. You concisely covered everything, so there's no need for me to say much else, especially since I agree with all of it.
I watched Noir several years ago. It was riveting, the only issues I had with it were the repeated flashbacks, and a semi-weak ending.
I picked up the disks a few months ago and rewatched. It still holds up after all this time! The flashbacks were manageable this time (probably because I was expecting them), and I still wished for a more solid ending. I had read somewhere that supposedly there was an episode in their apartment where you could see their beds pushed up against one another (hee hee), I looked for it but didn't manage to catch that.
I loved watching the two characters develop (yum!).
Great review Rock!
I was under the impression that there was only 1 bed in the apartment. At least that's what I read on Okazu, and I can't recall ever seeing a second bed. Either way, it was nice seeing their relationship slowly escalate.
The beds pushed together was in a hotel scene. If I recall correctly it was when they were in NY/NJ trying to get at Silvana Greonne. Didn't make much sense since they're then shown to be lying back-to-back in one of the two beds–unless it was to imply that the other bed was no longer close enough for our poor, tormented Mirielle.
Actually the kiss scenes in the show were part of a ritual. There is no romance, just deep friendship.
Ritual or not, the beautiful thing is being able to interpret things however you see fit, so while some people see deep friendship, others view it as something else entirely.
There may not be a right or wrong viewpoint, but either way, it’s a healthy debate that’s all in the eyes of the beholder~
Noir is by far my favorite anime. I have so few criticisms of it that I think there’s something wrong with me as I’m usually hypercritical. I guess Altena is kinda weak in terms of motivation.
But I love almost everything about it. I even love the slow pacing. It gives it an opportunity to build up characters personalities before going into the main story. That’s why I like TV more than movies. A movie has like 2 hours to develop a character and tell a story. A television show can spend seasons building up a character. So I think the gradual buildup does wonders for understanding the characters.
And while the animation isn’t perfect, I think they were very effective at using it for visual storytelling—that is, giving the characters an opportunity to understand the world without having everything explained to us. Thats something anime in particular struggles with in my opinion; it loves to vomit exposition and explain every last detail for you rather than leaving it ambiguous or allowing you to figure it out. So when you can observe Mireille and Kirika having a conversation just by looking at each other, I think it’s a sign that the animators did a very good job breathing life into the characters.
And I think Noir is deeply symbolic in many ways. Much of it is around religious concepts such as sin and salvation, and while I’m in no way religious, I think it’s very interesting. It gives me a good thing about the concepts of good and evil and what it really means to be a good person. Also, the whole beginning bit “Noir, it is the name of an ancient fate…” can be read into in many cool ways. And that whole paragraph was very poorly written.
Basically Noir is my favorite thing ever and also the Soundtrack is beyond brilliant to the point that it makes me angry that it’s so good.
Yeah, it takes some kind of wizardry to fit all the elements of good storytelling into something as short as a movie, so I’d say I agree with you about that TV vs. movies argument.
More so than the other two shows in the trilogy, I think the story lends itself to little moments like that. It probably helps that this one is lighter on action than El Cazador or Madlax…
The subject matter is interesting, and even though this show isn’t my favorite, I would like to see more anime like this~