Cool Things: Noir

Noir is a genre pioneered in the nineteen twenties and thirties that focuses on the seedy underbelly of society and those that try to make their way through it. The name is derived from the French word for black. Since this is not Genrely Speaking, we’ll leave the background information at that. The subject of this post is an anime series by that name.

Anime, for those not in the know that don’t feel like wading through the Wikipedia page, is an animated story, either of TV length or movie length, produced in Japan. Following today’s theme, the word itself is borrowed from French.

Noir is a 26 episode TV series that aired in 2001. It is primarily set in Europe and focuses on the activities of a pair of assassins for higher that operate by the codename Noir. Our protagonists are Mireille Bouquet and Kirika Yuumura, two assassins who are connected by family, history and conspiracy. Most of the series focuses on the characters, slowly developing them from fairly generic killers for hire into characters that stick with their work for reasons we can almost sympathize with – if they didn’t require piles of bodies.

Like most noir stories, our protagonists are strongly principled; keeping to codes of conduct that are as strict as they are alien to most people. And, like most noir characters, they also hope to get out of the game once they reach their goal. In the case of Mireille, revenge, for Kirika, the truth. These motives become clear only slowly and our understanding of them only comes as Mireille and Kirika learn to trust each other, a process that takes most of the first half of the series.

The second half of the story revolves around the way our heroines pull themselves out of the twisted circumstances that made them what they are.

Noir relies heavily on themes of irredeemable sin and unlooked-for grace. It’s no accident that one of the series two leitmotifs is Salva Nos, a Roman Catholic funeral mass set to a pounding techno beat. As cold-blooded killers, Mireille and Kirika have little room to expect a fulfillment of their goals. But, perhaps out of a desire to find some measure of redemption, they’re far more forgiving than you might expect of assassins. In turn they both manage to find moments of grace even in their dark circumstances.

The pacing of Noir is a bit slow, probably because they had to fill an entire 26 episode season, but the story feels very fulfilling when it ends. Like most noir stories the ending isn’t exactly happy, but it is hopeful. You can find some measure of hope that the survivors can finally set the darkness they’ve lived in behind them – though where they might go from there is a bit of a troubling question.

As a show that focuses on girls with guns, action sequences are a pretty important part of the series and Noir delivers hand over fist. The fight choreography will definitely remind dedicated action movie watchers of movies like The Matrix or The Book of Eli. Cante per Me and Salva Nos embody Noir‘s conflicting senses of wistfulness and pounding adrenaline and serve as the backdrop of some  artfully executed gun battles, highlights of one of pro composer Yuki Kajiura’s early works.

Looking for a show that mixes thoughtfulness and action, a dark plot with a dash of hope? Willing to take “cartoons” with a more serious bent to them? Noir might be a thing for you.


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