'Noein, Vol. 5'
(DVD / NR / 2007 / Manga Video)
Overview: The space/time battle comes home when Haruka's friends are trapped in Shangri-La and she is forced to witness their tragic ftures. But even if Haruka can make the sacrifice that may save them all, what shocking secrets will still be revealed?
DVD Verdict: It's always darkest right before the dawn -- or so they say. And that is certainly the case with the final four episodes of "Noein," a unique mix of quantum physics, sci-fi and preteen adventure. All the characters encounter the horrifying potential of their future -- and the truth about their shadowy enemy.
Karasu, Haruka and Yuu are left wandering through the dreamlike timespace of Shangri-la. As they rest, Karasu reveals the terrible face of Haruka's alter ego -- and is interrupted by the spectral Noein. Haruka reluctantly goes with him, if he agrees not to harm Yuu or Karasu.
And then Haruka's house is swept, Wizard-of-Oz-style, into Shangri-la -- with Atori and her friends inside. Then she is forced to watch as Noein reveals the possible futures of Miho, Ai and Isami -- Ai loses her leg and her dreams, Isami is disfigured in a gang fight, and Miho crumbles from constant bullying. The three kids face being lost in these potential futures, unless they can reunite.
But then Noein reveals his most horrifying secret, and the traumatic past is leading him to unite all timespaces. As the timespaces collide and the universe starts to unravel, the last of the Dragon Knights are attacked by Shangri-la's ships. And Haruka and Yuu must find the strength to stop Noein forever.
There's a lot to wrap up in these last four episodes, and there's not a wasted minute in any of them. Unlike many series, this one ends with a perfect blend of characterization, action and drama -- and leaves most of the plot threads nicely tied in a complex bow.
Even the animation seems more impressive in this one -- mysterious lights, contorting pale bodies, a clock-face floor and a glowing idyll with a rotten heart. And there's plenty of action too, with Karasu thrashing the guruships, and Atori fending off an invasion into our timespace.
But the story's real focus is on Yuu and Haruka, and the temptations and horrors that Noein is waving in front of them. Yet his creepy monologues never become boring, and neither do the other-timespace flashbacks he torments the other characters with.
The three leads get the most attention -- Haruka is tempted by Noein, and Yuu finds out that he may be destined to become a deranged monster. Their struggles are handled beautifully, as is the final confrontation with Noein. And Karasu becomes almost interchangeable with Yuu as the boy becomes stronger and more assertive. His final scene in the blue snow with Haruka is a thing of bittersweet beauty.
But the other characters don't get shortchanged either -- it's actually painful to see bright sweet Miho, tough Ai and brash Isami being so broken in one possible future, all because they no longer had their friends to rely on. Even Noein -- who looks like a gelatinous, anorexic version of Karasu -- can be pitiable.
"Noein comes to a bittersweet, beautiful finale that handles all its farewells -- to characters and story -- with grace and skill. A worthy ending to a brilliant anime series. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of: