** SPOILER ALERT: This post contains mild spoilers. You have been warned. **
Since I watched it over a decade ago, I have been singing the praises of Noein: To Your Other Self (or just Noein). I have regularly recommended it as a great science fiction series and a solid overall anime. This series affected me deeply. I even attribute Noein with sparking my interest in quantum physics. But, while I remember it fondly, is it actually as good as I recall? Did I just not have enough other anime to compare it with? Well, now that I’m more well-versed in anime, I decided to watch Noein again. So, was it as good as I recall or was it just rose-tinted?
Almost right away, this series got me excited. Between the intense, inter-dimensional battles and the epic music (and I mean EPIC), it pulls you in so fast. It really drives you to continue to the next episode, which is the mark of a good series, right from the get-go. But, it’s not just that, of course. You also have great characters, good pacing, art, music, plot… I could just go on and on. But, rather than generalities, let’s get into specifics.
I would consider Noein a soft sci-fi. While the physics does reference a few actual physics theories and concepts, there’s also a fair amount of hand-waving and scientific mysticism that is only kind of explained. It almost feels like they throw around ideas and terminology to make it sound complex. That being said, I didn’t really mind it. They do a decent job actually explaining the terminology by the end of the series, so it doesn’t cause any issues. Actually, it’s good that they actually had meanings for the words they threw around at the start of the series. The science could hurt your head if you think too hard on it though, kind of like if you try to visualize infinity, so watch with patience.
As cool as the sci-fi elements are, at least by my standards (is quantum mechanics cool or am I just weird?), I’d dare to say that it’s the characters and interpersonal plot elements that really set Noein apart. Initially, it feels like some young teenage (I know they’re technically pre-teens, but whatever) drama, but what makes it unique is how the writers approached it. Between retaining their childish traits throughout much of the series, while still retaining character development, and the interactions with their future selves, Noein manages to put a sci-fi spin on teen drama and executes it very well. There’s even some social commentary that I had totally forgotten about.
Starting with the teenage drama first, it’s pretty standard. Misunderstandings leading to fighting, fighting leading to mending relationships and strengthening friendships. Almost all of the group of friends has their moment, and the things they fight over are realistic. Ai misunderstands Haruka and Isami being close and gets jealous. Isami gets upset at Yuu for being so distant and seemingly abandoning his friends due to the constant pressure his mother exerts on him. Even the way they make up afterwards is realistic. The characters are young, and the problems they have to deal with on a daily basis reflect that.
I think what really sold me on this, however, was when it was paired with the sci-fi elements. While the cast is aware of what’s going on, it is beyond their understanding and capability to handle for much of the series. It weighs on them, but what can they do about it? Everything is so far beyond them that all the can do is be bystanders as Haruka gets kidnapped, or vanishes, or any other event that befalls her. Yuu clearly takes it the hardest, wishing he could do something to protect her, but it’s evident that he is powerless here. So all they can do, really, is try to live their lives. This difference in ability really keeps that carrot just out of reach, which keeps driving their development throughout the series. I respect this approach even more so now that I’m older. It can get a bit wearisome having young characters be thrust into insane situations, only to see them get over it and mature in an instant. The slower pace that Noein‘s cast matures at, especially given the level of complexity of their situation, is a fantastic touch.
The other facet to this is when you introduce their future selves to the mix. You basically get to see the culmination of their friendships, the results of the trials and tribulations they survived. Even as adults, they still have their conflicts and disagreements. They still make amends (or try, at least). It draws a great parallel between the older and younger versions of the cast and shows that, even as an adult, you never really outgrow that aspect of yourself. And as you see the conclusion of their future selves’ relationships, you can’t help but feel for their younger selves, even if they’re not aware of the fate their other self met.
While much of Noein is focused on the younger cast and their future selves, some of the dragon knights are standalone characters. Despite this, they also develop as the series goes on. While I feel for Kosagi and glad to have her join team Good Guys, and Tobi was redeemed for his mistakes (we’ll go with “his”, given the variance in his gender between the sub and dub), but the one who really took the cake and ran off with it, like the maniac he is, was Atori. I legitimately hated his character at the start, true scum of a villain. But, by the end, I was hoping he survived. His character had such a huge reversal that I can’t even put it into words. Seeing how Miho and the rest of the kids acted toward him certainly helped, but regardless of that, he earned his redemption.
Moving on, another element I had forgotten about was the elements of social commentary. I feel like most notable anime, or creative works in general, have a degree of commentary, and Noein is no exception. The first example I commented on briefly: the parental pressure Yuu is subjected to by his mother, Miyuki. It’s a pretty common trend in media because it’s a very real thing. Parents always want their children to succeed, and so they often push their kids into activities that they think will benefit them down the road, even if the kid objects. In this case, it is slightly different, given the ties it has to Miyuki’s childhood trauma, but the point about being too overbearing holds. And, more importantly, the ramifications of it, as Yuu basically goes through a mental breakdown and attempts to sever his ties with his mother. Despite all of the push back, when given the freedom to choose, he ends up agreeing with the route his mother tried to put him on and buckles down on his studies.
The second example is with Mr. Shinohara, the big financial backer for the Magic Circle project. I know I said Atori was a pretty horrible person initially, but Shinohara makes the old Atori look like a saint. Despite repeated attempts to get him to disband the project, and showing evidence for the risks involved and the magnitude of the danger, he just presses forward with whatever will get him results. By the end of it, he’s basically just throwing his authority (or perhaps his wallet) around, making those who dissent resign, threatening family members, etc. He’s basically the epitome of a corrupt businessman. It seems to be commentary on the issues that come with businesses financing scientific research, which results in them having more of a say in the project than the actual scientists who conduct and understand the research subject. It honestly infuriated me. His callous disregard for anyone’s, or even the ENTIRE MULTIVERSE, is deplorable at best. So, fuck Shinohara, he deserves to be cast into the rift between dimensions and driven to insanity.
So now we arrive at the end of the series. While I’m generally happy with the outcome as I was years ago, I realized something I missed the first time I watched it. We only get closure for the children’s story. After getting us emotionally attached to the characters from La’cryma, we don’t really get to find out what happens with them. Like, nothing. It seems like their dimension at least survived, but what about the characters? Did Atori survive or was that indicative of him sacrificing himself for the kids? Where did Karasu go after he and Haruka’s farewell? Tobi seemed to bite the dust, but what about Kosagi? Future Ai? We never get any real closure with this cast.
Then there’s the question of what happens in Haruka’s dimension. What happened with the Magic Circle project? Was it just shut down or put on hold? How did everyone in the town handle all those Shangri’la ships descending upon their town? Did they even have to come to terms with it or did they all forget it happened? And what about Shinohara, that sentient pile of shit? Did he just get off free as a bird? I hope Kouriyama arrested his ass for illegal possession of that firearm, though he deserves worse… And on that note, what happened to him and Uchida? There’s a million questions that could be asked here, but we’re instead given a time skip to show the main cast seemingly following a happy timeline. That’s great, but I could have used more closure, rather than all the secondary characters (and dimensions?) being left in an uncertain state. Almost a quantum state, where everything about them, including their existence, is left uncertain with no one to observe it to grant it permanence. Hmm………..
To just touch on some other, non-plot related elements, I just have to say that the art was cool. The designs and concepts were unique and the art style was great. It may not have been the cleanest of art, but I respect the more free-form drawing style. And this was taken advantage of in a few of the battles, where the gritty and chaotic fighting wasn’t just showed in the action, but also in the gritty and chaotic art style. And the direction for all of these fight scenes was on point, really blowing me away with how intense they were, appropriate for fights of multi-dimensional proportions. And the music. It. Was. EPIC. Like, crazy epic. Like, people fighting for the very existence of their entire universe epic. Hikaru Nanase had beautifully composed pieces that fit so well with the whole series. After watching a bunch of episodes, I’d regularly sit there listening to the soundtrack just because it was so good.
So, what’s the verdict? Does Noein: To Your Other Self hold up? ABSOLUTELY. Arguably, I enjoyed it even more than I did the first time. I fully intend to keep recommending it to everyone. And yes, that means YOU, even if you read this spoiler-filled post. I don’t care that I just spoiled stuff for you, it’s still worth experiencing for yourself. Now to change my desktop wallpaper to something from this series…