The Best Anime You’ve Never Watched: Noein

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There are a lot of big anime out there, some of which are utterly fantastic. You’ve got the classic shonen, like One Piece, Naruto, and Dragon Ball, and some of the more edgy classics like Death Note and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, but that’s not all there is to explore.

Smaller anime are a dime a dozen, with services like Crunchyroll packed with thousands of series at your fingertips. Every now and then, we like to shine a spotlight on these smaller anime, with a feature exploring an anime you’ve probably never watched, and in a lot of cases, probably never even heard of.

We’re kicking things off with Noein: To Your Other Self, a 24-episode series that first aired in Japan in 2005. It’s a strange, stunning series that’s as experimental as it is beautiful. The series was developed by Satelight and headed up by Kazuki Akane, who also worked on a bunch of Mobile Suit Gundam series, Ergo Proxy (something we hope to cover in the future), Code Geass: Akito the Exiled, and so much more.

It’s hard to pin down exactly what genre Noein is. Wikipedia calls it simply “science fiction” which, yeah, that’s a fair assessment. There are certainly a bunch of science fiction elements to it, with time travel, alternate dimensions, and some big sci-fi dystopia vibes to it. It’s also got a little bit of slice of life, a small touch of shonen, and even a bit of isekai thrown in, just for good measure.

Noein focuses on the story of a girl named Haruka, a 12-year-old with a normal life, normal friends, and a bit of a crush on a boy named Yu. One day, when Haruka and her friends go searching for ghosts and other supernatural beings, they’re accosted by a group of shadowy soldiers with incredible abilities. Just as they’re about to be attacked, a mysterious necklace appears around Haruka’s neck, which wards off the shadowy figures but can’t undo the emotional toil that Haruka and Yu faced.

It turns out these figures were a bunch of guys from an alternate dimension, La’cryma, which is one possible future of Haruka’s dimension. The residents of La’cryma are in a violent war against another dimension, Shangri-La, and they’re searching for a once-in-a-dimension savior, the Dragon Torque, to stop the war and prevent the timeline they’re currently in. As you may have guessed, Haruka with her magical necklace is the Dragon Torque.

I won’t go into any more details about the story – I couldn’t do a better job of telling it than the anime does – but I will gladly tell you why I adore it so much. It really comes down to two major aspects: the storytelling, and the art style.

I’ll start with the art style. When you start watching the first episode, it looks like just about any other anime from the mid-2000s, although it’s gorgeous in HD and punches well above its weight for what was surely a very constrained budget. When the shadowy figures turn up though, and universes start spilling into each other, everything changes.

What was once a simple, cutesy art style becomes ravaged with deep reds, harsh outlines, and sharp, but fluid, animation. It’s a sight to behold, something so bold and so different that you’d think it would clash, but its boldness is what makes it work. Where most directors would be hesitant to mix and match art in such a way, Akane leans into it, pushing boundaries and experimenting with the limits of animation.

It gets even better in later episodes, with one spectacular fight scene about halfway through the series really driving home the point. It’s a clash between two close friends, almost brothers, and when they strike each other the color and detail is all stripped away, leaving an almost pencil sketch-like aesthetic to the scene. It’s one of the most striking scenes in all of anime, something that through art style alone draws out the raw emotion that the characters are feeling. There’s no space left for color or detail, just the anguish of two friends who have to do the unthinkable.

Noein's use of color and texture to display emotion is almost unmatched to this day. <p>Satelight</p>
Noein's use of color and texture to display emotion is almost unmatched to this day.


The other aspect is the storytelling. Like a lot of Noein, it’s experimental, quite often non-linear, and a real masterclass in showing, rather than telling. Noein uses context as a scalpel, not a chainsaw, making fine incisions into your psyche to give you exactly as much information as you need, and not a single inkling more.

With every episode, you’ll get answers, but you’ll also be given so many more questions. In a lot of anime, that can get a bit frustrating, but with Noein it feels so incredibly refreshing, because you’re not missing any information. The show isn’t hiding anything from you, all the puzzle pieces are there, you just haven’t put them together yet.

That’s what I mean about context. Imagine you’ve never done or even seen a jigsaw puzzle before. You get handed this big box full of pieces, and you have to figure out what to do. The more you start playing with those pieces, the more you start to figure out how it all works. Eventually, you start learning little strategies, like doing the edge pieces first and grouping pieces up by color and texture. Familiarity breeds context, and context breeds understanding. That’s the core philosophy of Noein’s storytelling, and it sticks the landing better than any other anime that tries to do something halfway similar.

Noein: To Your Other Self is nothing short of a masterpiece in execution. If you’re an artist, a writer, or a creative of any kind, you owe it to yourself to watch Noein, I absolutely promise it will give you a new lease on creativity as a whole.

Noein is currently available to watch on Crunchyroll — though it’s worth noting that it tends to come and go from time to time. It’s there now, but it might not be tomorrow, so you’ll want to get in sooner rather than later.