So Are Vampires Who Protect Humans Just the Norm Now?
I love a good vampire story. The Dracula mini-series on Netflix was pretty awesome to watch and I’ve long been a fan of Buffy. Even spoofs such as Dracula: Dead and Loving It and the more recent Lesbian Vampire Killers manage to charm me despite my usual aversion to obvious humour. With that said, I wanted to like Noblesse. I really did. And ultimately it was watchable enough. However, much like the 30 minute OVA, Awakening, I was left feeling just a bit disappointed overall by what Noblesse didn’t do.
Noblesse, according to MAL at least, is the story of Raizel who has woken up from a 820 year slumber and is the titular Noblesse (though what that means you need to wait most of the series to find out and even then it is a bit fuzzy). Naturally he’s attending high school in Japan but there’s a secret organisation called Union who is causing issues around him. The problem with that is to understand why Union are continuing to be involved you kind of need to have watched Awakening and even then, it isn’t as though you get much in the way of their motives. It also doesn’t help that Union’s involvement really only acts as a catalyst for action in the first 7 episodes, with modified humans apparently being a big deal, and then that arc kind of resolves and we move on to an arc focused pretty much exclusively on the Noble vampires and their issues with Raizel and the modified humans, while they still appear in the story, are pretty much side-lined.
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The school element and Raizel’s school friends are kind of shoved into the first of these arcs, with his two human friends somehow managing to befriend members of Union by sheer coincidence and then ending up being designated damsel’s-in-distress, if for no other reason than Raizel’s housemate and a noble vampire being kidnapped wasn’t sufficient cause for Raizel to actually get his power out.
Actually, this story arc is reasonable except that they set it up in the first three episodes, leaving out several pertinent back story points that you either know already or you just kind of have to nod along with what they are saying, they give us no time to really care about the Union team who largely consist of psychos (and how do we know they are psycho – one of them licks blood off his blade as an introduction), and even the relationships between Raizel, the humans, and the noble vampires who have shown up have zero time to really connect for the audience, before we are launched into what ends up being essentially a three episode action sequence.
Don’t get me wrong, the action is pretty solid and some of these characters have some awesome powers. Now if only the visuals didn’t look like something escaped from the late 90’s/early 2000’s era and they might have been able to sell this show on the action alone.
In terms of getting to know the characters, it doesn’t help that all the vampire type characters, with the exception of Regis who seems to be in perpetual pout mode, seem to be having a context to see who can sound the most bored and disinterested. I kind of get they are trying to distinguish the long lived and disconnected vampires from the short lived and more capricious humans, but particularly in the second arc where the majority of characters are vampires, it quickly becomes tedious as you really just want the characters to actually sound like they in any way care about the outcome. Actually, I’ll take that back. The Lord of the vampires also sounds like a petulant child and her motive is suitably lame.
So now that I’ve essentially bashed the anime to pieces, why did I say it is watchable?
Because for everything wrong with Noblesse, there are hints of a somewhat more brilliant show buried here. Raizel, despite being the King of the bored sounding characters, actually does a brilliant job of balancing detached ancient vampire with a character who seems to genuinely want to reconnect with the world. Episode 1 gave me a brilliant laugh when Raizel asks Frankenstein to get him a phone without actually saying that he wanted one but describing the functions of it in abstract detail. His habit of watching his human friends go about their business, not really connected but clearly fascinated, works as do his few attempts to step into their world that don’t go so well (such as the basketball game and Raizel’s attempt at making a paper airplane). Throw in the fight sequence at the end of both arc 1 and 2 and realising Raizel is a really awesome guy and his character really just deserved a much better anime.
The other shining moment really comes from Frankenstein’s back story. Usually giving a supporting character a two episode flash back would be a point against a series, but in this case, Frankenstein’s meeting with Raizel that changed both their paths and really the path of all the Nobles actually warranted the two episodes given to it. It also helped that his backstory was pretty interesting and that his was a character I’d been wanting to know more about from the beginning. It felt really satisfying.
One flaw that kind of occurred to me toward the end was the whole 800 years in a coffin thing. The flashback really didn’t look like it took place 800 years ago and yet Raizel was there, pre-coffin. I mean if you look up European fashion from 1100 – 1400 which is the era it should be, not one character even vaguely comes close. Admittedly, they live in a fictional kingdom ruled by a vampire lord so historical accuracy isn’t that important, but it really feels like it would have made more sense for Raizel to have only been in the coffin a couple of hundred years. It might ultimately be a minor point for some people, but it was enough for me to be broken out of suspension of disbelief during a few key moments of the series.
Ultimately, Noblesse is watchable. You get two story arcs, both kind of self-contained though you definitely need to watch Awakening first, and at least the series feels ended even though clearly there could be more added if they ever decided to make a sequel. The fights, once they get going, are entertaining enough, despite not visually being all that flashy and enough of the characters leave an impression even if there are a few too many throw away ones. Then again, if like most anime fans you have a watch list that’s starting to overrun your desk, it would make sense if Noblesse wasn’t your first pick. There’s a lot better out there. Also a lot worse which is worth keeping in mind.
Images used for review from: Noblesse. Dir. S Tada. Production I.G. 2020.
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