Noblesse – Mid Season Anime Review
Synopsis: Raizel awakens from his 820-year slumber. He holds the special title of Noblesse, a pure-blooded Noble and protector of all other Nobles. In an attempt to protect Raizel, his servant Frankenstein enrolls him at Ye Ran High School, where Raizel learns the simple and quotidian routines of the human world through his classmates. However, the Union, a secret society plotting to take over the world, dispatches modified humans and gradually encroaches on Raizel’s life, causing him to wield his mighty power to protect those around him… (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Mid Season (6 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
While Noblesse may be the third, big, Webtoon/Korean Manhwa adaptation, it actually shares a lot in common with traditional/typical shonen anime. Raizel, our Vampire waking from a 820 year cat nap, shares the same kind of overpowered, never going to be defeated, energy a lot of Shonen heroes display in their early introductions. Throw in the shonen propensity for devoting half an episode to comic relief, a cast of supporting characters that never stops growing, redemption for villains, as well as city wrecking action, and it’s clear Noblesse has taken quite a bit of influence from Japanese Anime and Manga’s most popular genre. But Noblesse isn’t just monkey seeing monkey doing, rather the series decides to solve the lack of tension surrounding whether Raizel can even be defeated in a rather unique way; what if the majority of the story’s focus was on the characters surrounding Raizel? It’s an interesting approach, but one the series doesn’t successfully manage to pull off, leaving Noblesse to feel half-baked.
Make no mistake, Raizel is who this whole story is centered around. It’s his awakening, and attempts to adjust to the modern world, that form the inciting incident and backbone to Noblesse’ ongoing story. But the majority of the show’s focus isn’t on him at all. Rather we spend much of our time following around his schoolmates, Han and Woo, or M-21, a superpowered test subject freed from the control of the evil ‘Union.’ There’s also Seira and Regis, two Vampires who sense disturbances in the area, and join the school in search of explanation. It’s these supporting characters who actually end up becoming Noblesse’ primary ensemble cast. These characters, their actions, and the events that end up targeting them, are how the whole story moves forward. In fact, don’t expect Raizel to add much to his own series. His presence is mostly part of an ongoing gag about his obsession with Ramen, or to be the ringer who steps in to finish off the bad guys when everyone else has finally hit their limit.
The ensemble cast approach is intriguing, and a potentially fresh take on how to approach the typical shonen/anime trope of an overpowered lead character. Heck, One-Punch Man is basically doing he same thing! Unfortunately, Noblesse is too plot and comic relief heavy to truly make this work. We’re either goofing off with frivolous light-hearted comedy or barreling forward with the main narrative. The main thrust of Noblesse’s first six episodes is on a Super Powered Union Strike Force, lead by the evil Kranz. Their job is to learn what happened to M-21 and his fellow test subjects. With our characters trapped between tension defusing comedy (which the series honestly spends far too much time on) and plot progression, there’s hardly any time to develop our lead cast. Thus, everyone ends up with bog-standard, singular personality traits to help audiences easily grasp who each character is. Han is the tough red-head high school brawler who’s totally outmatched in a world of Vampires and super powered monsters. Woo is the typical nerdy geek, with good hacking skills. M-21 is the stalwart, stand off-ish, heart of gold hero type, Regis the jealous, stand off-ish rival, and Seira the quiet but hot solo female character (We’re not exactly bursting forth with female representation here.) No one feels deeper than that, and that makes it difficult to really care what happens to any of them, especially as even if the focus is on these characters, we know the second things get too hot that Raizel will swoop in and save the day.
The biggest issue with any of these characters is that we don’t know what drives them. What do they want in life? Any good, relatable character has a personal goal. Just look at One Piece, or Naruto, where so many of the characters have well defined goals that dictate their actions. Raizel’s only goal, best I can gather, is to enjoy life in the human world and eat many flavors of Ramen. Not exactly an edge of your seat kind of thing. The only character who actually seems to have any kind of drive is M-21. It’s no wonder he then feels like the most compelling character in the show, because his frustration with his own powerlessness, and desire to be able to protect others, immediately sets him as someone with a goal, a goal that has many obstacles awaiting him. Maybe M-21’s quest for strength would be enough, if he wasn’t sharing the screen time so equally with so many other lame ducks. As it stands though, the series’ attention is so divided between all these characters, so many of them lacking a clear and defined goal, that often the show can feel aimless or even lifeless; as if we’re just moving through story beat after beat like some kind of zombie going through the motions.
In truth, much of the story just happens to these characters. Very rarely do any of them drive the narrative. Often instead it’s them going about their day to day and then trouble strikes, making the whole cast feel quite passive. Entertainment can make do with passive leads, but even the most passive characters have to eventually take steps to defend themselves or confront the villains of the narrative. And what little of that Noblesse does feels like too little too late.
Another thing that doesn’t help is how weak the villains are. For as menacing as Kranz and his team are meant to be, two are reluctant baddies, and the rest are so under uninformed on the situation that they seem laughably ill-prepared to be going up against a monstrously powerful character like Raizel. It’s a shame too, as Noblesse takes a long time to build up to proper anime action. And what we get at the end of the wait doesn’t feel like it was worth waiting for. Well, save for the animation. There’s some pretty cool looking smoke effects. Otherwise, expect to see a bit of action dedicated to making Kranz and Co. seem insurmountably dangerous, before we then do a full 180 with Raizel taking this crew out like they were never anything but starter villains.
I think though, at the heart of it, Noblesse’ core issue is rushing to hit certain story beats before we’ve had proper time to familiarize ourselves with this ensemble cast. If we’re going to be following Raizel and his entourage, we really need a chance to fall in love with each. That means the narrative needed to be drawn out a little longer, with a couple one off stories peppered about to allow M-21, Han, Woo, Regis and Co. to shine. Sure we get some of that with the over abundance of Comic relief, but really we need more scenarios that allow each character to display multiple facets to their personality. Without that, well, you get this mess.
With Noblesse being Crunchyroll’s third Webtoon original production I’m starting to have serious doubts about what Webtoons have to offer the anime fandom. Noblesse, Tower of God, and God of High School are all supposed to have been Webtoon’s absolute cream of the crop. Yet, I feel as if God of High School is the only one with any real quality to it, and a lot of that has to do with the sheer talent behind the visual production, and less so the original manwha’s writing. Right now I shudder to think what Webtoon has to offer after these three, because if this is the best, I’d hate to see the supposedly mediocre titles. As it stands Noblesse isn’t awful, but it really is half-baked. If you’re not big on vampires, or hard up for anime fantasy action, I’d say Noblesse isn’t going to be something you shouldn’t feel too bad about missing out on.
Noblesse is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.com