Director: Yasutaka Yamamoto
Studio: Production IG
Streaming on: Crunchyroll
I have had a rocky relationship with Crunchyroll’s originals, and more specifically, the adaptations of Webtoon manhwa. Tower of God dropped this spring, and while its lore and worldbuilding were impressive, it didn’t quite live up to the monumental hype associated with it. Still, it was a solid show, and I’ll certainly be tuning in to any future installments. Then came The God of High School, where the cracks in the Webtoon adaptation style began to show. I’ve already written about it at length here, but the gist of their problems were adapting much more of their source material than they had the runtime for, resulting in a rushed project that dropped continuity and development in favor of just pushing the series out in time.
So Noblesse feels as though it is Webtoon and Crunchyroll’s last shot to get their claws into the anime market, and I curbed my expectations both after the finale of GOH left me whelmed and I read the synopsis. Vampire fiction is rarely the peak of art, much less an immortal OP vampire who decides his way to catch up with the modern world is to attend high school. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, and while I’m a sucker for classic trope-y fiction, I reeled in my hopes that Noblesse would buck the trend set by its predecessor. Still, I can never go wrong with a show comprised solely of pretty anime boys, and Production IG is usually solid, so I gave it a shot. I mean, I only have a 50+ show backlog, so why not distract myself with more seasonal fare?
And upon turning on the first episode, I turned it off in about ten minutes. It was confusing, failed to grab my interest, and just about fed up. It was not until looking at the threads of seasonal shows on r/anime that I found out something that the marketing for this show had completely failed to communicate; there’s an OVA. They released a 30 minute episode 0 to Noblesse in 2016, and despite seeing advertisement for the month before its release, including a whole pizza promotion, they never mentioned that to understand the show, you have to watch a separately labeled episode. I understand that the demand for anime marketed with pizza has been low since Code Geass went off air, but that is some basic information you need to put at the forefront of all your ads.
The series basically demands that you watch Noblesse: Awakening, before starting the show proper. There’s significant information about every character in Awakening, and Crunchyroll doesn’t include it in the episode listing or mention it in the description, pop-up internet ads, or even the trending tab on Twitter that they bought out. This is essential viewing, and they don’t even tell you it exists. How much research do I have to do before I can start a show? It wouldn’t be so egregious if it weren’t just them shooting themselves in the foot. I would have dropped this show immediately if not for discovering this.
If I can critique the actual show, I think it possesses the most generically ‘anime’ aesthetic of the Webtoon three. Still, it flows nicely even if it lacks a lot of individual identity, and I think any show about vampires should have as well animated of blood as Noblesse. The action is clear and concise, and the character designs are for the most part memorable and communicative. I think they usually land more on the side of safe than sorry, but I understand that they’re trying to go for a demographic.
I like a lot of the characters, particularly M-21. I think of the main cast that he has the most realized motivations, while the writing is really holding back on the others. I think Raizel is an empty shell, and that’s purposeful, but he gets a handful of cute character moments with Frankenstein and his classmates, so it appears that it won’t stay that way for long.
The story is intriguing, setting the stage for a proxy war between the vampire nobles and the Union, but it appears to be in the very early stages. I’m glad that they aren’t showing every card in their hand in the first episode, as Tower of God and the God of High School both suffered from inconsistent pace. The high school elements are light-hearted and fun, even if they have to lean into the well-worn themes of every anime that takes place in a high school (literally all of them). It makes for an experience that is pleasant but empty, like potato chips.
Overall, the idea of having an OVA in front of your show and neglecting to mention it, if not outright hiding it, is a bad one. Noblesse doesn’t come out swinging like its two brothers, but they have also taught me the value of a bit of restraint. Noblesse is just empty calories so far, and while I’m hoping it will prove to be the best of the Webtoon pack, right now it’s an enjoyable 20 minutes of my week. 5/10