Review for Norn9: Complete Collection
I’ve been in two minds about Norn 9 ever since I first got the check discs and did a little reading about it. It’s one of those rare shows that I approach both with a degree of anticipation and dread. It’s a sci-fi show for one thing, which is right up my street. It’s about people with special powers, living on a giant, spherical ship in the sky, which is more city than it is conveyance. But on the other hand it’s the sort of reverse harem show which is targeted at a demographic of which I am not a member. A pretty, but non-descript cipher of a girl, surrounded by elegant, and handsome boys filling all the stereotype boxes is a genre that is usually more appreciated by female anime fans. I just hope that there’s enough sci-fi in Norn 9 to keep me tuned in.
A girl has been alone so long that she can’t even recall her name. But she does remember what a passing traveller once told her, that one day a ship will come for her, that she should get on board, as her ability will be needed. When that day arrives, everything changes, as the Norn is a spectacular ship, a veritable village, a planet in microcosm soaring in the sky. The girl joins two others, and nine boys who each have fantastic powers, and have been gathered by the “World” organisation to keep the peace. But not everything is as it seems...
12 episodes of Norn 9 are presented across 3 DVDs from MVM. As usual, the show is also available on Blu-ray should you wish it.
1. The Ship That Sails in the Sky
3. Sprouting Spring
4. Serenade of the Dawn
5. The Dozing Forest
6. The Gears in Motion
7. A Dream of Reality
8. The World
9. The Truth for Everyone
10. Aion – The Eternity
11. The Reset
12. The New World
This is another Madman re-author, which in this case means stripping out the Sentai trailers and locking the subtitles. In every other respect, the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer should be identical to the Sentai release, progressively encoded NTSC and with all episodes spread across three discs. The image is clear and sharp, with fine consistent colours and smooth playback. Norn 9 is an imaginative and visually striking show, very impressive at first encounter, especially when it comes to the world design and backgrounds. There is a lot of detail here, to the point that you might spot some shimmer on fine detail at the limits of the DVD format. The character designs are elegant and pretty, as you’d expect given the show’s target demographic, but the weakness comes in the limited character animation, which borders on the static at times. But when it comes to the quality of background art, Blu-ray may be the preferable option here.
The sole audio track is the DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with English subtitles locked during playback. It’s perfectly fine, with no distortion or dropouts. The dialogue is clear throughout, with the actors suited to their characters, the subtitles timed accurately and free of typos. The show’s music is grand and theatrical as you might expect from the epic nature of the storyline, although the theme songs aren’t exactly memorable.
The discs boot to static menus.
Disc 1 offers the textless credits, one opening and two closing sequences.
There are so many anime series out there like Norn 9, variable and uneven, with much to criticize and a fair bit to appreciate. The thing is that most such shows start off strongly, and fade towards the end, or complete fall apart. Norn 9 manages to switch it around, presenting a lacklustre, uninspiring, cliché ridden and disappointing series to begin with, only to turn into something quite different by the end, engaging, thoughtful, and fulfilling a brilliant premise that you didn’t even know existed when the show began. Norn 9 went from practical snooze-fest to compulsive viewing by the end. The big question is, are you willing to wait until episode 8, when the switches are all flicked, and the whole point of the story becomes clear?
The turn-off for me is that Norn 9 starts off as very much a reverse harem show, one in the vein of shows like Brothers Conflict, where you have a non-descript, cipher female main character, and several elegant males all conforming to fan friendly stereotypes, and much intense dramatic romantic interludes ensue. You can bet at one point she’ll be pushed against a wall while a guy will lean in with romantic menace to make a point about just how much of a bad boy he really is. There will be a cute young boy, who is too young, but is there for the playful moments. The moody, quiet one, the loud, brash one, the sporty one, the effeminate one...
I certainly was expecting all this with Norn 9, especially as it kicks off with such character overload that I never did get all the minor characters straight in my mind, even after the twelfth episode. But Norn 9 doesn’t really go that far in this direction, certainly the male stereotyping is far less pronounced, even if the characters aren’t all that well developed. There are three girls in the story to begin with, and all of them have fairly well defined relationships with their potential significant others, so it’s less of a harem show than it is one that in the first half explores the tensions in their respective relationships.
The thing is that the story is really ephemeral during the first half of the show. A girl named Koharu is picked up by a massive ship, Norn 9, and she joins several other teenagers with special abilities on its journey. And it’s all tied in with a mission for The World organisation, maintaining world peace. It’s all relationship angst and interpersonal trivialities for the most part, while in the background, little seeds of the story are sown, plot developments will occur. The trouble is that they happen, and are promptly forgotten about. There is an attack on Norn at the end of the first episode, but the attackers soon retreat and are forgotten about for half the run. At the end of the second episode, a boy named Sorata magically appears on Norn, We learn that he’s from the year 2016, while Norn is implausibly drifting in the skies of 1919. Sorata’s consternation is relatively short lived, he’s not too worried about getting back, and he quickly settles in with the others. Koharu’s love interest in the story, Kakeru has a complex about his earring, somehow related to his murdered father, and there turns out to be a traitor on board, who we as viewers know the identity of long before the characters find out. These and other story developments are all as pinpoints of light in a twilight of romantic tedium.
It’s in episode 8 that you realise that these pinpoints are actually stars, it’s in episode 8 that they begin to resolve into constellations, forming a grand night-time vista of narrative. You begin to learn what this story is actually about, the mission of Norn, and the various teenagers with abilities that it has picked up on its travels. You learn about its destination, about the world in which these children live, its past and its future. Norn 9 gets really good for its conclusion, a finale that makes watching the show all worthwhile. You’ll just have to stick it out through seven episodes of gooey-eyed, reverse harem antics before you get to the good stuff.