What’s it about? Nino, a girl who loves singing, made a childhood promise with her first crush Momo and song-composing Yuzu to someday find her voice. The three went their separate ways, but Nino kept her promise and continued to sing. Years later, the three are now high school students, and Nino is drawn into the world of keionbu or band club.
Source: Anime News Network
I go into most reviews cold, but I had already reviewed the first volume of the manga so was very curious about how the anime would handle its weaker elements. From my perspective, adaptations are an opportunity to either improve upon flawed source material or elevate already strong material, with completely faithful adaptations a missed opportunity at best. Which would the Anonymous Noise‘s anime be?
The answer is: a mixed bag. Some positive decisions to make changes, some misguided decisions to stay faithful, some brand new and terrible decisions in their own right, all mashed into an inconsistent, lumpy first episode.
Let’s start with the terrible decisions, get that out of the way: when you animate a manga about music, your adaptation can live or die off your musical choices. Obviously this is a matter of taste, but while Alice is fine a cappella, there is one song that is so shouty it’s cringeworthy. We’ve encountered this before in Beck, where they cast a punk singer to provide a ballad singing voice supposedly beautiful enough to stop a riot. You don’t need a professional singer for band anime – Lynn in last season’s musically competent Fuuka proves that – but you do need songs that aren’t grating and a singing voice with the right quality for them.
Anonymous Noise manages it half the time, with more success when Alice sings with gentle piano accompaniment than with the band itself. Saori Hayama is an excellent and versatile voice actor (heard recently as Shoko in A Silent Voice, Kojuurou in Masamune-kun’s Revenge and Fiine in Izetta the Last Witch, to name just a few) and I respect the vulnerability and humour she gives Alice’s speaking voice, but she may have been miscast for the singing role.
Manga is a wholly visual medium. Transplanting the kinds of big ticket images you find in two-page spreads of shojo manga works best if they are either toned down to fit in with their more naturalistic surroundings, or played up to become more psychological representation than literal action. Anonymous Noise has this tendency to take dramatic images of Alice singing which worked perfectly well within a still, silent manga and try to shoehorn them into a moving, audible, colourful anime without adjustment.
Unfortunately, this continues even in lower-key moments, where replicating a scene exactly as it appears in the manga just feels awkward and unnatural.
You don’t need to have read the manga to be aware of these moments; the tone suddenly shifts to something more jarring, then tries to pick up with the more naturalistic tone it dropped a moment earlier. There are skilful ways to do this; Anonymous Noise does not show that level of skill.
An area where it fares much better is with story and pacing. The manga is weighed down by an overly-long and unnecessarily detailed prologue of Alice’s childhood encounters with Momo and Yuzu. This first episode cuts straight to the high school years that will see them reunited, and the writers do a great job assessing how much information viewers actually need to be able to invest in the characters at this stage then drip-feeding it at appropriate times. This may sound obvious, but the multi-episode childhood flashback early in the series of Chihayafuru serves as an example of the wrong decision they could have made. Here’s hoping they continue to drip feed and don’t fall into the Chihayafuru trap of sidelining multiple episodes to pure exposition.
Speaking of which, Chihayafuru is probably the closest comparison to how Anonymous Noise functions as a story. At its core, it seems to be a love triangle between one extremely focused girl and the childhood friends she drifted away from, brought back together by a common interest. Anyone expecting Nana is likely to be disappointed, but anyone who enjoyed Chihayafuru may find enough of value to be able to overlook all the points I’ve mentioned above.
The characters are not yet likeable, but they are raw and their potential intriguing. Alice’s complete disinterest in making friends is almost refreshing, wearing a mask and headphones as a protective barrier from other people. She is comfortable in social situations, but has tunnel vision for her love of singing and yearning to find her childhood friends. That last part may become a Bechdel problem, but if it follows the Chihayafuru‘s template we could see her learn to widen the tunnel vision and value other women and female friendship as the cast expands.
We see little of the two love interests at this point, just enough to know that Yuzu is short, prickly and defensive, while Momo is tall, confident and likes terrible puns. Yuzu is a complicated character at this point, simultaneously pushing Alice away while feeling fiercely possessive over her and her voice. How toxic is this going to get? It’s hard to tell, but with 12 volumes of manga out and counting there’s plenty of time for healthy character development.
The potential for character development and interactions between the three is really what will pull you in at this point. If you don’t like the love triangle device and aren’t taken by any of the leads at this point it may be one to hold off on until word of mouth travels later in the season.