Being one of the new reviewers for UK Anime Network I was keen to make a good impression, so volunteered to take a look at this 2016 effort from Kinema Citrus (Black Bullet, Barakamon). As it had yet to be picked up by one of my fellow contributors. After sitting through all twelve episodes of this show I can now see why it had been left languishing…
Norn9 follows a group of so called “ability users” travelling around on the titular ship Norn, as they head to some unspecified destination and look pretty while doing so. We are introduced to our 'heros' via a young woman - who we eventually discover is called Koharu - as she is recruited by the group. This leads us to time travel, as a seemingly malevolent crew of rogues chase down the Norn - giving us occasional displays of the teams abilities as they battle to… No, wait, that’s another show. Norn9 isn't really interested in the sci-fi world it sets up - what it’s really about is romance. Not real romance, but the clichéd, melodramatic over the top drivel which anime, at its worst, can produce. If you like that kind of thing then you are in for a real treat. Any one coming to this with expectations of action and adventure should run away now, because the show only touches on that aspect and even then in a deeply unsatisfying way.
To cut straight to the point: The biggest issue with this show is all of the wasted potential it has. The initial set up is interesting, despite it quickly becoming clear that the series was not going to focus on the super powered stuff, but rather the aforementioned romantic aspects. We get a big cast with lots of scope for interesting stories, and a few interesting mysteries are introduced. However, these are all squandered in the name of soppy, badly written, melodrama and slice of life antics that send the viewer to sleep. The main cast’s abilities are very ill-defined, and hardly used for various stupid reasons (that make no sense if you think about them for more than two seconds). There are germs of decent ideas here, but they get crushed under the blandness and bad writing. It’s almost as if the writers were uninterested in the property, and only working on it for the pay check. There is a sort of plot to follow, but after being introduced in the first two episodes it’s largely forgotten about. The series proceeds right up until the final four episodes with barely a mention, though to be honest it was never that interesting in the first place.
The cast is the sort of group whose names slide out of your mind after shortly each episode finishes. They do not have characterisations as such, but rather a trait they scream out every so often to help identify them. This extends to the character designs, particularly for the boys in the cast, who I can only refer to by their hair colour - so forgettable are they. Not that the females come off much better, they have more unique looks, but tend to be reduced to standing around waiting for the men to be heroic and save them or doing bafflingly stupid things (the ship is being attacked – let's run out into danger and check on a tree!). Overall the cast are reduced to following dull character arcs, if they are lucky enough to get one, and making anguished decelerations of love every now and again. There is not one member of the cast who is relatable or who could function as an even remotely compelling lead, leaving the viewer adrift in a sea of the most boring super powered individuals imaginable.
That said, the animation does look good for the most part, with the environments in particular standing out. The picture quality on the DVD copies I received for review was good, but if you have to buy I would expect the Bu-ray would be the better option to get the most out of the visuals, if nothing else. Though in all honesty I'm not sure who this title is for. There are half a dozen other shows out there now that do what Norn9 tries to do much better and manages to be entertaining at the same time (see Fruits Basket).