Mireille is a chilly French hitwoman who one day receives a cryptic email: "Make a pilgrimage for the past with me." She travels to Japan and meets an amnesiac schoolgirl called Kirika, who shows her a pocketwatch with a mysterious connection to Mireille's childhood. Unfortunately neither of them know exactly what. Together they return to Paris to commit murder for money and try to find out about their forgotten pasts. Once that's resolved, Mireille's promised to kill Kirika.
Noir hooked me almost against my will. You see, I hate the "professional assassin" genre. 'Twas Sinister Dexter in 2000AD that did it. Firstly, in my opinion even serial killers are less repellent than hit men. Insanity is a better justification for murder than money. Secondly, I don't buy the way in which such stories usually show the assassin's targets as scumbags who deserve it. Considering the kind of person who'd hire a hit man in the first place, I think assassins would quite often be murdering innocents rather than slaying the guilty. Thirdly, I dislike attempts to make these people look cool. I still want to see 2000AD publish a Sinister Dexter story in which they're hired to slit the throats of babies and cheerfully go through with it.
I didn't want to like Noir, but oddly what appeals to me is the fact that it doesn't seem particularly interested in being liked. It's charmless and humourless, with our heroines being a pretty unlikeable pair of stone killers. They murder huge numbers of people without even being particularly interested in their targets beyond the simple mechanics of how to get bullets into their skulls. If you pay them, they'll whack anyone. These may sound like unpromising qualities for the lead characters of a 26-episode series, but at least it makes them honest. They don't mess around. They take things seriously and always aim straight for the heart of the problem, whether it's their latest job or unresolved personal matters.
Above all, this show has style. It makes good use of its French setting, always maintains utter confidence in itself even when its action is completely ridiculous and has plenty of atmosphere and haunting music. Noir is never camp or silly, even when by any sensible measure it should be. It's dark and always in complete control of itself. One particularly interesting example is its lack of blood, which should have been absurd but somehow works in the context of the show's cold ascetic feel. The show was originally broadcast in Japan on Tokyo TV where they couldn't show explicit gore, but fans assumed that blood would be added for the DVD release. It wasn't.
I like Noir's characterisation. It's chilly but heartfelt. I admire the story's honesty in not trying to portray its heroines as female Robin Hoods or anything like that. I'm particularly boggled by their bizarre agreement o' death, in which Mireille is completely open about intending to kill Kirika as soon as she stops being useful. No less importantly, the action is well handled. It's noticeable that the girls' enemies tend to use something unnecessarily complicated (e.g. knife, garotte) at crucial moments when a gun would be the obvious weapon and thus get themselves killed, but this isn't a show to be taken too literally. It's stylish and stylised. Once I'd got my head around that, this was good dark stuff that kept me watching. I haven't yet praised the music enough, incidentally. It's a huge part (possibly even the most important single element) of the show's success, adding French flavour both when being lilting and melancholic or when pumping it up with techno for the action.
Oh, and the show has a killer ending. No pun intended...