Finding my stride with sci-fi josei– commentary on “Norn9: Norn + Nonette” (anime, sub)

“How they choose to exercise their power could be the greatest disaster a world might know OR its greatest salvation.”

Norn9 is very good, even though I didn’t think it would be. Hear me out, guys.

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I found the 12 (technically 13) episode “Norn9: Norn + Nonette” anime ages ago while discovering both the nature of reverse harem and that I was a big fan of the subgenre, but I didn’t watch it for reasons which, in retrospect, seem a little short-sighted. Norn9 is an otome-based, sci-fi inspired anime that—while technically reverse harem—features 3 lead female protagonists each with their own personality and love stories. I passed it up because, in addition to the uniforms leading me to believe the main characters were in high school (I’ve had enough of that!!) and online plot synopses implying the MC was an elementary-aged schoolboy, I thought it would be too sci-fi and wouldn’t be reverse harem enough.

Yeah, I know the last bits are silly. You can laugh if you want.

Anyway, I passed on the anime and by extension the game (“Norn9: Var Commons”), though as I ran out of media to consume, Norn9 continued to feature heavily in my search results. I ignored it, looking into it briefly perhaps twice more and each time coming to this same conclusion. I honestly can’t tell you what made me finally decide to watch it aside from the rapidly evaporating pool of available titles in the otome-based reverse harem subgenre and my new HiDive subscription (#worthit).

But oh, anime compatriots, I’m so glad I did.

To clarify, “Norn9: Var Commons” (the game) is a separate beast from “Norn9: Norn + Nonette” (the anime), and so for the purposes of this commentary, our references to Norn9 will be indicative of the anime only.

The plot synopses available online (think MAL, for example) are terribly misleading in their anime description (though their description may be more true of the game?). Because of this, I’d like to provide my own:

A naive, innocent, amnesiac, orphaned, ostercaised girl (That’s a lot of adjectives.) with incredible destructive power takes the advice of a traveling stranger. He advises her that, when the time is right, she is to dawn a strange uniform and ready herself for a spaceship that will present itself in the spring of her 17th year. In doing so, she will no longer be cursed to a life of solitude because her mysterious power will be of monumental use.

The time arrives, and the girl is thrust into new experiences, meeting fellows who share her proficiency with strange powers and who are used by a mysterious organization or entity called “The World” for reasons heretofore not fully known. These young adults (aged 17-25), while attempting to navigate their own lives and needs, have a greater responsibility to the world itself. How they choose to exercise their power could be the greatest disaster a world might know OR its greatest salvation.

(And yes, there is a schoolboy character is in the anime for plot reasons, but while he’s probably more important in the game, he’s not the MC of the anime, MAL. In fact, the aforementioned nameless girl isn’t even the only MC. Sheesh.)

Before we get into the more standard commentary, I want to comment on its genre specificity, what that means for the title’s plot/characters, and the implications these things have on the game.

I was correct in my assumption that Norn9 wouldn’t be the most “reverse harem of reverse harems,” but it was due in large part to this that I found it a refreshing addition to the subgenre. I mean, it wasn’t so trope that I felt the need to assign characters a bishounen level, and that says a lot. I’m not normally a fan of science fiction, but the sci-fi elements only served to enhance the title when used properly in conjunction with the fantasy, action, period, and romance elements. Yes, that’s right–period elements! You’re reading about a sci-fi anime that takes place in the past WITHOUT BEING STEAMPUNK. How often do you see a sci-fi set in the past that isn’t steampunk? Norn9 is just that, and it occasionally throws in that appropriate time-period feel without sacrificing its overall exceptionally modern feel. It’s also a josei, a genre not usually combined with this number of fantasy elements, and I adore seeing adult’s relationships portrayed on screen (shoujo is known for its romances’ fantastical natures). I mean—and I say this very generally—not every relationship in life works out the way we’d planned, and josei (unlike its little sister, shoujo) knows that very well.

I recorded a post that will be up tomorrow in which I talk about a different otome-based anime and touch upon many of the “pitfalls of the genre,” but it’s a simple fact that many anime based on other media (manga, otome, RPG, etc.) is done partly for advertisement purposes. For an anime to be a successful advertisement for a game, it has to walk a fine line between engaging its viewers and presenting its content while still holding its most powerful messages firmly in reserve. After all, if an otome-based anime fully explored every theme and world/character background present in the game, far fewer people would play it.

Having said that, you should know that the best otome games have profound contemplations (see here for a great example), so their anime when done well hints at these contemplations in ways that straddle that advertisement line properly. Norn9 does this well, and “Code Realize ~ Guardian of Rebirth” does it very poorly (but that’s a discussion for another day).

“Collar x Malice” (game) asks, “What does justice mean to you?” “Code Realize ~ Guardian of Rebirth” (game) asks too many questions regarding God, religion, science, humanity, and morality to fully mention. Themes hinted at by Norn9 include:

  • To be lonely, you must not have always been alone.  Discussions on the nature of solitude and lonliness.
  • The power of romantic love does not negate every other attachment in someone’s heart. While to love and lose is difficult, it does not dictate the sacrifice of every other love for its preservation. Romantic love WANTS other loving attachments to flourish even after it’s gone. (I am so excited to see this played out in the game as it was so explicit in the anime.)
  • Explorations of man’s reasonings for playing God and the ends they meet, as well as the nature of and relationships between humanity, machinery, and intelligence.

Moving on to more general musings, Norn9 has lovely art and character design. It doesn’t suffer “derpy background character face” syndrome to my notice, and the character uniforms for the men are exceptional even if the ones for women remind me far too much of school uniforms. I think the various color palettes supported the tones of the anime rather than detracting from them and were all appropriately integrated while managing to maintain the anime’s overall visually bright feel.

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Following up, the episodic pacing seems well and good; never did I feel the need to skip episodes, and while I didn’t feel the need to take breaks (as proved by the fact I watched the whole thing in two days), your own viewership might be significantly different, so I encourage you to let me know how you felt about it. In addition, the anime’s initial emphasis on the girl I mentioned in the plot synopsis (her name is Koharu, btw) gave the show a great starting off point and enough subtle focus to form a cohesive narrative while still letting other characters shine. It was fantastically contrived and fitted within the game’s framing, clearly not something they could do within traditional RH parameters.

If you’ve seen Norn9, what did you think? If you haven’t, do you plan to? Do you have any RH josei to recommend me? What’s more, have you played the game?? No spoilers please, but let me know in the comments below! ❤

Love, Peace, Geese,

~Shoujo

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