Preview: ‘Noah’s Notes’

This article was originally posted on OTAQUEST, 30/4/2018.

Japan can be known for its oddball genre mashups, but rarely do they work as good as they do in Shonen Jump’s latest manga series Noah’s Notes.

Beginning serialization in Weekly Shonen Jump several weeks ago, Haruto Ikezawa’s latest manga series Noah’s Notes follows enigmatic archaeologist Professor Noah Minami Umberbach and unwitting, Gyaru Japanese high school student Mirai Kotobuki. When she discovers a strange-looking rock and uploads a picture of it to social media, her life is turned upside down as she is thrust into a world of peril, mystery and adventure – and she might even learn a thing or two from the Professor along the way.

But it’s far from your average globe-trotting adventure story — instead of resolving mysteries related to the past, the pair actually utilizes archaeology to solve a mystery related to the future, a mystery to the tune of the imminent destruction of humankind. Underneath the earth and in the depths of catacombs lie relics from another era of humanity far before our own, but is almost the same in terms of technology and design. This is because human civilization has actually ‘looped,’ being completely destroyed by an unknown phenomenon 100,000 years ago, before rebuilding itself. In uncovering relics called ‘notes’ from these previous loops, the pair hopes to figure out what causes this cyclical destruction and hopefully stop it from happening again.

From this, it’s easy to see the series’ Lovecraftian influence. H. P. Lovecraft’s world was also one where humanity was preceded by an older civilization, mainly that of the Old Ones, and that terrifying things lay beneath our feet and contained within forbidden tomes of knowledge. Whereas Noah’s Notes has yet to introduce anything like Cthulu, it certainly deals with the same kind of concepts, at least in its fictional history. The Indiana Jones influence is equally obvious when you look at the main duo. Although Noah himself is perhaps more rambunctious and destructive than Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr., the idea of a swashbuckling archaeologist is certainly something that the two series share. You could also compare him to other Indiana Jones alumni such as Nathan Drake and Professor Layton.

Nevertheless, as a huge fan of both influences, I was immediately drawn into the story and have yet to be disappointed by it. I’m sure if you share my sensibilities, you’ll enjoy it too, but in case you don’t, let’s dive into what exactly makes the series so great.

Firstly, Mirai and Noah’s dynamic is the heart and soul of the series. Mirai is more than just a simple point of reference for the reader into Noah’s world of mystery and archaeology, but his foil as well – her reactions and quips bring out the best in his character, and her disinterest in the past contrasts with Noah’s love for it. Plus, Noah’s teacher-like role to Mirai makes for some tough love, but heartwarming appreciation once he sees his student has understood his lesson as to the value of history.

The world in which this series takes place is also immediately engaging, and not just because of the Lovecraftian primordial history that the series explores in its initial chapters. It’s in the second arc, when the duo head to Italy, that the true, international nature of the story becomes apparent. Although I’m sure basing the story solely in Japan could be very interesting, on the other hand not limiting the story to one locale gives it so much more freedom and scope. That scope is, in turn, being constantly expanded as we are introduced to a wider, more varied set of characters, from our antagonists the Knights Templar (as if it wasn’t Indiana Jones enough) to Noah’s academic peers (who are also adventurers, obviously.)

What’s more is that the overall plot of the series, finding out how humanity was destroyed in the previous ‘loop’ and how our protagonists can avert it, is an excellent one. In concept, it’s so unique and fascinating that I’m surprised no other series have utilized it before, at least in manga form. Although it might be a bit early to cast judgment, the plot is developing in interesting and unexpected ways, so I have high hopes that we’ll get a satisfactory conclusion – something that’s rare in the world of long-form storytelling and the chaotic environment of serialization.

Of course, before we think about the ending, it is important to consider the long-term viability of the series, as there’s nothing worse than having your favorite series being canceled halfway. Thankfully, as it stands the series does always hover around the middle of the Jump chapter rankings, so it’s got a better chance than another Jump series I previewed, Act-age, which has slipped down to the bottom four since the beginning of its serialization.

However, even though the author Haruto Ikezawa is experienced, I do have some doubts as to whether he can successfully maintain the series in the long term. He already had two series in Jump with Mononofu and Kurogane, but neither of them ran for very long and were very different in terms of subject matter from Noah’s Notes. Such a career history could either mean that the author is multi-talented and bursting with ideas, obviously a good thing for the future of the series, or that he is simply scrambling for a serialization, trying every genre he can think of to be in with a chance. Although I think the latter is an extreme example, Ikezawa’s history as a mangaka does still put into question the continued development of the series – even if he was an assistant for Eiichiro Oda.

In the meantime though, I’m really enjoying Noah’s Notes and I think you might too. It combines it’s Indiana Jones and Lovecraftian elements with surprising excellence to give us a great adventure story underscored by a great main character dynamic and engaging mystery. I may have my gripes, but I’d struggle to not recommend picking up the series.

You can read the first three chapters of the series as part of VIZ’s Jump Start initiative, and although it isn’t being translated in VIZ’s English-language Weekly Shonen Jump yet, I’m sure that if the series continues to be as good as it has been, it’ll be picked up in no time.

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