City Noir

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Watchman city noir 4408.jpg
"When the darkness fell, New York City became something else, any old Sinatra song notwithstanding. Bad things happened in the night, on the streets of that other city. Noir York City."

The localized, urban version of a Crapsack World. Apathetic Citizens shuffle though a maze of overbearing black skyscrapers and Sinister Subways as sirens wail constantly in the background. Expect a very limited color palette, a palpable air of decay and depression, and an unbelievable crime rate.

Usually, cities like this will consist of a downtown area full of Corrupt Corporate Executives surrounded by a massive Wretched Hive.

It will often be informed by Taxi Driver-era New York (sinister clouds of steam emerging from the sewers and subway vents, etc.), though the origins of City Noir are actually in German Expressionism. It may take these things to surreal lengths.

If our story takes place in the future, it will be a Dystopia full of hideous, distorted black towers and other signs of a future gone wrong. If it takes place in the past, the City Noir of choice will probably either be industrial revolution-era London or a fantasy counterpart version of it. Facsimiles of cities like New York and Chicago during the Great Depression might alternately pop up, although for American audiences they may well be shot through the Nostalgia Filter.

Cities Noir often enjoy twenty hour nights and constant cloud cover. The remaining four hours of daylight are given over to two hours of rain, one hour of thunder, one hour of sunsets. Sunrises usually mean the work set here is ending.

These places are a staple of Film Noir and Darker and Edgier shows.

A sister trope to Soiled City on a Hill, Vice City, and Wretched Hive. The Shining City is the antithesis. See also The City Narrows. See Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain for the Cyberpunk City Noir weather forcast.

Examples of City Noir include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • The Big O gives us Paradigm City.
  • Niihama in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
    • Niihama, and especially Etorofu take this trope Up to Eleven in the movie |Innocence, which borrows heavily from the Film Noir tradition in its visual style.
  • The unnamed city in Kakurenbo - Up to Eleven.
  • Texhnolyze—Lux, to a ridiculous degree.
  • Neo-Tokyo in Akira is a classic and influential example in the genre. It is interesting the compare the colour pallet: Neo-Tokyo evokes the vibe while being much more colour-rich than the typical western example.
  • Zig-zagged by Tekkon Kinkreet's Treasure Town. It doesn't really look like a City Noir during the day—on account of all the sunshine and life. It is much less depressing than most examples—but it's definitely run-down, dangerous, and filled with people who can't stand living there.
  • Bubblegum Crisis was heavily influenced by Blade Runner, so the bad sections of Mega Tokyo have a City Noir look.
  • Silent Moebius is another series that inherits much of its city design from Blade Runner.
  • Gringey City. Just... Ew. Grimer stinks.

Comics[edit | hide]

Film[edit | hide]

Literature[edit | hide]

Music[edit | hide]

  • Portrayed perfectly in the New York of Afrika Baambaataa and Leftfield's "Afrika Shox" video.
  • The Protomen: "Don't turn your back on the city."
  • The futuristic metropoli described in many Judas Priest songs, especially "The Sentinel" ("Along deserted avenues, steam begins to rise....")

Video Games[edit | hide]


  • Midgar from Final Fantasy VII
  • Condemned's Metro City is somewhat of a Deconstruction of this trope.
  • inFamous' Empire City
  • Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit's Empire City (Wonder why this name is so common?)
  • Prototype's New York
  • Rapture in BioShock (series), especially in its state of decay. Going one better than constant rain, it is underwater. Even better, its leaking in a lot of places.
  • Max Payne gave us the best early example: nothing like New York, a winter storm, and some Norse ethos to get the noir blood running...
  • The city from Thief called... The City. Oookay.
  • The first level from The Punisher game from 2005 begins with a monologue about how even though the politicians have tried to clean up the city, all they succeeded in doing was pushing crime to other neighborhoods.
  • City 17 in Half-Life 2 was this on concept art in early stage of development, and it picked up a strong Eastern European inflection in the final work.
  • Detroit (again) from Deus Ex Human Revolution, along with Hengsha in Shanghai, in somewhat different styles. Detroit is very obviously based on Blade Runner's LA, and Hengsha looks more like Midgar. New York from the original might have counted, too, but we don't get to see much of it, and it's too poorly-rendered to tell.
  • The urban locations in Kingpin: Life of Crime. Features everything between desolate ghettos and classy, but equally vile Radio City with it's Art Nouveau architecture (bearing a suspicious resemblance to some places in Payback). Also noteable for a weird mix of modern as well as 20's, 30's and steampunk-scifi styles (Cypress Hill music, Tommyguns, and thugs with cybernetic facial modifications all in the same setting!)
  • The City of Steelport in Saints Row the Third has art deco and industry seemingly running everywhere, and half of the time the game spawns you at night. Or in the rain.
  • Bezoar City of the obscure Cyberpunk shooter Hard Reset is perhaps the vastest, most towering example to be found on this page. When we say towering, we damn well mean it too; at certain points the wind whistles by fast enough to suggest you are a very... appreciable distance from the ground that you most definitely can't see. Yet, when you look up? There's still a lot more city to go. At least once you will go down the street through an industrial complex, only to find yourself on the ledge of a skyscraper.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Batman: The Animated Series relies heavily on this trope for the stylistic views of Gotham City. And yes, it is often night, but that's when the bats take wing...
  • While the daytime shots of Republic City in The Legend of Korra are very beautiful, it turns out that the city hides a dark underbelly of crime and poverty. In particular, the night fight scenes in the streets take ques from this trope.

Other[edit | hide]

  • Very common in Cyberpunk works, as befits their Film Noir roots.
  • Last Res0rt's City of Wonder. (although at least in terms of being a darkly colored city, they have the excuse of it being located inside a freakin' space station, so any sunlight or other weather that exists there is manufactured anyway...)
  • Supposedly, a Truth in Television with Taxi Driver-era New York City.
  • Post-Motor City Detroit is almost always portrayed this way.
  • Victorian London is often portrayed this way. Noir fiction can drawn on Victorian London.
  • Post-Soviet Moscow fits the trope perfectly, both in works like S.Lukyanenko's Watch tetralogy and in Real Life. The climate is dark and cold for nine months and blisteringly hot for the remaining three, the architecture consists mostly of drab Commie-era concrete towers with some neo-gothic Stalinist skyscrappers added downtown and a lot of squalid 'khrushevka' apartment houses in the outskirts, the citizens are apathetic, the Corrupt Corporate Executives are flamboyant jerks and the psychological athmosphere of the place was nasty enough even before the global financial crisis, and now it's downright unbearable. St. Petersburg is similar, but with extra gloomy clouds and extra gothic. Other Russian megapolises too—but with less decadence and more, often much more, of the city on the Wrong Side of the Tracks.