Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 28th 2005
DVD 2: The Red Book
In civil war-torn Gazth-Sonika, Madlax continues to run dangerous missions for SSS, including one to help a boy find his father in rebel territory and another to guide and safeguard a book detective seeking information about a special rare volume. Carossea Dean, his mysterious master, and the secretive Enfant organization are looking for her, though, so he calls in some special help to locate her and pin her down.
Meanwhile, in Nafrece, Margaret Burton continues about her spacey way despite being plagued by bizarre dreams. She encounters a boy who seems interested in her and arranges to learn more about the bloody picture book with the strange, ancient script, all the while under the watchful (and protective) eye of her maid Elenore. In her forgotten memory lies the key to many of the mysteries surrounding her, and to her connection to Madlax. Both, it would seem, may have been linked by Fate for a long time.
The first volume of Madlax floundered somewhat due to maddeningly slow plot development. Not so with this volume. With episodes 5 to 8, Madlax kicks the development of its central mysteries and intrigues into higher gear while downplaying its action elements and all but dispensing with the rampant sexuality which characterized the earlier episodes. The result is a story segueing into a solid action-mystery mode which is likely to hook many viewers who couldn't get much into the series after the first four episodes. From looking at the first eight episodes together, one gets the impression that the opening episodes were designed to attract the attention of those who might not normally go for a mystery series and hook them before they realized that they've been snookered into liking it. Is this approach a little underhanded? Perhaps. It's also entirely possible, though, that this volume just represents a lull in that content, preceding a return of such elements later on.
Like any good mystery series, the second volume of Madlax piques the viewer's interest by providing tantalizing clues about the nature of some established mysteries while raising an entirely new batch of questions. Peeks into the pasts of both lead characters strongly suggest an early traumatic connection in Gazth-Sonika that neither remembers, while they have a tenuous current connection via the strange and mystical Elies text. (Margaret's book is missing a page, you see, while Madlax has a single page with the exact same script. . . Coincidence?) But the story isn't just about the two leads. Some of the truths about key side characters, especially the maid Elenore, and their roles in the grand scheme of things are revealed, too. It also becomes apparent that incidences which appeared to be stand-alone stories in the first volumes may, in fact, be integral parts of the greater storyline. Everything in the story so far seems to connect back to some pivotal event which happened twelve years ago in Gazth-Sonika which changed the face of the country and set all the important characters down the paths they now follow. But what happened which was so dire that it triggered a civil war, and how were Margaret and Madlax involved? Hints are dropped about some kind of plane crash, but details are short. By the end of the volume viewers who let themselves get wrapped up in these mysteries will find themselves salivating to learn more and eagerly anticipating the next volume, a reaction which wasn't as strong (if present at all) after the end of the first volume.
Female character designs continue to be sharp and appealing, while those for male characters are more generic. Though Madlax still looks sexy, it's not emphasized as much in the artistry of this volume as it was in the first volume. Background artwork continues to be well-done, though its integration with characters is a little spotty. Sound and animation are also both very well-done, with minor uses of CG effects to spruce up a couple of scenes. The musical scoring, which sounds like a mix of Noir and .hack//SIGN, generally is effective at setting the tone for the series and individual scenes, though there are some minor inconsistencies. The opener and closer are unchanged.
The performances in the English dub take slightly different approaches to highlighting the personality traits of various characters when compared to the Japanese vocals. Because of this, Madlax sounds a bit more airheaded, and Margaret more distinctly flighty, than the way they come across in the Japanese vocals. This is not completely out of character for either, and the performances do work when evaluated solely on their own merits, but they have enough stylistic differences with the original Japanese performances that they may bother purists. The rest of the dub performances, nearly all done by ADV regulars, are competent but not especially noteworthy. The English scripting stays reasonably tight to the subtitles.
Extras on this volume include ADV's increasingly-standard preview of the next volume, company previews, clean opener and closer, design sketches, and Japanese promo spots. As with the first volume, the highlight extra is “Conversations With SSS,” a substantial collection of alternate English dialogue outtakes featuring the voice of SSS and a rotating array of second characters set against clips and still shots. As with a similar feature on Geneon's production of Texhnolyze, these aren't bloopers but scripted comedy routines. Though one of them (a clear rip-off on the Hollywood movie Phone Booth) goes on a bit too long, nearly all are funny. The Staff Talk in the liner notes this time includes some cartoonish panels by production personnel with comments translated in footnotes—a rather odd extra.
With volume 2 Madlax refocuses itself on its mystery elements, becoming a more involving story than it was at first. It still has not escaped the shadow of its predecessor Noir, which it continues to mimic in many ways, though it does add in a couple of new elements. Whether or not the series will ultimately be able to establish its own identity still remains to be seen, but it's good enough to merit a regular recommendation for general audiences and a strong recommendation for fans of “girls with guns” titles.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Improved story development, good overall technical merits.
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