Reviewby Theron Martin, May 6th 2005
DVD 1: Connections
Madlax is a supremely-skilled super-agent sent to the civil war-torn country of Gazth-Sonika to ply her trade. Margaret Burton is a spacey schoolgirl who lives with her maid in a well-to-do European house and is haunted by dreams of a past she does not clearly remember. The two young women are linked in as-yet unexplained ways while others scheme around them.
That Madlax was made by the creators and studio behind Noir would be glaringly obvious even if it wasn't boldly announced on the front cover of the first DVD case. The two are stylistic twins, and the similarities run deep. Both are “girls with guns” stories involving female agents and hefty amounts of mystery. Both have very similar pairs of female leads; the older one is a curvaceous professional, the younger one is a petite, soft-spoken schoolgirl with a meek personality built over a forgotten past. Character designs are strikingly similar; Mireille from Noir and the title character from this series could almost be sisters. Both use musical themes in very similar ways. They are also both sexy action-thrillers, although Madlax is much more overt about it. While there's no actual nudity in the first volume, the series isn't shy about showing off the title character's incredible figure, and everything Madlax does (even the killing) has an element of sensuality to it, something which the stone-cold killer Mireille lacked. Madlax is also more flighty and playful than Mireille ever was, though she is just as professional when it comes down to business. In fact, one gets the sense from watching Madlax that the title character is merely an enhanced (and yes, I mean in bust size, too) and “loosened up” version of Mireille.
Madlax does diverge markedly from Noir in the way it structures its story, although in this sense the series isn't an improvement. While Noir had its lead characters meet up in the first episode, Madlax has them on different but gradually converging (I presume) paths throughout the four episodes in this volume. In fact, Madlax and Margaret don't even appear in the same episode until the very end of episode 2, and the only factor which seems to link them is common possession of a bizarre picture, so it is not apparent from this volume how their paths are going to cross. This makes for maddeningly slow plot development. While Noir had you hooked from the first episode with a combination of dynamic action, intriguing character interaction, and compelling mystery, Madlax hasn't used the second of those factors at all by the end of episode four, and it uses the other two separately. It instead relies more heavily on its seductive qualities and its air of mystery to hook viewers and reel them in while the plot develops, although admittedly its action sequences are pretty sharp. What makes the series watchable, though, is its mysteries. Who is the riddle-spouting red-haired girl sitting on the bench in the war-ravaged city, who almost seems to be narrating this tale? Why is Margaret's maid as much her keeper as her servant? Who is Margaret, really, and why do there seem to be gaps in her memory? What is her connection to Gazth-Sonika and to Madlax? And what is the deal with the red shoes and the blood-stained book? Doubtless these mysteries will gradually be revealed over the course of the series, but overall, it looks like fans of Noir are going to have to be much more patient with this one.
As with Noir, female character designs for Madlax are sharp and appealing, while those for male characters are more generic. Background artistry is well-done, as is its integration with characters. Sound and animation are both very well-done, and the musical scoring does a very effective job of setting the tone for both the series and individual scenes. (Noir's soundtrack ranks among the best of all anime soundtracks, but this one doesn't fare too poorly by comparison.) The opener is forgettable, while the closer, which features a stronger song, fares better. Overall, the series is impressive in both its audio and visual aspects but not near the top in either.
The performances in the English dub take slightly different approaches to highlighting the personality traits of various characters when compared to the Japanese vocals. This was probably necessitated by the different ways one would display certain traits in English compared to Japanese, but the stylistic difference is unlikely to sit well with purists. The English scripting seems to stay pretty tight to the subtitles, although I did notice a couple of places where the subtitles didn't seem to stay true to what the characters were saying. (For example, in one place a character clearly uses the English word “present” in the Japanese dialogue but it's instead given as “gift” in the subtitles.) The English performances, all done by a veteran ADV cast, are good enough but not spectacular.
As with their recent releases of Gantz, ADV has included a preview of volume 2 on the first volume of Madlax. Other extras include common stuff like company previews, clean opener and closer, design sketches, and Japanese promo spots. Less common is the inclusion of an unused opening sequence, though it isn't substantially different from the one actually used. The highlight extra for this volume is “Conversations With SSS” (the guy on the phone who gives Madlax her missions), which are alternate English dialogue outtakes featuring the voice of SSS and using animation clips and still shots. As with a similar feature on Geneon's production of Texhnolyze, these aren't bloopers but rather comedy routines, and some of them are very funny. Included in the liner notes for the first DVD is some staff commentary, this time around from the producer and screenplay writer.
Madlax is a title which will not easily escape the shadow of its predecessor in the minds of anyone who has seen Noir. Those who have not seen Noir will likely find Madlax to be a respectable, sexy mix of action and mystery. Either way the series stands well on its artistic, technical, and musical merits and has enough quality in its writing to be worth a look.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Good action sequences and use of supporting music.
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