In this week's RTO, there are hot zombies, hot sex, hot kitchen utensils, and hot climates as we look at new volumes of Cage of Eden, Happy Marriage, and another digital-only release. All this and more stuff that may or may not be hot awaits you in Right Turn Only!
Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 5th 2006
DVDs 6-7: Sacrifice and Reality
The three mystic books of Elies script – Firstary, Secondary, and Thirdary – are brought together, allowing a doorway to be opened onto the events of twelve years ago. It is not the badly-wounded Madlax who accompanies Margaret on this journey, however, but Carrossea Doon, who also fervently seeks the truth of his forgotten past. Friday Monday has other plans involving Margaret and the three books, though, plans which seek a reoccurrence of the event which triggered the civil war in Gazth-Sonika twelve years earlier. But one book is incomplete, and Madlax has the missing page! Limelda Jorg poses another threat, for she still seeks to duel with Madlax regardless of the interference of Vanessa and Nakhl. Ultimately, though, even she and Elenore cannot stop Madlax and Margaret from seeking the truth about their past, a truth borne of pain and suffering which will only be gained at great cost.
The truth about everything – Madlax, Margaret, Latetia, Poupee, the Gazth-Sonika civil war, Carrossea Doon, and more – awaits beyond the Door of Truth, but is it a truth that anyone can bear?
The patience of Madlax fans finally pays off as the series brings everything together and delivers on its potential. Though a long time in coming, the bombshell dropped at the end of volume 5 about the connection between Margaret and Madlax is carried through with further revelations which not only give a fuller picture of what happened twelve years ago, but also show how everyone and everything in the story is interrelated. We learn who the original Madlax was, what caused both the plane crash involving Margaret and the civil war, who the two mysterious children in the war-torn city are, the role the books played in all of it, what the deal is with Margaret and red shoes, the depths of Friday Monday's certifiable nuttiness, and how Margaret and Carrossea have a very important past connection. Although the full truth isn't revealed in volume 6 or the first episode of volume 7, enough is suggested about Madlax's uncanny abilities and the true connection between her and Margaret for a diligent viewer to make some educated guesses.
And then you get to episode 25 in the final volume, where the whole truth is finally revealed, and throw all your assumptions out the window.
Although the whole truth makes sense (at least as much so as a series like this can make sense) and allows for all the various pieces to fall into place, it is not something that anyone is going to see coming. It also completely changes a viewer's perception of what the true theme of the series is, which isn't explainable without giving major spoilers. The viewer has been led to believe up until this point that the series is about individuals seeking their forgotten past, but it actually runs way deeper than that. It's not an entirely original ploy, but it's handled quite well.
Madlax has always been as much a drama as an action show and it does not deviate from that plan for its last six episodes. Madlax herself gets ample opportunity to show off her impossibly invincible skill, including more scenes of her in action in a sexy dress, while most of the other female characters also get in on the action to one degree or another. The mystical elements and the impact they have on various characters generate real tension, while in more than one place these final episodes are heartbreaking – and that's before you get to the awful reality of Margaret's ultimate truth and what it means for both her and Madlax. The ending, part of which feels a little forced, isn't likely to leave anyone with warm fuzzies but does wrap up the story sufficiently enough to satisfy most viewers.
While not quite a top-of-the-line title on artistry, the later stages of Madlax are nonetheless pleasing to the eye. Female character designs are sharp, well-defined, and varied, while male character designs beyond Carrossea and Margaret's father tend to be rougher and more generic. (Admittedly, Friday Monday is the only other male character of consequence in these six episodes, but this has been a consistent pattern throughout the series.) Equipment detail is very good, mystical effects are suitably weird and colorful, and backgrounds are at their best; shots of a colorful field of flowers and an orange-tinted sunset in episode 24 are particularly vivid. Although a lot of people get killed, the actual bloodshed shown is limited to a PG-13 level. Animation is good, especially in its shortcut-free action scenes and when focusing on facial expressions.
Although it has never been shabby, Madlax's musical score is at its best in these final volumes. The mix of series standards and new music made especially for key dramatic moments in these volumes is typical of the styles used by Yuki Kajiura, the person behind the musical scores for Noir, Le Portrait de Petite Cossette, and the .hack// series, but as ever they are used very effectively to support the action and drama of given scenes. It could, in fact, be argued that the musical score is as much the main strength of these final two volumes as the revelations which come out. Of particular note is the fine job done with the bizarre cries and chanting of the mystical words of the Elies texts, which plays a major role in these two volumes. The opener and closer are unchanged from the very first episode, a frequently-used past insert song is repeated, and a great new insert song is added for the final volume.
In these two volumes ADV's English dub does a particularly good job of matching its veteran performers to their roles and the original seiyuu. Some stylistic differences in delivery still exist between the English and Japanese dubs, but they are less prevalent than in earlier volumes and the performances in general have improved, with Mike Kleinhenz's maniacal laughing as Friday Monday in episode 25 actually sounding better and more convincing in English. The most challenging emotional content in the series comes up in the final volume, and for the most part the English VAs are up to the task. The English script, courtesy of ADV regular Monica Rial in a writing-only contribution, usually stays close to the wording and/or meaning of the original, with only occasional minor variances.
Each of the two final volumes contains only three episodes but a wealth of extras. It is strongly recommended that a viewer not even look at the Extras menus until after viewing episode 23 (for volume 6) or episode 24 (for volume 7), as one of the Extras in each volume has a title that is a major spoiler for a critical event in that episode. These [unnamable in this review] extras are well-made pieces worth a look after you've seen the appropriate episodes, however. Both volumes include company previews, clean opener and closer, design sketches, alternate episode previews for a particular episode on the volume, and both AMV and karaoke versions of songs from the series; for volume 6 it's the opening theme “Shards of My Eyes,” for volume 7 it's the new insert song “I'm Here.” Both volumes also have new installments of the great “Conversations with SSS” alternate dialogue comedy bits, despite the fact that SSS barely has a presence in these volumes. Extras unique to each volume are a Japanese TV spot on volume 6 and Japanese DVD commercials on volume 7. Volume 6 also has a sock puppet Easter Egg similar to the one on volume 6 of Noir; the method for accessing it is described in ANN's Encyclopedia entry for Madlax. It is a gut-bustingly funny 13-minute bit where, once again, VA Chris Patton's reprehensible behavior gets him targeted for death by a sock puppet of the show's lead killer. All of the Madlax VAs, and some ADV personnel who aren't, are at their playful best in this can't-miss special feature. Additional extras can also be found in the liner notes of each volume, including parts 11-13 of Staff Talk and an analysis of the final two episodes which helps put things into perspective.
Madlax has always been dogged by its similarities to its predecessor Noir, but with its ending it finally strikes its own identity. Shocking revelations and heartbreak are the order of the day as the full truth finally comes out in the conclusion to this respectable mystery-action-drama series. Though not without minor flaws, the final two volumes show the series at is best.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Great musical score, shocking revelations, good extras.
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