It felt a bit derivative, but still pretty good overall.
What They Say
Madlax is an assassin, head and heels above the rest. Nothing can surpass her skill in the art of combat, except perhaps her skill in the art of deception. She will find you, she will charm you, and then she will most certainly harm you. It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter where you are. It doesn't even matter if you know she's coming. In the end, strong or wise, rich or hardened, friend or foe, Madlax will have you eating bullets out of the palm of her hand.
Margaret Burton is an orphaned schoolgirl with issues far greater than mere homework. Haunted by bizarre and cloudy dreams, she must not only endure the horrifying images of her past, but she must also traverse the treacherous path of high school. Margaret is lost; lost in her way and lost in herself. Grasping for the truth, she flutters in and out of reality without ever letting her feet touch the ground. Her connection to Madlax is mysterious. It's dark, it's deadly, and of course, it's classified.
For this viewing, I listened to the English dub, which is offered in 5.1. The Japanese track is available in 2.0. The mix was really solid, with no dropout among the tracks. The dialogue, while mostly centered, even had a bit of directionality to it. The sound effects had a nice mix both left-to-right, and front-to-back. Really well done.
Just as gorgeous as the audio. The coloring was all clear, with no distortion or technical problems. I was especially impressed because much of this series happens at night and in the jungle—i.e. areas of low light—which often lose something in the transfer. It was all pretty in this release. Lining was also distinct, and all art effects came through well. No complaints here either.
And now I begin complaining. I’ve said it before, but I’ll keep repeating: I hate stackpaks. Even ignoring the long term scratch potential with them, just getting at any disc that is not on top is a pain. I appreciate their desire to keep packaging costs to a minimum, but there has to be a better option. As for the design of the cover, it’s pretty nice. It features shots of Madlax and Rimelda both getting ready to shoot, like they spend much of the series doing. The back has a picture of Margaret looking worried (as she spends a great deal of time doing), along with a summary, screen shots, and technical details. This is all set against a red motif. It looks nice, though it is nothing special.
The menu is fine, though again nothing special. The background looks almost like a cracked sidewalk with a camouflage filter overhead; the filter is a different color for each disc. Set against the background is a picture that also changes depending on the disc. The selections are all to the left of the picture and offered in white, so they stand out. My only complaint is that the selection is the same color as the filter, so it blends in a bit with the background, but I guess all you need to do is find where the white selection is covered up and you know where you are.
There are no extras on this set.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Margaret Burton is a young woman from a well-to-do family from the country of Nafrece who has a strange past. A few years previous, she disappeared under strange circumstances only to find her own way home. But upon returning home, she had no memories of her past and seemingly no longer had anything resembling emotion. The only word she uttered when she came back was ‘Madlax.’ Now, she continues her life as normally as possible, but she still has no memories and a lack of emotion, but with the help of her maid Elenore and her former tutor Vanessa Rene, she gets through life perfectly fine.
Madlax is a young woman living in the Demilitarized Zone in the civil war-torn country of Gazth-Sonika. She is a mercenary and assassin, willing to take on any job regardless of the danger as she has more than earned her reputation as the most dangerous person in Gazth-Sonkia. No matter who she comes up against, she always wins in the end. But like Margaret, Madlax has lost her childhood memories and is striving to find answers. She understands that Madlax is not her real name, but it was the earliest word she knew from the memories she does have, and with no family or friends to identify her, she has taken it as her code name.
Since Margaret also seems to know the word, there is an implied connection between these two otherwise very disparate women. As they search for answers to their past, they are inexorably drawn together and find themselves at odds with the criminal organization Enfant, who have their own interest in the event that the two women share from their past. The question then becomes whether they can stay alive long enough to find the answers.
There was a lot about Madlax that I enjoyed. In particular, I really like Madlax herself. It is not so much that she is a sexy asskicker—though that certainly does not hurt—but rather that she is known as a “kind hearted killer.” Madlax is a lifetime mercenary who has killed more people than she can count, but not only does she not take pleasure in it, she actually feels sorry for the people she is forced to kill.
As she says quite a few times in the course of the series, she kills so that she might survive. That is her only motivation. She never hesitates, but she is never bloodthirsty either. In particular, I really loved the episode early on where she is contracted to assassinate the Gazth-Sonika Commander-in-Chief during a political speech but is surprised to learn that the commander has ordered the hit on himself. So she takes time out before the kill to get to know him a bit and try to teach him that life should not be bad enough for him to want to end his own life. Again, she does not hesitate when the time comes, but the whole concept of her trying to save her mark is a neat one.
I also loved the ongoing conflict between Madlax and Gazth-Sonika sniper Rimelda. They first meet when Madlax is tracking the commander-in-chief, and Rimelda is determined to not rest until she has killed Madlax, as Madlax is the only person who has defeated her. But every time they fight, Madlax has a chance to end it, only to run away instead. This just infuriates Rimelda and spurs her on. But Madlax is more interested in trying to teach Rimelda a life-lesson rather than defeating her in combat. Again, a very different outlook for a mercenary. Her character really worked for me.
The flip side is that I did not care quite as much for Margaret Burton and her whole story. And unfortunately, the series seems to spend more time with Margaret rather than Madlax. Margaret’s story involves the mystery surrounding a book in her possession and trying to find out why so many people want to get their hands on it. More than one person is killed over the book. Adding to the mystery of the book is the fact that anybody who can read and understand it seems to lose themselves and drop out of their regular life. It is the mystery surrounding the book that adds the supernatural tilt to Madlax, as the power of the book will help unlock the secrets of life.
Part of the reason that I think I was less interested in Margaret’s story was that I felt like I had seen it before. The whole concept of a person who has no memory of his/her past, but whose destiny has ‘whole world’ implications is not a particularly new one. In particular, I found myself spending quite a bit of time comparing this to Noir. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as I really enjoyed Noir, but it did lessen the effect of this one. Again, I loved the parts with Madlax. In a lot of ways, the shift between the two main characters indicated a shift in concept, as the episodes with Margaret focused on the book and the supernatural ideas, while the episodes with Madlax were more straight forward and ‘realistic.’ For me, Madlax’s storylines were more interesting.
But even more basic than that, I just liked Madlax more than I liked Margaret. I detailed above why I liked Madlax, but Margaret was just an emotionally-sterile person completely dependent on the people around her in order to survive. She is not unlikeable, just uninteresting. Having watched the whole series, I understand why she is the way she is, but it does not make me any more interested in her struggles.
Madlax is a series I really wanted to like more than I did. I loved the parts with Madlax, and I really wish she was the sole focus of the series. A series completely about her struggles in the Gazth-Sonika civil war could have been very interesting. But Margaret’s story just held no real interest for me, and unfortunately it is ultimately the driving force behind the plot. I am not saying it was bad, it just did not interest me. And maybe the reason I was so down on her was just that I was so interested in Madlax and wanted to see more of her life. Your mileage may vary. I imagine others will be perfectly fine with Margaret’s story. If anime like Noir are up your alley, or you like a healthy dose of supernatural intrigue with your action, then Madlax is probably a series for you. Of course, I would have said yes to both of those questions, so take that as you will. Mildly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony BDP-S360 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection upconverted to 1080p, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System