Madlax Vol. #1 (also w/box) - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B-

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 14 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98/39.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Madlax

Madlax Vol. #1 (also w/box)

By Chris Beveridge     May 16, 2005
Release Date: April 12, 2005


Madlax Vol. #1 (also w/box)
© ADV Films


What They Say
From the minds behind Noir, a compelling saga of lives and the dark circumstances surrounding their mysterious connection.

The country of Gazth-Sonika has been engaged in a civil war for more than a decade, struggling to stay afloat amidst attacks from the anti-government faction known as Garza. With lies and corruption seeping into the political food chain, a mysterious book in one young girl's possession may be the only key to uncovering the truth and bringing an end to the war.

This book, however, is sought by many. And when the invincible agent Madlax is hired to protect those in search of its truth, Gazth-Sonika dispatches a ruthless soldier to make sure that truth stays in the darkness!

The Review!
After riding high on Noir and .hack//SIGN, the folks at Bee Train offer up to fandom more girls with guns tied to gorgeous music.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. Though just as active as some of their past series, the show gets a stereo mix here that does a good job of working through the material but you wish it was in a 5.1 format since it would just have that extra oomph to it. The mix is good though and utilizes the forward soundstage well as the bullets fly across and explosions range from one side to the other. Dialogue is also well placed when appropriate though it's not quite as noticeable. Overall, dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The transfer for the show is overall very solid and does an excellent job of capturing the numerous dark and murky areas that the show typically runs around in. With a good chunk of it either being night scenes or ones in the darkened jungle areas, it maintains a very solid feel and avoids blocking or bleeding with what colors do shine through there. One or two scenes I want to say there's a very tiny touch of cross coloration but we're talking like a hairs length here or there that has little impact overall. The transfer in general seems to be free of just about all the normal problems that come up and is good looking from start to finish making it very easy to get into the show itself.

Packaging:
Using the same artwork as the regular edition Japanese release, the parallels to Noir are as obvious as can be with both characters standing against a white background and the similarity of designs practically hitting you over the head. It does look good though and there's no denying it on my part as it sets the tone for the show nicely. The only real difference is a reduced set of logos and the part number being swapped out for the volume title. The back cover provides four strips in a row where it alternates between the descriptions of the lead characters where the writer lost their thesaurus and small shots from the show. The discs features and production information fill out most of the rest of the cover as does the tightly packed by highly informative technical grid. The insert for this release replicates the front cover for its first page and opens up to a couple of staff talk text sections with the series producer and screenplay author.

In addition to the disc release, a disc + box release was also done that would hold all seven volumes of the series. The box is of the solid chipboard variety and it keeps to the theme set by the main menu with the ammunition chest. The box has the dark earthy greens to it as well as the wear and tear and the painted on feel of the logo. One main panel has a shot of Madlax leaning up against something while the other uses the artwork of Margaret from the front cover. This is a good looking solid box that fits what most people typically look for in a box.

Menu:
The main menu is set up in what looks like a faux military style piece of metal that's been worn down and seen plenty of wear and tear. The navigation and series title is all done in orange paint while a small window shows clips from the show and a fuzzier version underneath the overall navigation shows other images floating by as it's all set to a brief instrumental clip. I like the design since it fits the theme well and it's fairly dark and doesn't just scream fanservice like it could have. Access times are nice and fast and it's easy to navigate around in. The disc also correctly read our players language presets properly and played accordingly.

Extras:
The opening volume gets a decent selection of extras that go a bit beyond the basics. We get the tried and true standards with the clean opening and closing sequences and a session of design sketches done as a video gallery. There are even a handful of promotional spots from its run on Japanese TV. Also included is the unused opening sequences though I'm hard pressed to find what's different about it. An amusing extra that's included is the "Conversations with SSS" which is basically a bunch of scripted outtakes/alternate dialogue scenes. Your mileage may vary on what you find funny but there's a couple of good ones in there.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Capitalizing on the success of Noir, Bee Train went ahead with a series that is by and large a variant on that tale. With the same kind of look and feel as that series, Madlax plays in a different field and looks to have a more cohesive storyline early on but it plays up in the same genre and keeps the same elements that made Noir so popular in order to try and get lightning to strike twice. I certainly don't blame them for it as that's what every author or company tries to do when they come up with something. Thankfully, there are plenty of differences as well but with the weight of Noir on top of it, it has a hard time standing on its own.

Madlax is told in a far more leisurely manner than Noir I think and that will set the tone for a lot of people. The tale that's started over the first four episodes brings a few characters into the foreground and a particular situation but it doesn't all gel together yet, but you can see the elements coming together. A war is ongoing in some made-up country and there's lots of money to be made there by various people if they have the right connections. While the government and its military try to maintain their rule, the people of the country are doing their best to rebel and fight against the tyranny that they're under. Each side does that they can and have to deal not only with each other but external influences. In addition to each side, there's a sizeable number of free agents running around who are under contract to either side or pursuing their own agendas. As the show opens, we see how one of the rebel groups has escaped with some key data on a disc only to end up in a nasty situation after a checkpoint crossing goes bad.

All of them are captured but one who takes the disc and escapes into the mountains. While the others get interrogated and tortured, a new person leaps onto the scene as we see Madlax drop down from a helicopter as she's been assigned to retrieve the data. Though she does go after it by befriending the rebel, it's never clearly said that she's retrieving it for his side, the governments side or someone else's. It's simply the plot device that allows her to drop in and deal with a local sergeant who has some serious skill and people under his command. Her retrieval of the disc goes fine but she ends up helping out the one who escaped by going back to the camp to rescue the others. This leads into an intense firefight that's done with style. When the military come into the jungle to deal with her, she's standing among the tree tops wearing an elegant gown and nailing everything with her guns. It's over the top stylish action combined with the gorgeous sound of Kajiura's music to provide heart pounding moments that are actually quite empty.

Over the four episodes, Madlax finds herself involved in other missions within the country and has to deal with some interesting situations, such as one political who calls in his own assassination. Balancing out the Madlax stories, we're introduced to Margaret Burton, a high school student in another country where peace is all that's known. She's an orphan who has some hazy memories of her past but for the most part she's a young woman who is living a life that's not in step with everyone else. She might be accused of being vacant or slow but she's taking things in differently than other people do and her method of thinking goes down different routes. Through her, we observe some of the things that happen in the war-torn country from a distance and how people are unaffected by it and how they treat it as something "over there" that doesn't affect them. Margaret has some sort of tie to Madlax but over the four episodes here the two of them don't come into contact with each other at all though it's inevitable as the storyline slowly progresses.

And that's one of the areas where the show feels like it's failed early on. With all the imagery prior to its release being of the two of them together, the fact that they take so long to get to that point and that Margaret's stories, while potentially interesting on one level are so very slow, it just drags things down. Following the stories that are crossing both tales from different angles works but I just can't put my finger on exactly why it doesn't feel like it's working until the two of them meet. With the characters essentially running around and not truly interacting with anyone, it's all about a series of loners and it's very difficult to connect with them, especially with Margaret and the way she goes about things.

Visually, the show does continue to be a treat and while it does do some serious style over substance moments and some amusing implied sexuality with Madlax and her dress and fondness for alcohol, the action in general is a lot of fun to watch even when it does hit comical levels. It really feels like it's an alternate take on how Noir could have gone at some point in the design stage if someone had tweaked a few things. There is certainly enough here to intrigue if you can get past the slowness of it and the lack of connectivity between the lead characters and it looks like it'll only get more intense as it goes on but the first four episodes are certainly a hard sell.

In Summary:
Madlax is Bee Train's attempt to force lightning to strike twice and while it may eventually strike, right now it's just dark ominous clouds of style. The substance hasn't quite shown up yet but the setting is there, the characters are almost in place and it has the potential to entertain. The first four episodes manage to introduce what looks to be a wide ranging story about a war and two people who are going to be intimately tied to it but they don't formalize the ties between the two just yet, making it feel more like two distinct stories that have some common threads. Between that and the mysterious pieces with the two children who keep appearing throughout, much is left to the imagination and for future episodes, but for some people it may not be enough to prove to be a proper hook for those episodes.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles, Clean opening and closing animation, Japanese promo spots, Phone calls from Three Speed, Design sketches, Unused opening sequence

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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