Madlax Vol. #1 - 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: 12 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe
  • Released By: ADV Films UK
  • MSRP: 19.99
  • 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

By Bryan Morton     March 07, 2006
Release Date: March 20, 2006


Madlax Vol. #1
© ADV Films UK


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

Madlax - an assassin, head and heels above the rest. She is a deadly poison, yet irresistible to the tongue. 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. Because in the end, strong or wise, rich or hardened, fried or foe, Madlax will have you eating bullets out of the palm of her hand.

Margaret Burton - 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, lost in herself, lost instead of alive. 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.

Episodes Comprise
1 - Gun Dance
2 - Red Moon
3 - Blue Moon
4 - Enticement

The Review!
Mention "Noir" and ".hack//SIGN" to many anime fans, and it'll bring to mind a series with beautiful music & presentation, but that maybe placed more emphasis on style than on substance – not that that stopped either series from becoming hugely popular. Madlax is the latest series from Bee Train, the studio responsible for both earlier shows. Will it extend their run of hits to three-in-a-row?

Audio:
Two audio tracks are provided - English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0. I listened primarily to the Japanese track for this review. The soundtrack is clean and clear, with good use made of the front soundstage to capture the feel of the action sequences and give a good sense of direction to both effects and dialogue. Madlax also has some great music by Yuki Kajiura that gets used quite extensively throughout the show, and in general this also comes across extremely well, although it does come close to drowning out the rest of the audio at times. There were no apparent problems with the audio encoding.

Video:
Madlax is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Being a comparatively recent show from a studio that has always worked hard on the appearance of their shows, it really does look the part, with both jungle scenes and more austere city settings being presented with good levels of detail. The transfer is sharp and problem-free.

Packaging:
The release comes in a clear keepcase with double-sided cover. The front features Margaret in the foreground, looking worriedly over her shoulder, while Madlax takes aim at an unknown target from the background. If you've seen the cover art for the Noir DVD's, this will all look ever so familiar. The rear cover has the disc's promotional blurb, a set of screenshots and a technical information panel. The reverse of the cover features two "Staff Talk" interviews, with producer Shigeru Katayama and screenplay writer Yosuke Kuroda, talking about their experiences working on the show.

Menu:
"Simple" is the best way to describe the menus here. As is usual for ADV releases, each episode is selectable directly from the main menu, while submenus are provided for language setup and extras. There's also an option on the main screen for a preview clip for volume 2. A black-and-white clip of the OP sequence plays in a small window to liven things up a bit, while a piece of the show's background music plays throughout. There are no transition animations, so the menus are quick and easy to use.

Extras:
As well as the now-traditional clean opening and ending sequences, an unused version of the opening is included - this is the same as the main one with the exception of two short segments. Blink and you'll miss it. A series of Japanese promo spots are also included - 4 TV spots, 1 OST promo, 2 DVD promos – and these have all been helpfully subtitled. Add in a series of design sketches (presented as a 2-minute rolling slideshow) and the dub Conversations with SSS extra (a series of comedy sketches using alternate dialog set to the original animated scenes that you'll either love or hate), and you end up with a good selection of bonus features.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
"Whose side are you on?" "Neither." So goes the first conversation with Madlax, a mercenary agent with killer looks as well as killing talent, before she parachutes into the middle of a war zone. She's on a mission to retrieve some top-secret data that's gone missing, and she's not the only one after the data, either - the enemy have been sold some information on the location of the courier, so it's a race against time for Madlax to get there first. There's also the small problem that the courier doesn't know his comrades have turned traitor, and is determined to save them.

Later, another mission is lined up for Madlax: to assassinate Guen McNichol, an army commander in Gazth-Sonika, a country which has been torn apart by civil war for years now. Madlax being herself, she's done her research well - and after running into Gazth-Sonika's security forces, it seems there's at least one person who may be able to stop her. It's an unusual assassination, too, given that the target is also the client, leading Madlax the let her curiosity get the better of her.

This series is a little strange in at least one noticeable way: there are two distinct storylines, at least at this stage of the series. Madlax herself only features significantly in one of those threads, which on this disc covers episodes one and three. The first episode maybe isn't the best introduction to the show – there are a number of scenes there where the suspension of disbelief is really stretched to the limit (for example, having Madlax change from her camouflage to a slinky red evening gown in the middle of battle, for no apparent reason). Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the norm, and episode three gets into more believable territory. You get a good feel from here for Madlax's character – a woman who's extremely good at what she does and is dedicated to the life she's chosen, but who still has an almost childlike longing inside her for the sort of normal life that mercenaries like her just can't have. She's definitely an interesting character.

On the other side of the story is Margaret Burton, a high-school student in Nafrece, a country far from the strife in Gazth-Sonika – to her, the war that Madlax is living through is just another item on the evening news. Margaret's an orphan, looked after by a maid but with no family left. She's a very withdrawn girl, shy & quiet, and who also suffers from some strange dreams.

Even without reading the blurb on the DVD cover, it's fairly obvious from an early stage that there's some sort of connection between Madlax and Margaret, but there's no indication given yet as to what that might be. Instead we're left to see Madlax on the one hand play her part in Gazth-Sonika's troubles, while Margaret plays a small part in highlighting what could be the first stirrings of trouble in her own country, and never the two shall meet.

As well as the two lead characters, there are a few others introduced here – SSS ("Three Speed"), who provides Madlax with her assignments from a safe distance; Limelda, a sniper in the Gazth-Sonika military who crosses Madlax's path early on and looks set to develop a rivalry with her; Vanessa Rene, Margaret's former next-door-neighbour who seems to be taking on the role of guardian to her and may know more about Margaret's past than anyone else; and Magaret's maid Elenore, who tends to just go with the flow but whose attitude can be quite comical at times.

There are no problems so far with the stories, which have a good mix of conspiracy and action depending on which half of the story you're watching, and the characters, who are an interesting group each with their own weaknesses and issues – but events are moving at such a slow pace that it's hard to build much enthusiasm for the show. In true Bee Train style it's all beautifully presented, but there's definitely something missing.

In Summary:
Madlax's characters and setting definitely have potential, but pacing problems the lack of any obvious connection between the two main characters left me feeling slightly underwhelmed. There's definitely potential here if the writers can make some use of it, but so far at least, style is definitely triumphing over substance.

Features
Japanese Language 2.0,English Language 5.1,Clean Opening & Closing Sequences,Japanese Promo Spots,Design Sketches,Unused Opening Sequence,Conversations with SSS

Review Equipment
Panasonic TX-W28R30P 28" widescreen TV; Pioneer DV-626D player; Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.

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