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"Madlax" Vol. 1 Tries to Confuse (and Succeeds!)

Last time on Karl Reviews Madlax, he’d received a two episode screener that left him wanting more just because he had no idea what on Earth was going on. In between that time and now, he got another screener in a great big metal ammo case that had the same two episodes, only dubbed this time. However, they still didn’t make any sense. Will the finalized version of volume 1 begin to unwrap Madlax’s maddening mysteries, or will Karl be driven to the brink of insanity as he watches the finalized version only to find that it explains nothing?!

Ok, here’s the quick version of the story. Madlax is a hot shot assassin-for-hire in the country of Gazth-Sonika, which has been in a civil war for 12 years. She gets jobs that mess with both sides of the conflict through a mysterious contact known as SSS (a.k.a. 3-Speed). These jobs range from assassinations in the middle of crowded cities to computer espionage executed while literally dancing in a hailstorm of bullets. The complement of this apolitical badass is Margaret Burton, a well-to-do young lady who lives alone with her maid. She’s very spacey and cryptic at points, and it would seem that there is some kind of odd connection between Margaret and Madlax. Meanwhile, odd things start happening around Margaret. A friend of hers dies under suspicious circumstances. How does all this tie in with the conflict in Gazth-Sonika? How are Margaret’s and Madlax’s fates intertwined?

Madlax Ammo - Now Available at Big 5Well, I don’t honestly know because these episodes only pile more and more mysteries and storylines on top of each other, and I’m ultimately left with little more than questions. What I do know is that the series creators wanted it this way. In the background notes included with the disk, they express their desire to push the boundaries of story organization and layout as far into the avant-garde as possible. They certainly succeed in that aspect. The only problem: in doing so, they may have damned Madlax to incomprehensibility. I’ve got some good hunches as to how the story’s assembled, but its disjointed structure does not pull me in. The characterization also ends up somewhat overshadowed by the show’s intentionally formless flow, so not only is it hard to care about the plot, it’s hard to care about the characters, too. Madlax is like a Lego kit with no instructions: you might have a vague idea how the pieces fit together, but without any obvious clues you can never be sure you’re moving in the right direction.

All This Madlax stuff would be cool if I could get into the show.From the technical side of things, though, Madlax is top-notch and gorgeous all around. It’s has very nice backgrounds with a good use of pans, pull and layering, pretty good character animation that enhances some otherwise flat scenes, and nice direction, tightly-animated action sequences and great compositing work to bring almost all of it together seamlessly and pleasingly. I spotted one or two very minor glitches, but that’s very low for a late-night anime. The DVD encoding is very crisp as well, and all that nice animation shines brilliantly. The audio encoding is very nice as well. ADV comes through with a listenable, TV-ready dub, and the music is also fine, though it does sound just like the music in almost every other Bee Train Animation production.

Basically, Madlax looks and sounds great. However, the story has been deliberately ripped to shreds. Now, I love series that are weird, imagery-loaded and non-linear, but it’s hard to make them work well, and it’s harder still to make them compelling in a traditional sense, particularly in the early episodes. If you’re looking for a straight up girls-with-guns show with good animation and music, buy Noir instead. It’s mysterious, but it at least it stays reasonably linear. Madlax should be left to those who enjoy befuddlement or insanity, whichever comes first.

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