“From the creators of Noir!” the box proudly claims. I’ll be honest; I was never a fan of that series. I found it terribly dull and excruciatingly slow, so it’s fair to say that I wasn’t exactly holding my breath for this one. Still, I’m here to judge Madlax on its own merits, and may find myself pleasantly surprised.
It’s a shame, then, that Madlax immediately returns to familiar territory, and a severe feeling of déjÃ vu kicks in. The setup is similar, the characters are similar, the visuals and music – in fact everything about this series screams Noir, to the extent that the casual observer would have difficulty telling them apart. Depending on your point of view, this is either a very good or a very bad thing.
The characters are a mixed bag. Madlax herself is interesting enough, seeming much too “nice’ to be a highly-trained killer and yet proving to be thoroughly capable at her chosen profession. She makes for a pleasant change from the standard cold-blooded assassin we’ve come to expect, and little things like deciding what to have for dinner while in the middle of a mission or getting to know her target before assassinating him, do at least give her something of a character. The other lead, schoolgirl Margaret Burton, is much less interesting. She spends most of the time shuffling about in a daze, and while a few hints are dropped – she has patchy memories, a mysterious past, she hasn’t been the same since “the incident’ – she comes off as such an apathetic character that I found it difficult to care about her at all.
The series starts off promisingly enough, with an impressive first episode full of action that serves as a solid introduction to Madlax’s character. From there, though, it switches into a low gear, and much of the remaining episodes is a tedious slog in which very little of interest actually happens. The episodes seem to alternate between the two main characters, switching between following Madlax and her jobs in Gazth-Sonika, and the day-to-day life of schoolgirl Margaret. This approach to having two stories side by side is certainly an interesting one, and has potential for a complex interweaving web of tales, but so far the series has failed to take advantage of it, only dropping the odd hint here and there as to where it might be headed.
Occasionally it does pick up -usually when Madlax is hard at work- and there are some good moments and cool gunplay action to be found. The last episode of the volume is a pretty good introduction to what seems to be the main bad guys but, ironically enough, only because it’s told through eyes of a grizzled old detective, and not either of the main characters.
It’s not all bad news, though. It does look rather nice, with strong linework and colouring, good animation and impressive sequences. The gunplay elements are handled with particular affection, and there is a strong sense of style throughout. The music is also of note, with Yuki Kajiura’s distinct style providing a pleasant enough backdrop. It does, however sound a bit too similar to Noir’s music, which does little to help distinguish Madlax and an entity of its own.
The extras deserve a mention, with a surprising amount for a TV series release. The usual host of trailers, clean opening and ending sequences and character designs are all present and correct, but there is also an alternate opening (which is nigh identical to the one actually used), a number of TV ads for the series, and production notes on the inside of the cover. But the highlight is the “Conversations with SSS’ feature, where new lines recorded by the dub cast give some scenes an entirely different context, some of which are bloody funny – it’s one of the more unique extras I’ve come across, and is a great little addition.
The biggest problem Madlax faces is that it’s always going to be stuck in Noir’s shadow unless it does something special to distinguish itself. Unfortunately, so far it hasn’t yet done anything that sets it apart from the crowd. Noir fans should find much to like, as the shows are so similar, but for everyone else, it’s just another girl’s n’ guns anime that’s stylish, sexy, and slow. It may simply be the case that the best is yet to come, but as it stands this first volume isn’t the strongest of starts.