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I started writing a MADLAX review like... six months ago. I'm going to finish it.
Stories use many vices to try to gain our attention in this competitive world. Some pander to our emotions, to tug at our heartstrings, to gain an audience through catharsis. Others try to create a tight plot full of twists and turns, political or scientific, to attempt to bring an intelligent viewership. And others still mesh art and music in ways that almost make it irrelevant what is actually happening, as it is a beautiful composition just the same.
Madlax is an anime that possesses each of these aspects.
However, don't let this imply that Madlax is without its falws, for that would be an exaggeration. For every strength, there is a fault, for not everyone will appreciate the same aspects. Some may not like the emotional nature of this series, wishing instead to escape from the harsh world called today. Others may not care for the intelligent ideas presented, they want something easy to understand after years of schooling. And even more may hate the abstractness, for they want something obvious and apparent.
Many people who try and fail to watch this series will stall at the first episode, because thematically, it jumps you right in - all three of these aspects are apparent from the first episode.
However, I am one who considers these aspects strengths and not faults, and thus give this anime a high rating of 9.5/10.
Art - 8/10
Bee Train tends to be quite inconsistent with the quality of their animation. In one scene, it will be flawless, with individual strands of hair and amazing shading, and in the next, the character's braids won't even have lines to indicate that they are, in fact, braids and not pigtails. But when the quality is high, it is very high. Also, the sceneries are not only well drawn, but well contrasted. It's easy to tell the cities of Nafrece (with softer colours and lines) from the cities of Gazth-Sonika (with bolder colours and lines). Also, the backgrounds for "special" squences (flashbacks and the like) are absolutely phenomenal, with a post-modern style. But the quality on the characters are much lower than the backgrounds.
Characters - 10/10
One thing I REALLY like about this series is that each character has his or her own ideals, motives, and takes independent actions based on those ideals and motives. It really makes it hard to say who's "right" or "wrong" - because besides Friday Monday, who IS really "wrong"? Yet, even among the characters that oppose him, there are conflicts. That's how the real world is - there isn't the black and white duality that we see in media, there are so many shades of grey. As far as specific characters go, there is the sexy assasin Madlax and the spacey high schooler Margaret. These two characters seem very different at first, however as the series progresses, we begin to see paralells: red shoes, pasta, rain, the red or blue moon. We assume that throughout the series, these two characters will be drawn together somehow and this connection explained. Then we have the secondary characters, Vanessa, Eleanor, Carossur Don, Limelda, Quanzitta, and Naharu. Each of these characters have their own perception of the world and take their own actions based upon it. And you KNOW all these things, because the series is slow enough that time can be spent on it all.
Music - 10/10
Kajiura Yuki did the music. What else do I need to say? Seriously, this OST is one of the best pieces of musical genius I have EVER heard. From the choral based Lost Command to the more abstract rock of Open Your Box, to the waltzish Margaret, to the sad piano piece Battlefield, to the ethnic sounding Quanzitta, to the spiritually inspired Saints, each piece is different, yet connected. And it's a masterpiece of sound. I listen to the OST all the time, because it's just that good.
Plot - 9/10
Most people who drop this series will drop it early on because the series is SLOW. Extremely slow. Frustratingly slow. But if you pay attention, you will find that there is a reason why this series is slow - because they want you to know the characters and they want you to love the characters. They want you to understand their motivations, their wants, their fears, and why they take the actions they do. In terms of the actual plot, we have a Civil War in Gazth-Sonika that started 12 years ago, which coincides with the moment that Margaret and Madlax lost their memory. In trying to figure out how these two women are connected to that place and each other, a trio of books are discovered to hold the key that will open the door of truth - yet not everyone can handle the truth. The truth is a main theme of this anime, because really, what is the truth? The truth may vary from person to person, as everyone interprets history and ideas differently. In trying to bring the truth to others, many characters end up twisting their own personal truths, changing their ideals, maybe even "switching sides" (as I said, there really aren't "sides", but the concept is the same). In real life, people change their minds a LOT. Also, this series touches on economical and political themes in relating to war. And it's a startling conclusion that's made early on in the series. But we have to think about it - isn't it true? Many historians believe that it's actually WWII that brought the US out of the Great Depression - a truly depressing thought. Nothing is ignored in this anime, if you're patient enough to sit through it to the end, when the answers finally start piling up faster than you can comprehend them.
Not for everyone, but for those who can appreciate a good story even if it's a little slow, it's quite probably the most amazing anime I personally have ever watched.