Madlax: Vol.6 - Sacrifice (UK)
It's penultimate volume time for Madlax, and given that it is a 26 episode series, that means we only get 3 episodes to a volume from now on. Fortunately, with the story racing headlong to a climax, and with revelations and plot developments coming thick and fast, I'm actually a little grateful for the lower episode count just to give more time to process it all. If only the R.R.P of these three-episode volumes were just as easy to process.
Coming from Bee Train, the creators of Noir, Madlax has quite a pedigree. Madlax is an assassin, efficient and deadly who receives her assignments from the mysterious SSS, and winds up weaving a tapestry of death in the world's deadliest warzones. Margaret Burton is an orphaned aristocrat who attends a private school in an idyllic part of Europe. There couldn't be two more unalike people, but Margaret has a mysterious past, and is haunted by horrific visions, and for some strange reason, she has a connection to a killer she doesn't even know.
In the previous volume, Margaret Burton decided to head to Gazth-Sonika to find Vanessa and reclaim her lost past. The friends' reunion also led to Margaret meeting Madlax, and the two finding that there was something that connected them. That something being the ancient Elies language and the three books of power that were being sought by factions in the country. They decided to head for Quanzitta's village in the warzone, as she was the one person who could tell them what the texts mean. In pursuit for their own reasons were Carrossea Doon and Limelda Jorg. As the volume concluded, Margaret stood poised to open the door to the truth.
The next three episodes of Madlax are presented on Volume 6 - Sacrifice from ADV.
Carrossea Doon is similar to Margaret in that he shares the 'Gift' that allows them to use the books. He accompanies her through the door in the hope that she will guide him to who he truly is. But the voices are telling them that it isn't time yet for the truth to be known, especially for Carrossea Doon. But while Margaret heeds the warnings and turns away, Doon insists on learning the truth no matter the cost. When Margaret comes to her senses, Friday Monday stands over her.
Friday Monday has all three books now, and he's determined to bring his vision of Paradise to all humanity. It's not a pleasant vision. But he's thwarted when he realises that there is a page missing from the Secondari. Madlax, Vanessa and Elenore race into the hostile jungle to rescue Margaret. Margaret disoriented by visions of the past stumbles through the jungle towards them. Friday Monday is looking for Madlax to retrieve the missing page. Limelda is looking for Madlax for vengeance. It's a recipe for tragedy.
Friday Monday has Margaret, and is manipulating her in order for her to use the three books to reopen the door to Truth. There's still the matter of the missing page, but he's shaped events so that Madlax will come to him. Madlax on the other hand is undergoing a crisis of faith, doubting herself and trying to come to terms with her true nature. Nakhl, against her better judgment tells Madlax where Margaret is being held, but it takes Elenore to remind Madlax of her promise. They'll still have to head into the bloodiest warzone of the war, Kalistale.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is excellent. It's clear and sharp, and the distinctive look of the anime comes across well. Other than the smallest of NTSC-PAL telltales, it's free of any artefacts or visible compression signs. The animation itself is of high quality, fluid and energetic, with pleasant world and character designs. It has a subdued, slightly pastel look to it that suits the more serious tone of the story, but it doesn't venture so close to utter severity that the occasional comic moments don't look out of place.
You get a choice of DD 5.1 English and DD 2.0 Japanese, along with translated subtitles or signs. The stereo does a fair job in creating a pleasant aural experience, with the action and the music represented effectively. The 5.1 is the track of choice if you want the extra oomph that goes with it, but it does mean putting up with the dub. I sampled it, and nothing I heard offended my sensibilities too strongly. If English is your language of choice, you probably won't have anything to complain about.
I remember complaining about Yuki Kajiura's 'samey' music when I reviewed the first volume. Now I can't get the theme tune out of my head. It's less that I've acquired the taste, than the taste has acquired me.
This volume's sleeve notes feature interviews with Masashi Ebara (Friday Monday), Toshiyuki Morikawa (Carrossea Doon), Chikayo Nakano (Nakhl) and Mako Hyodo (Quanzitta Marison).
The disc gets the usual animated menus and jacket picture common to anime releases, while on the disc you will find the clean credits, a Japanese Promo spot, a 3-minute Design Sketch slideshow, and a preview for volume 7.
Trailers on the disc are for Yugo The Negotiator, Area 88, Samurai Gun, and Gilgamesh.
One more time for the Conversations with SSS featurette. It's 10 minutes of banal so-called humour that I take pains to avoid. Fewer of the phone prank skits, but it's still plenty of English voice actors goof off re-dubbing some of the show's scenes for laughs.
This volume sees some extra goodies with the "Shard Of My Eyes" music video, accompanied with the karaoke version if your lungs feel up to it. There is also an extended preview for episode 22.
There is the two minute long Vanessa ******** Video. I've starred out a word on general principles as it's on the back of the case anyway. But there's one thing you don't do and that is put spoilers in the blurb. The title of one of the extras is a whopping great plot point that I could have done without knowing before the actual episode came up. Slapped wrists all around.
There is an Easter Egg to be found. It's 12 minutes of sock-puppet theatre, with the hosiery incarnations of the Madlax characters rampaging through the ADV offices and wreaking havoc on the voice actors. This has all the funny that the Conversations with SSS features lack, so it's well worth hunting down.
These final volumes of Madlax offer a problem to the reviewer. Madlax is a show that is definitely one ongoing story, a compelling mystery that demands to be explored, a puzzle that needs to be solved, and we're getting to the point where revelations are the order of the day, and answers are finally outweighing questions. How do I talk about this volume without spoiling it? If the people who write the blurb on the case can't manage it, what chance do I have?
We enter the final stretch of the show with the first episode on this disc, as Margaret uses the books to open a door to the Truth, and from that point on, it's imperative that you keep an eye on the show so that you don't miss a beat. People's true natures become clearer, and what it hints at is astounding in its implications. The nature of truth, reality and perception are all questioned in these episodes, and the answers aren't the sort of ideas that you would expect in your typical anime action show. We're deep into the realm of the metaphysical and philosophical here, yet the show maintains its breakneck pace, action eye-candy, and well choreographed combat sequences, worthy of a John Woo flick.
And that's all I'm going to say. Madlax volume 6 is an essential piece of the jigsaw, one that you have to have if you're buying the show. It's either buy it all, or not at all; there's no middle ground here. The picture is almost complete, with just three pieces left to go. It's a question of whether those final three episodes can deliver an ending worthy of the series so far. Given how much I've been impressed by the series, that's going to be a tough ask.