#1 A mystery that keeps you guessing
My friend and I watched through Madlax in a total of 4 sittings and walked away from our first 2 sessions with the show having absolutely no idea what it might really be about. It’s a thriller mystery story that keeps its cards close to its chest, while giving you just enough hints to keep you invested.
Because of the nature of the plot, I advise going into it as blind as possible. I’ll be avoiding spoilers where I can, but even this much may take away your enjoyment from puzzling the plot together yourself. Caution is advised.
The story mainly follows two amnesiac women: the aristocrat school girl Margaret and the gunslinging mercenary known only as Madlax. Margaret lives a life of comfort in the big city of a country that resembles France, but it’s immediately clear that she isn’t entirely there. She’s absent-minded and often makes incomprehensible statements, on top having no interest in the typical fascinations of a girl her age. She is contently isolated from society and prefers to only interact with her overprotective maid.
This changes when she is one day approached by Vanessa Rene, a former neighbor and tutor who now works for an international trading firm. When Vanessa tries to rekindle their old friendship, a visit to her office and a strange gift trigger something in Margaret, leading to her digging up a dusty old book written in an unknown language. It soon turns out that nefarious forces are looking to acquire this book and Margaret’s attempts to decipher its contents may be putting her in danger.
Meanwhile, Madlax is doing all she can to survive in the unyielding hell that is Gazth-Sonika, a country that has been in non-stop civil war for 12 years and counting. Growing up as an orphan in a constant warzone has thought her much about survival, turning her into the perfect one-man army. However, a recent string of jobs slowly begin to reveal to her that someone or something is actively plotting to keep the war going for reasons unknown. And as the truth starts to come out, Madlax herself is soon dragged into a world of schemes and enigmatic puppet masters.
Madlax, the anime not the person, gave us a lot to ponder about. We walked away from each sitting with many questions to debate over and getting to see these debunked or confirmed over the course of the series was a lot of fun. It’s great watching a mystery like the one in Madlax finally click into place and, afterwards, we even went back to earlier episodes to look back on the foreshadowing we should have noticed.
#2 Tragic side-stories
The first few episodes of Madlax felt sluggish to watch through. There are a bunch of episodes that are just random contracts for Madlax to complete or bizarre encounters Margaret has, which don’t really push the main story forward. Are these filler? Well, yes and no.
There is no denying that the latter half of Madlax is a lot smoother in its pacing exactly because it lacks these isolated mini-stories, but I also wouldn’t exclude them. Firstly because these episodes are really dang good. They center around interesting characters who, through their interactions with either Margaret or Madlax, become entangled in the overall mystery story.
While these episodes don’t advance the narrative much, they do a great job at providing hints about the nature of the mystery, as well as reinforcing the central themes of the story. Since these episodes are also quite emotional, the label “filler” is definitely selling them short.
#3 Stylish action sequences
Backing up this fantastic story full of intrigue are numerous intense action scenes mainly focused on exciting shoot-outs. The anime was produced by Bee Train with directing work by studio head Kouchi Mashimo, who are certainly no strangers to action series like this.
Madlax iterates on the success of Noir, resulting in battles that are energetic, frantic, and enjoy splendid choreography. There is an artsy appeal to watching these fights unfold and even the anime itself refers to them as a “dance” at one point. It’s full of dramatic poses and scenes that aren’t completely logical, but end up being much cooler to watch for it. You know things are about to get really cool whenever an action scene starts and Madlax suddenly wears a white dress as opposed to her usual combat gear.
Every fight was thrilling to watch, yet the anime still manages to keep its visuals PG-13. If you aren’t in the mood for gore and violence, then Madlax is a great alternative that emphasizes style instead.
#4 Killer soundtrack
Bee Train and Yuki Kajiura remain inseparable, and it has to be said that Madlax carries one of her finest soundtracks to date. It’s an OST very comparable to her recent work on the Madoka series, but with heavier instruments mixed in and some inspirations taken from Gazth-Sonika’s jungle setting.
Yuki’s music is a great fit for the emotional and grim feel of the storyline, and the action scenes benefit from it in particular. Anytime a shoot-out happens and you hear Nowhere kick in, you just know that you’re in for a great time. At the same time, tracks like Elenore or Margaret’s own theme are less intense and very appropriate for the characters. Even the OP, Hitomi no Kakera, is a fantastic track that we never skipped over.
#5 Varied locales
I’ve seen my share of bad thriller anime. Shows that try to constantly keep up a “realistic” artstyle, resulting in dull-looking characters that navigate grey-brown cities, preferably at night so it all blends together into an indistinct mess. Madlax avoids this problem thanks to it strong direction and by taking the viewer to all kinds of different locales.
The back-alleys of Gazth-Sonika’s demilitarized zone are certainly plenty grim and dark, but this is offset by the war-torn countryside and jungles that make up the rest of the country. Nafrece is something else entirely, having a very clean, bright, and breezy feel to it, emphasizing the nation’s peace and prosperity. These two settings nicely contrast one another, and fit with the similarly opposed main characters that inhabit the respective countries.
Madlax is also not afraid to get a little surreal. The show often cuts to visions of two kids who live in some kind of dream hellscape where they comment on the plot, and within the jungle we find mystical influences that lead to even stranger, colorful scenes.