Give Us More Girls with Guns: Madlax

Copyright © 2004 by Bee Train
Copyright © 2004 by Bee Train

I’ve said it before, but there’s something I love about the kind of stories that a genre like anime allows for. It’s that kind of acceptable madness that allows for bounty hunters in space (Cowboy Bebop) or a pair of female assassins going toe-to-toe with an ancient religious conspiracy (Noir).

The anime studio Bee Train caught my attention with its “Girls with Guns” trilogy. I loved Noir, but its successor Madlax didn’t grab me quite the same.

Much like Noir, the story of Madlax is set between two girls. One girl is the titular Madlax, a young assassin who freelances in the war-torn country of Gazth-Sonika. The other girl is a young amnesiac named Margaret Burton, who lives in the fictional country of Nafrece (which is basically France) and owns a rare book with mysterious writing. As the show goes on, we learn more about the forces of destiny that bind these two girls, which involves the war in Gazth-Sonika, a criminal empire called Enfant, and Margaret’s book. Alliances are forged, innocents are killed, and war rages on as these two heroines fight for the truth and to survive Enfant’s intricate schemes.

The cast is split up between innocents like Margaret and her loyal maid Elenore, fighters like the perky Madlax and the cold sniper Limelda, and more cynical characters like Vanessa Rene and Carrossea Doon. Madlax is a pretty interesting character, optimistic despite the hellish country she lives in and the cold acts of violence she commits. She’s definitely more interesting when she’s in the presence of someone like Vanessa, who’s determined to learn the truth. While Margaret is an amnesiac like Kirika from Noir was, she’s far less captivating onscreen. Her role seems to be to ask questions and generally spout cryptic lines out of nowhere.

Carrossea Doon, at the very least, strikes me as one of the interesting antagonists. He has his own agenda and he’s more humanized than his employer, Friday Monday. When Carrossea suffers a loss, you feel his pain. And he’s much more believable than the cryptic and bombastic Friday Monday, who takes the high priest role that Altena had to a whole new level.

Visually, the anime is lovely, and the soundtrack is pretty great, too. I highly recommend the opening visuals and the theme song “Fragments of an Eye” by FictionJunction Yuuka. However, all that is just window-dressing. It doesn’t get into the real meat of the anime.

Unlike Noir, the plot in Madlax is much stronger. There are hardly any filler or standalone episodes like in the previous series. However, that also means less chance for character development. Everyone’s just running to keep up with the overarching plot of destiny and ominous plans that Enfant is hatching. And while there were plenty of cryptic lines and repeated visuals in Noir, the symbolism and mystery in Madlax goes up to eleven—and not in a good way. I’m sitting there, watching a supernatural and political thriller, and I’m frustrated at the plot’s direction. It feels like everything is just one long lead-up to the finale, whereas Noir at least wrestled with its own questions about Kirika’s identity and the role of the True Noir throughout most of the show.

I give Madlax credit for having a pretty cool action hero, an interesting look at life in a war-torn country like Gazth-Sonika, and Carrossea Doon, but that’s it. It’s a well-produced anime with mountainous ambition that just didn’t satisfy at the end of the day. It’s definitely got Bee Train’s mark, but I don’t know if I’ll be brave enough to ever finish the trilogy and watch the final series, El Cazador de la Bruja.

The English dub of Madlax is available through Madman Entertainment.

Bibliography: Madlax (anime). Directed by Koichi Mashimo. Produced by Shigeru Kitayama. Written by Yosuke Kuroda. Bee Train (studio). Madman Entertainment, TV Tokyo, AEsir Holdings. Anime Network. Original broadcast: April 5, 2004 – September 27, 2004.

Girls With Guns And A Few Burning Questions: The “Noir” Anime Series

Promotional image. Copyright © 2001, Bee Train.

Noir.  It is the name of an ancient fate: two maidens who govern death; the peace of the newly-born their black hands protect.”

Such is the narration that opens each episode of Noir, a brilliantly developed and artistically appealing anime series.  It is noteworthy for its dense symbolism and esoteric references, its enchanting visuals and soundtrack, and its position as the first of the “Girls-with-Guns” trilogy of shows released by the Japanese animation studio Bee Train.

The series is centered on a nineteen-year-old assassin by the name of Mireille Bouquet, who makes the acquaintance of an amnesiac sixteen-year-old named Kirika Yuumura.  What makes Kirika distinctive is two things: her own skills as an assassin rival those of Mireille, and all she can remember is her alias “Noir,” a name attributed in the underworld to the deadliest of hired killers.  As the two form a partnership, they find themselves opposed by a mysterious organization called “Les Soldats,” and so the two young women must unravel the secrets behind the Soldats and their connection to the name and history of “Noir.”

Memory plays an important role in this series.  Not only is Kirika attempting to discover her own past, but Mireille is forced to come to terms with the truth behind her family’s murder when she was a child, and how their deaths continue to shape her decisions.  These two women are bound to a common goal of learning more about their past–and thus have a chance at determining their future.

The Soldats are an interesting element, providing not only an endless line of faceless enemies for the main characters to shoot down every episode, but also providing the mythical backdrop for the series as a whole.  Antagonists like Chloe and the High Priestess Altena do not have to do much in order to leave a chilling impact on the audience, and it is only toward the end that their true potential and malice are revealed.  There is also a lot of emphasis, both explicit and implicit, on the nature of sin and the issue of humanity’s redemption.  Being assassins, Mireille and Kirika know a lot about committing sins, but only as the series progresses do they realize just how much they’re wading through the blood of their victims.

If I have one issue with Noir, it’s that takes a minimalist approach that can prove quite frustrating to the audience.  There’s not too much dialogue and some of the flashbacks from the first episode are reused extensively over the course of all twenty-six episodes.  But the emphasis is more on the beautiful and elegant imagery of the series, giving us rich landscapes like Paris, Corsica, and the medieval manor where Altena resides.

Noir is a rich and moving show, balancing well-styled action scenes and appealing scenery with a thematic exploration of violence and personal tragedies.  You’ll hardly forget the stirring image of Mireille and Kirika back-t0-back in a fight for the truth, nor will you forget the stirring techno-trance hymn “Salva Nos” that envelops each gunfight like its own prayer.

Bibliography: Noir.  Directed by Koichi Mashimo.  Written by Ryoe Tsukimura.  Prod. Bee Train.  Madman Entertainment.  April 6, 2001 – September 27, 2001.