Fucking MADLAX Episode 9 (Or Not)

Yesterday snuck up on me—until now, I’d watched all of and written about most of these episodes long before the posts went up, so now that I’ve slacked until it caught up with me, I’m late. Good thing I don’t have anything to say about this episode.

Like episode six, nine was mostly slow and boring; though at least it was among the least offensive episodes so far. Besides Luciano being the worst sniper ever and some other contrivances, nothing bothered me so much that I feel like bitching about it. So let’s talk about something else.

In my post on episode six, I linked to the “Bee Train Fan Forum,” declaring its members my arch-nemeses. One of the mods from that forum found the post, thought it was funny, and linked to it in a thread. I got a trackback from that link and headed there to find a lot of people hatin’, so I signed up for an account and went in to chill the atmosphere. You see, while they may be my arch-nemeses, they’d also be valuable readers for this site, being as they actually watch and care about these shows.

I didn’t hate the understated fanservice of this ep.

The aforementioned mod, a gentleman named Fellini 8.5, said that he enjoys my site and linked me to an assload of posts he’s written about the girls-with-guns shows (links at bottom of post); namely his favorite—Madlax—so that I could read another person’s perspective. It was definitely an interesting experience.

First, here’s something he said in response to my declaration that the animation and art quality of Bee Train shows are “undeniably bad”:

“…so, like, I’m actually a trained animator (who wasn’t particularly very good at drawing and went to follow another more lucrative career path), and the animation is actually more “economical” and minimalaist, and way better than a lot of anime out there.  The shots that are really key have some absolutely wonderfully done cuts.  The rest is a bit of classic cinematic handwaving, really — which I’m quite a sucker for, because most anime totally ignores cinematic fundamentals in exchange for a “moving manga” aesthetic, not that there’s anything wrong with that (except for the fact that it usually sucks).

That said, over the years since I first discovered this, I’ve found a few Japanese commercial animators and shows that are far more superior, but I still stand by my opinion that most of what what’s out there still falls far short of MADLAX.

…And that there’s far more western shows that animate circles around most (commercial) Japanese shows… but that’s my character-animation bias showing…  (This could easily wind up a debate in another on-topic thread… if we want to, then sure!)”

Fellini isn’t wrong on accounts where preference plays a role in what’s “good” or “bad,” though I do think he’s underestimating the “average” anime. When I say “average” here, I mean average by the number of shows, not by this kind of meaningful average. I get the sense that Fellini hasn’t seen a whole ton of anime, as opposed to myself whose seen at least some of just about every damn thing.

I would like to posit that the “average” anime (quality-wise) in this day and age would be anything produced by AIC or ZEXCS. In the cases of currently-airing shows, that would be the likes of Nekogami Yaoyorozu and Itsuka Tenma no Kuro-Usagi. Keep that in mind.

Fellini criticizes the “moving manga” aesthetic, which comes down to preference. The basic theory behind Japanese animation (as I understand it) is “beautiful key frames.” Studios seem to have bragging rights as long as all the key frames look good, regardless of if anything actually moves (I don’t make that huge of an exception; I’d like to see animation). Plenty of shows these days also contain “sakuga” scenes, wherein the focus becomes animation fluidity, and these are a big bonus for a series, but it’s not seen as necessary to be like that all the time. A series that has great key frames and busts out the sakuga for fight scenes is something I’d consider very high quality (take, for instance, this season’s Sacred Seven by studio Sunrise, which has a particularly large number of sakuga fight scenes).

While I appreciate the fluidity of American animation, I don’t like the way most American cartoons look (and yes, I watch a lot of them). American animation rarely focuses on character design and doesn’t usually have individual shots that wow. The best anime for me, stylistically, are the ones with very strong individual shots. (A best-of would be any of the Evangelion movies and any of Shinbo Akiyuki’s better works, most notably Le Portrait de Petit Cossette and Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica—in those shows, I find myself thinking that every other image would make a good desktop background.)

I love animation as a medium, and I appreciate all that it can do, but I don’t think better fluidity makes better-looking show. My focus is character designs (and subsequently, character art—character animation is important, but a backseat to character art for me), visual style (by individual cut), and sakuga fights.

Now, those aforementioned AIC and ZEXCS shows don’t have any big sakuga moments, and they aren’t particularly strong visually, but at the very least, they have attractive character designs (almost everything does these days IMO, hence “average”), and for the most part, consistently attractive key frames/character art. That, for me, is enough to make them watchable without groaning and bitching about the animation quality.

The Madlax-in-night-city shots are the closest things in Madlax to something I like.

I admit that before Fellini pointed it out, it hadn’t occurred to me that Bee Train might be trying for a different aesthetic from most anime. I consider visuals to be the worst part of every Bee Train show (yes, even worse than the dialog), because they don’t appeal to my preferences. The character art is highly inconsistent (as I’ve addressed on this site), there are almost no attractive individual moments worth saving, and there’s never, ever any sakuga animation.

But I’m not giving Bee Train a pass on the basis of preference. Regardless of whether Fellini accepts the level that these shows appeal to his preferences, it’s not like they’re the masters of that approach. It’s not like there’s a ton of movement in Bee Train shows (after all half the fucking screen time is panning shots and close-ups of people’s eyes), and while I can’t say I know what Fellini means by “cinematic hand-waving,” it doesn’t sound like something a show should be bragging about.

The tons of posts that Fellini’s done about Madlax are quite interesting and show where different perspectives and viewing styles really come into play.

I firmly believe that there’s no right way to watch anime, and that different people have their own viewing styles. I’m certainly one prone to analyzing anime, but my style of analysis and the conclusions that it brings are different from those of others.

I try to find meaning by looking at the people who create anime. I research the directors, writers, animators, studios, and try to figure out what about them and the shows they’ve done can help me interpret their other works. I’m a bloodhound for “creative intent,” and I pride myself on being able to see in a show what I believe those who created it see—my judgement then comes from how well I feel those creators were able to convey what they tried to show.

But what I’m doing is still guesswork and assumptions, and even if you think I’m good at it and agree with my thoughts, it doesn’t make either of us right, nor does it mean that we’re better consumers. There’s a tendency among canon-fags to think that there shouldn’t be more to a work than what exists, but this isn’t true—it can’t be true, because everyone’s viewing experience is going to be skewed by their life experience—and often, it isn’t the creator’s intent for the viewer to get exactly one thing out of a work.

Reading Fellini’s posts, there’s a lot of stuff that I flatly don’t find true or agree with. He sees some things as “interesting setup” that I see as “contrived bullshit.” His “foreshadowing” is my “forcing plot into the story.” He says about the maid in episode six, “her and Vanessa posing there in the dusk as a challenge to the Dorkus Maximus is quite satisfying,” whereas my opinion of that scene was, “there’s all these fucking panning shots, why the fuck are they just staring at each-other god damn it?!”

He isn’t wrong, and I’m not wrong. It’s just that he’s a Bee Train Fan and I Hate Bee Train.

[Fellini’s Madlax coverage on Bee Train Fan: eps 1–4, eps 5–8, eps 9–12, eps 13–16, the rest. Coverage on his blog: here.]

2 thoughts on “Fucking MADLAX Episode 9 (Or Not)

  1. “Le Portrait de Petit Cossette”

    Alright, I’m about to sound like a grammar douchebag, but fuck it, anonymity kicks ass.

    The correct spelling of the title is “Le Portrait de Petite Cossette.” Cossette is a female name, therefore ‘petit’ must have the ‘e’ added to make it feminine. I swear to God, half the sites/people on the Internet have this wrong. JUST PUT THE ‘e’ THERE GUYS. IT’S NOT THAT HARD.

    Other than that, great post.

    • I’m aware of this, but the show spells it wrong in the official title, and I care more about that than I do about correct grammar (if I didn’t, I couldn’t last five minutes around anime titles).

      Glad you like the post, though.

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