Does Mashimo "get it"?
I finally caught all the way up to Madlax episode 12 over the weekend. While it's sometimes fun to draw loose comparisons with Noir ("and then Chloe, uhh, the chick from the jungle..."), I really can't discern any real resemblance except for the fact that the things that Mashimo and his team did well in Noir, he's still doing as well in Madlax. Sometimes better, but not always. There's still that excellent depth & expressiveness behind the characters' eyes, their story arcs are rich with detail yet still hold mystery, and the overall sense of place and presence and mood is very solid.
I'd score it better than Noir in some of the more nitty technical details like staying on-model with the characters (I'm at the point with Noir that I can tell which animator did which shot for which character -- not by name, mind you, just by style deviations) and an overall visual tightness and consistency between long shots and closeups (long-shots of characters with detail are tougher to deal with in cel, and Noir's celwork had other advantages that overshadow this nit anyhow). I'm sure I'll need to revise this when I finally get a chance to see a higher rez release in the coming years (keeping my fingers crossed for an HD release like Noir had!)
But I'm finding that Madlax is probably aimed a little bit lower on the "sophistication" scale as far as the overall story and dramatic direction than Noir is. Or maybe a better way to put it is that Madlax doesn't take itself as seriously as Noir. Which is absolutely fine; Madlax is a lot of fun!
Of course, before I go heap praise on Mashimo, I finally did manage to grab the rest of Avenger over the weekend too. This one seems aimed even lower on the scale, and looks like it's trying to appeal to a broader anime-fan audience, or at least trying to fit in to an established formula. There's still glimmers of the things I like about his characters, but the dramatic depth, the story arc, and the mood/place ingredients are all much, much shallower. There was way too much reliance on "WTF-for-WTF's-sake" going on, I felt; something I'm bit worried about with Madlax, but since Madlax still has another 14 eps to go, I don't think they're in as much of a rush to just drop these bombs on you to cover up for as much as Avenger was trying to cover up for.
I also can't say that the qualities I've liked so far in Mashimo's works can translate too anything done by Bee Train; I've tried to give Arc the Lad a couple of viewings, and I just don't like it. I found Avenger to be much better than most of the series I've sampled so far, because at least there's that "glimmer" there. But I guess overall that's not saying much.
Anyway, I've got to give .hack a try next before I put Mashimo after Miyazaki on my "gets it" list. As in "Mashimo gets it" (Miyazaki definitely undisputedly "gets it", in spades, upside down). And I'm about to give Cowboy Bebop a spin to see what all the fuss is about that Wantanabe guy. And I still have to get myself back to watching at least a couple of films that aren't animated (gasp!); this anime stuff can really skew a guy's perspective after a while!