Black Lagoon

series_black_lagoon

BLACK LAGOON & BLACK LAGOON: THE SECOND BARRAGE

Watched via DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Okay, because I care about disclaimers and stuff like that, I’ll just say flat out that this series should be rated “R.” I don’t recall if the cases had a rating posted on them, but there is very strong language and a lot of vivid violence. Definitely not a show for minors, at least in my opinion. I suppose nowadays that sorta thing is rated “PG-13.”

The show begins with Rokuro Okajima becoming involved with a hostage situation as part of a deal gone awry involving the company he works for. Rather than complying with Lagoon Company’s demands, his company leaves him to die as a hostage. Rokuro gets the opportunity to rejoin his company at the end of the hostage arrangement, but decides to quit. After all, who wants to work for a company who could care less if you die as part of their dirty business?

Already considered dead to the business world, Rokuro, or Rock as he begins to be called, ends up signing on with the Lagoon Company and becomes their accountant, advisor, and translator. The Lagoon Company is a variant on modern day pirates and smugglers. Most of the jobs they are commissioned to do either deal with transporting goods that are less than legal or occasionally taking a person under their personal care (whether they’re bodyguarding or kidnapping them).

The story arcs follow the different jobs the team takes on as part of their livelihood. What really ends up tying the two seasons together as a whole is the personal growth Rock undergoes while becoming accustomed to his new life.

PLOT: Rokuro Okajima’s your ordinary Japanese salaryman: goes to work in a suit, stays out late drinking with his coworkers, and will unquestioningly do anything his boss says. One day, he gets caught in the middle of a dirty deal his company’s made, and they decide to wipe their hands clean of him and abandon him to the mercy of the Lagoon Company, who had previously kidnapped him. The group’s gunwoman, Revy, asks if “Rock” would like to join their group, and from there on out we get to watch Rock get accustomed to the underworld of Roanapur and his new colleagues.

As you might expect of a series about a group of pirates/mercenaries, Black Lagoon’s arcs all center around what job Lagoon Company’s managed to secure. The stories focus more on the extreme and ridiculous (Neo-Nazis and evil, lolicon Romanian twins), but somewhat realistic stories also pop up, featuring money laundering, yakuza infighting, and the various groups of smugglers within Roanapur. All together, it’s an eclectic mix of action stories that always held me captivated. When crazy events were afoot, I loved guessing what would happen next, while the darker stories were also riveting for their applications to reality.

Additionally, a good portion of the show focuses on developing Rock and Revy. Though Revy asked Rock to join their crew, they clash a lot at first, and they have to overcome many hurdles and open up old wounds before they can begin to build a trusting relationship. The fact that this show has solid character development alongside such heady action makes this one of my favorite action series ever.

While some of the arcs seemed really distasteful (the Romanian twins), they always kept me interested. What’s more, there wasn’t a ton of foreshadowing, so I was actually surprised as each began to unfold. Well, except for the maid, that was so obvious.

SETTING: I actually thought at first the location for this series was Hong Kong, because of all the cultural similarities of the two massive port cities. Instead the series takes place at an imaginary port on the edge of Thailand. Just like with Hong Kong, the place is taken over with business, both legitimate and shady. People from all over the world meet up at Roanapur to buy and sell goods. Just like any other port city, you get your fair share of crime that comes along with a huge population, such as the mafia and prostitution.

Much of the action begins at a small local bar, The Yellow Flag, which is situated in Roanapur. The Lagoon Company spend much of their down time here and always manage to become involved with some sort of neighboring drama, which then becomes a story arc. The crew spends most of their business time on their boat, an Elco-type PT boat, which they use to smuggle goods and people.

I found the locations to be well rounded and believable. The central focus on Roanapur helped ground the series and events. It was a bit redundant that everything seemed to revolve around The Yellow Flag, but it helped keep things simple and easy to follow.

I think the centrality of The Yellow Flag makes sense most of the time, since I can see how all of the city’s outlaws would hang out at the same bar. I spent more time worrying about how the bartender managed to get it fixed up so quickly after each shoot-out.

SETTING: The Lagoon Company operates out of Roanapur, which is a harbor city in southeast Thailand that Wikipedia tells me is fictional. I’m surprised about that, because the series does a great job of establishing setting. Several images recur to remind viewers of what Roanapur is like (a noose on a bridge, smoking prostitutes), and the narrative has a strong sense of location as far as what kinds of plants grow and what fruits are available.

As mercenaries, the characters also travel a lot, and everywhere they visit is similarly fleshed-out and depicted to evoke a certain kind of mood. The jungles of Basilan are bright and exotic, while the series’ visit to Japan in the winter evokes the bleak futility that Rock, Revy, and some new characters feel about the unfolding events. Out of everything related to setting, I most appreciate its take on Japan. Finally, since the Lagoon Company operates out of the Black Lagoon, we’re also treated to a great deal of information about boats and the ocean, though it’s never too confusing.

CHARACTERS: I’m going to have to strongly disagree with Crystal in regards to Revy. I found her character to be very tiresome. I get the whole damaged childhood thing, but really she didn’t have to be so caustic. I think the only time I really enjoyed her character was when she plays in the park with some kids while in Japan. Maybe it’s her lack of humanity, which I get, but I just can’t relate to her at all. Not saying that makes her a bad character by any means, I just didn’t like her. Well, and in that regard I have to say she’s probably the strongest-written character of the series, as it’s no easy feat to make a character so believably hot-headed and antagonistic.

Rock is set up as a “the guy you’re supposed to relate to.” I’m not going to belittle him by calling him a Gary Stu, he’s much more than that. But it’s pretty obvious that the folks watching Black Lagoon are going to empathize with him as he grows accustomed to the transition from typical businessman to smuggler.

The rest of the Lagoon Company crew includes owner and gunman, Dutch, and technical guy and hacker, Benny. Many of their business dealings are also done in conjunction with Hotel Moscow’s owner Balalaika. She has a strange dedicated army of ex-Soviet army men, known for their ruthlessness in Afghanistan. Out of the whole cast of characters (including those involved in the yakuza arc), I have to say I really disliked Balalaika the most. While I disliked Revy, I still respected her character. With Balalaika I just wanted to see her finally get what was coming to her.

The characters that come and go with each arc are pretty stereotypical to the action genre. However, this doesn’t make watching them any less awesome to watch. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised with a lot of the characters the series came up with, like the creepy young woman who is unable to talk and has a passion for slicing people up.

I’m surprised you disliked Revy and Balalaika so much, since they’re some of my favorite characters. Maybe you were taking them too seriously? This is the kind of show that I can firmly separate from reality, unlike the live-action Sons of Anarchy, so I’m able to laugh at the violence while watching it and sleep soundly at night.

CHARACTERS: I can think of very few characters who I dislike in Black Lagoon, and most of those are purposefully set up as disgusting villains. For being a show about lawbreakers, all of the main and supporting cast are reasonably well-developed and human, which is quite a feat.

I most identify with Rock, who’s facing the sudden change from law-abiding businessman to mercenary with a very erratic work schedule. Throughout both seasons of the show he struggles with his situation and whether or not he can reconcile himself to the immoral acts that occur around him. I think I’d also be very wishy-washy in such a situation, so I sympathized with Rock a lot, while my roommate had a harder time with his whining. I’m very interested to see how Rock’s development continues in the upcoming Roberta’s Blood Trail OVA, whenever it comes out.

Revy’s probably my favorite character in the show for being incredibly badass while also being attractive in a way that feels realistic. Camera angles may sometimes objectify her, but overwhelmingly she feels like a strong woman who’s got a handle on what she wants out of life. Her interactions with Rock are always interesting and deeper than I’d expect, and I can’t wait to see more of her in the future.

And like I said before, the rest of the cast is filled with likable and awesome people. Dutch, the owner of Lagoon Company, is very capable and always sure of himself, while the hacker Benny’s an interesting foil for Rock. Balalaika, who runs Hotel Moscow (a branch of the Russian mafia) and frequently hires the Lagoon Company, should win an award for being such a badass character who manages to look crazy sexy with a scarred face. Every single arc of the show introduces new characters who all stand out as individuals and are impressively terrifying, which is a feat in and of itself. Some of the characters also have intriguing backstories that endear them to me, making me love this series even more.

Revy has a handle on what she wants? What? She may think she knows how the world works, or her own opinions, but it’s obvious to see how empty her existence has been up to this point. I’m so glad you mentioned there will be more coming out to this series as I could see her continuing to have a lot more character development.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Oooookay, Crystal must be blind if she thinks there isn’t much fan service. Could Revy’s shorts get any shorter? My husband kept walking in on me watching Black Lagoon just to see a huge crotch shot and ask me, “What the hell are you watching?” So kids, or adults, don’t watch this in front of your mom…or other co-inhabitant who’ll possibly judge you for having poor taste.

Not only that, but the violence is sooo over the top. There’s constant fighting and blood all over the place. I can’t imagine this series ever airing on TV.

Crystal is right though, with the character designs, they’re all unique and iconographic. Just enough detail to personify everyone, without all the crazy ornamentation treatments a lot of characters get nowadays.

I’ve been consistently noticing that I have a weird tolerance for fan service in standard anime, though I can’t stand shows where the entire point is fan service. At some point my brain overloads and stops noticing it or finds it humorous. I probably shouldn’t find the objectification of women funny….

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Madhouse got ahold of Black Lagoon, so it looks pretty great. The characters are consistently on model, and I can only think of a few instances with repeat animation or extended cuts to save money. Primarily, the series has fun camera angles and well-choreographed fight scenes, though, as I mentioned, every now and then we get a scene where Revy’s crotch is stuck in the middle of a shot. I didn’t notice it until I watched it with my roommate, though, so the amount of overall fanservice in the series is low to standard.

The character designs are notably individualized, and the difference between this series and last week’s Wandering Son is striking. Most facial and body features get shaken up between characters here, though the men predictably see more variation than the women. As far as character designs go, these are some of my favorites, with everyone managing to look effortlessly cool and attractive, even down to Benny and Rock.

Your brain must be so sick of crotch shots that you’ve developed a coping mechanism, where your brain automatically filters out the unnecessary elements. lol

OVERALL: I’m sooo not an action person. I’ve probably said that a billion times. On top of that I’m incredibly sick of seeing pirate/smuggler series. However, despite all of that, I enjoyed Black Lagoon. What’s even more shocking is while I intended it to be a series I’d watch with my action-loving-husband, I managed to watch it all on my own, marathon-style.

There is a lot of cussing and violence, but as far as action goes, I found it very digestible. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s a favorite, and I’d never personally buy it (it’s totally worth buying, though). However, I had a very enjoyable time watching the series and I could see a lot of fans (specially those who love action and drama) loving Black Lagoon. Also it’s just a wonderful case study on people in general.

I had no clue it was getting more OVAs, so I guess I’ll be watching more of this in the future.

OVERALL: Black Lagoon has everything I want out of an action series. At first I was scared away by its modern-day setting and the concept of following mercenaries, but after I deigned to try the show, I wound up loving it. It’s got smart, beautiful action without shying away from the darkness of the gritty world it portrays. The characters all feel realistic to me, and the show still manages to retain some levity. I wouldn’t hesitate to show this to most anime fans, and I think it’s also a strong option for bringing in new fans. My roommate, who I’m introducing to anime, immediately loved it for every reason that I do, including how awesome Revy is. So long as you’re okay with some violence and a lot of cursing (everyone seems to need “a second asshole”), then this show has near-universal appeal. Plus, it just got re-released by Funimation, and the third season OVAs will be coming out soon. Get to it!

FINAL SCORE: (8/10) FINAL SCORE: (9/10)

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