Title: Black Lagoon
Length: 12 episodes (approx 25 mins each)
MPAA Rating: M15+
My Rating: 4/5
Rokuro is a cubicle-bound desk-jockey working in anonymity in a large Japanese firm when he is tasked to transport something on behalf of his company. Little does he know that the firm is involved in some shady underworld dealings. Travelling with an ocean-bound shipment, the vessel he is on is knocked off by a crew of modern-day pirates calling themselves Black Lagoon who want the shipment he’s accompanying. Specialising in the collection and delivery of special items for the criminal underworld, their client has interest in the smuggled goods. They take him hostage, and when his firm hangs him out to dry in order to save their own reputation, he decides he might as well stay with Lagoon and see where his fortunes take him with the little band of pirates. Taking the name Rock, he joins Revy, Dutch and Benny on their torpedo boat for a bullet-flying, shrapnel-blasting high-paced tour of the south-east Asian underworld…
I picked this show up mostly based on good reviews I read, so I had moderately high expectations for what Black Lagoon would deliver. While a lot of series deliver a heavy punch in their first episode and then let things slide a little, I think Black Lagoon traded off the credentials of its production team and let the first episode provide the character setup so the following episodes could unwind. The first episode then left me comfortable but not enthralled. After that, however, the fun really kicks in
Black Lagoon promises action, and action it delivers. This is a slick, fast-moving, explosive and colourful ride of a series, with good artwork, smooth animation and fun, fun characters. The series pretty much revolves around a series of jobs that the Black Lagoon team are contracted to do for various shady underworld interests based out of a fictional Thai city called Roanapur, and as such it’s more episodic in nature than really driven by any strong plotline. Each episode (or in several cases, two back-to-back episodes) carry a short storyline that generally involves a couple of good fast shootouts and a considerable degree of blowing stuff up, while the relationship between the characters provides the momentum for the series to move fowards.
The gunplay generally centres around anti-heroine Revy, supported by big bad Dutch, and it’s stylish but fast-moving. The animation is pretty slick, and while they use good angles and some nods to choreography, they keep it running- there’s not much of this action-frozen-in-midair stuff. When things go bang, the screen shakes, and you really feel it. For maintaining consistently cool action sequences throughout the series, Black Lagoon gets top marks from me.
Next, the characters. Lagoon is a team of four, lead by Dutch, a hulking black guy in small round shades, gruff and real and very, very cool. Their systems guy is a geeky guy in a Hawaiian shirt with a blond pony-tail called Benny. The show really focuses on Rock and Revy, and the relationship between their two characters. Rock is a fish out of water, a middle-class nice-guy suddenly thrown into the ultra-violent underworld of pirates and organized crime, and as such he can be a bit of a wet blanket. This is actually pretty standard fare for a lot of these shows, nothing too original here, although to give him credit, he may not be shooting the guns, but he doesn’t spend his whole time cringing either, and from the outset you see he has a backbone for ditching his way of life and signing on with Lagoon.
Revy is the real star of the show. She’s a mean, semi-psychotic gun-toting biatch with the nickname “Two Hands”, courtesy of the two pistols with which she metes out her brand of vindictive justice. A natural killer with little regard for life or protocol, Revy is fun to watch and gives the show a real spark. She’s also the only character on whom the producers spend a lot of time fleshing out- although they do so with a certain amount of aloofness- and the interplay between she and Rock forms the underlying tension that keeps the stories moving forward. None of the characters are necessarily hugely unique for the genre (though I do really like Dutch), nor do they develop greatly past the first couple of episodes, but they gel well together as a team and provide for some entertaining moments. Like the artwork, they add lots of colour along the way to provide a setting for a very fun experience.
And fun it is. Although it hints on some fairly dark themes at various points, this is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The gunplay is cool, and in true cavalier action form, sharp one-liners abound on all sides. The ethical dilemmas of blowing away bad guys, or weighty comparisons between Rock’s past life in the world of Japanese business and his new existence on a pirate crew, are really pretty absent. The show gets around dealing with any issues of blurring the lines between good and bad by making everybody, well, pretty bad, really. But they’re great to watch and root for.
As a production, the values are definitely there. The artwork is solid, bold and attractive. Characters are good to look at, the animation is smooth and doesn’t use heaps of fill, and the settings are great and do a good job of capturing the locations. I particularly enjoy the way the show captures the strong tropical light of the South China Sea, the lush atolls and the grimy inner-city districts. It does a great job capturing bits and pieces about the seedy life of an outlaw too- empty beer-cans and burned-out cigarette-stubs abound. The series goes for ambience over grit, however- this isn’t a dark or sinister show, so expect to remain very much in the realm of cartoon. The sound is good- vibrations with the explosions give the sequences a very solid feel, and the gun effects are good too, with excellent sampling and distinct noises for the different weapons- whether for Revy’s twin semi-autos, Dutch’s high-calibre revolver, or the combat shotgun of a certain unstoppable Colombian maid. The soundtrack fits the show well without being too in-your-face, with strong beats dominating the action sequences, an angry opening track that sets the mood, and a sombre closing theme that puts a more melancholic touch on an otherwise fairly upbeat series.
If I had a complaint to make about Black Lagoon, it would be that it’s too short, and in that time doesn’t really have any underlying narrative. Yes, it’s cool. Yes, it’s great fun to watch. Yes, the characters, for all their flaws, are right up there in my good books. But there’s not really a progression from beginning to end- which I’m hoping will be resolved in the follow-up series The Second Barrage. Revy’s dark past is hinted at but never greatly explained. Some of the goings-on with Hotel Moscow lay a good foundation for lots of future storylines, and hopefully a more directed narrative. But at twelve eps, this show really just gets off the ground with a bunch of stand-alone stories held together by the Lagoon team, and doesn’t enter the realm of great storytelling.
This is a cool, slick and highly entertaining production. It’s got good visuals, enjoyable characters, and action-filled episodic plots. It’s colourful, doesn’t take itself too seriously, but doesn’t goof off too much either. Highly recommended for lovers of the action genre who prefer gunplay over mecha, and like the real-world contexts rather than sci-fi/fantasy. I got a real kick out of this, and my only real complaint is that it didn’t go to the sorts of places I thought it had the potential for in terms of underlying story.
If you’re easily offended by violence, language, sexuality or the uncompromising slaughter of underworld cronies, or if you need a strong and meaningful story in your watching experience, you probably shouldn’t see this show.
This has a fifteen rating, for both language and violence, and it’s deserved. The language kicks off in the opening theme, and Revy is a real potty-mouth. There’s lots of shooting, and most of it’s accompanied by flying blood. It’s not gratuitous, nor does it have much nasty violence, but the themes throughout the show are not for kids, and nor are the moral ambiguities, however much they’re ignored by the producers. The show doesn’t have any overt sexuality, but there’s plenty of implied prostitution and skimpy outfits, starting with Revy’s cutoffs…