Okajima Rokuro is just another meek Japanese businessman. He's been kicked around for most of his life, and when his callous boss gives him an assignment to deliver a secret disc, he's thankful for the short break away from the depressing corporate culture. But a mercenary group known as Black Lagoon hijack the ship he's on, steal the disc, and then take Rokuro hostage. When the disc turns out to be more trouble than even Black Lagoon had counted on, Rokuro finds his inner steel, and rebels against the corporate culture that bullied and then betrayed him. He changes his name to Rock, and joins his kidnappers as a merc for hire on the seas of South Asia.
Black Lagoon is a lot like its opening theme. "Red Faction" is a punkish rock number with Engrish lyrics that borrow copiously from punk rock, action movies, and anything else with a bad-ass 'tude. Cliches like "No one lives forever," "Get a good head on your shoulders," and "They make me violate them," are strung together, and while it's so senseless and earnest that it's unintentionally hilarious, there's a little something more to it than that. It's a song about being a bad-ass, but on borrowed terms from another culture. Of course, anime has been getting inspiration from Hollywood, Hong Kong and Europe for a long time, but this 2006 production by Madhouse is something different. This anime has some of the best aspects of both worlds: it borrows copious amounts of the attitude, look and feel of Hollywood, and is as cool as any cartoon ever was. But it also has a streak of humanity you don't find in many action films, and that love for the colorful and outlandish we often see in anime. Black Lagoon doesn't seem to have been engineered to be the coolest thing American otaku have ever seen, but it covers all the right bases, and is always, always fun.
As I mentioned in my notes, Black Lagoon has two seasons released here in the US, but there's so little difference between them that I'm covering both here. For all intents and purposes, this is a twenty-four episode series- the animation, scripts and directing are consistent from beginning to end. The series has about eight different story arcs, each of which are almost self-contained. Characters do see development from one arc to the other, but you could theoretically pick up at the start of any arc and follow everything just fine. I wouldn't recommend it, though- Black Lagoon is a series that gradually builds on itself and its characters. By the end of episode four, you'll like the cast. By the end of episode twenty-four, you'll love them.
Black Lagoon has an entertaining rogues gallery of thieves, mercenaries, mafiaso and criminals that are colorful enough to make Roger Moore-era Bond look like it was written by Ernest Hemingway. Most of the series is set in the South Asian city of Roanapur, a Constantinople for "small businesses" that only accept payment in briefcases filled with unmarked bills. Even the nuns are packing heat and trafficking drugs. And our heroes, or anti-heroes if you must be picky, are some of the best in the businesses. Dutch is the brainy ex-Marine who fought in Vietnam, and keeps his small company together. Benny is a Florida University dropout who acts as the crew's techie. And then there's "Two Hands" Revy. Revy is the face of the show; she is the crew's heavy: a trash talking, dual wielding refugee from China whose curvaceous figure conceals the fact that she's more testosterone than estrogen. And there's more to her than her two modified Berattas and a nice of pair of guns. She and Rock are the emotional crux of the series, not only because of some romance, but also because they see the best development.
But as cool as Revy is, Rock is the character that impressed me the most. At first I was afraid that he would be another Raki- the useless outsider who gets to hang out with the cool kids and ruin everything by being either annoying or just very bland. Rock is neither. He doesn't make the transformation from corporate drone to hard-ass overnight- heck, he never really does- but he does put his skills as a salesman and negotiator to good use for the gang. Of course, he's also their moral center, but he never acts condescending, and sometimes he loses his fights for justice.
The production values for this series are very high, and even one of the few moments it looks bad is also one of the series' funniest jokes. Unsurprisingly, the American dub for this is very strong, and Meryke Hendriske's take on Revy far outstrips veteran seiyuu Megumi Toyoguchi performance. I would also say the script is great, but credit for that doesn't actually go to the screenwriter, since the anime more or less uses Rei Hiroe's original manga as a storyboard. But it's the kind of comic that you've got to see in motion on screen to fully appreciate how kinetic it is. Madhouse has been promising a third season for a long time, and people tell me that the current story arc running in the comic is really something to behold. Personally, I can't wait, and if you haven't seen the first two seasons yet, there's no reason you should wait to pick them up. Both seasons are easily available on DVD, and as of the writing of this review, Funimation is about to release both seasons in a single boxset for about fifty bucks. Buy it.
No Funimation, thank you.
Bloody good fun — Bradley Meek
Recommended Audience: Language, violence, some nudity, and Revy's short shorts are really short. Nothing you can't find on television, so I'd say 16+.
Version(s) Viewed: Region 1 DVDs
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Black Lagoon © 2006-2009 Madhouse Studios, Black Lagoon Production Commitee, Geneon Entertainment, FUNimation Entertainment
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