The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Black Lagoon

Title: Black Lagoon
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: 12 episodes
Date: 8 Apr 2006 – 24 Jun 2006

Synopsis: Life as a salaryman in Tokyo was anything but amazing, as how Okajima Rokuro thinks; day after day, he had to put up with his dead-end job and bow to his superiors in the office. But all of that seem faraway as he is now stuck on the tropical seas of Eastern China when his delivery shipment is overtaken by the Lagoon company, a group of mercenaries made up of ex-Marine team leader Dutch, technical expert Benny and the foul-mouthed gun-toter Revy. As Rokuro, or “Rock” as how his captors has dubbed him, gets to know them and discovers the lawless underbelly of the world, things take a turn for the worse when his company’s management board has decided to prevent a major scandal from surfacing by hiring a dangerous assassin to kill the mercenaries and him as well.

The Highlights
Background: Gritty, bleak and raw.
Action sequences: Riveting and deliciously vicious; violence comes with purpose.
Pirates: Unoriginal but rarely tackled theme; establishes its own identity in the seinen genre.
Characters: Memorable and well-explored; Roberta is T-1000 in a maid suit.
Summing it up in one word: Ballsy.

Anime about pirates do not come by so often other than the neverending One Piece, and one that puts the cutthroat and ruthless life of a pirate under the magnifying glass is even rarer, if not, nonexistent. Black Lagoon is an exception that vividly exemplifies this perspective and it presents in raw fashion a lawless world full of people in their most depraved state. Violence and bloodshed mostly in the form of gunfights are plentiful in this show, and they are executed with style that is reminiscent to action films of the 90’s. At the same time, the show adeptly juxtaposes sleek action sequences with moments of deliberate character development, an aspect commonly neglected in most action shows. The balance of action and drama makes itself one of Madhouse‘s modern classics and perhaps a common reference of its respective genre.

It would be fair enough to say that Black Lagoon‘s most conspicuous trait is its action sequences. The show is heavily featured with scenes of flying bullets, blood splatting and stuff being blown up, all of which are fast and furious. They may be gratuitous occasionally, but for most of the times, these scenes serve an important purpose: apart from them being riveting and exhilarating to watch, they also illustrate how brutal the world is and explicitly show how the corruption of the human psyche drives people towards resorting to morally questionable actions. For one, Revy’s penchant for killing people coldbloodedly and out of delight is the outcome of her tragic childhood, and the same goes for the rest of the cast, their actions being the consequence of their motivations and not-so-pleasant personal stories.

While many of the audience would remember this show for the action, what’s more fundamental is the core, which is the motley cast. Black Lagoon is a carnival of badass cast with unique traits: there are the gunslingers, the mafia, the triads, the war veterans, the government agents, the Nazis and others with their deadly weapon of choice. And of course, the beauty of the show is at its peak when they all come together and let their weapons do the talking. However, underneath all that lies in-depth character development and chemistry; in particular, the relationship between Revy and Rock takes center stage continually as the Lagoon company takes on various jobs. The two characters experience friction between them from time to time because of their polar differences, but ironically their differences are what keeps each other’s sanity intact and bring them closer. This invisible bond between them is what makes a normal scene such as sharing a lighted cigarette special.

There really isn’t much to criticize about Black Lagoon; the only minor issue about it is the abrupt ending. It is fortunately a strong indication that a second season is in the works, but it could have done the show a favor by ending things off on a high note. But this is a trivial thorn on the side when the series is in overall a no-holds-barred rollercoaster ride. It’s unadulterated, it’s bleak and it’s oh so entertaining to watch. Better yet, it pays homage to live-action movies and icons of yesteryears, such as The Replacement Killers and the Terminator movies, to give it that distinctively nostalgic touch. Between One Piece and Black Lagoon, the latter is like this more adult, more cynical and more in-your-face big brother of the former; if One Piece reitinerates the power of friendship to overcome all odds, Black Lagoon begs to differ by saying that friendship means nothing in the face of vice and gore. Madhouse shows how an action series is done by presenting to the audience one of the most daring seinen productions in its résumé. Best of all, the story of Black Lagoon is not over yet.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: AC

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