October 11, 2010

Bento Bako Weekly: Black Lagoon (anime)

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Black Lagoon
Director: Sunao Katabuchi
Studio/Licensor: Madhouse/Geneon (original) and FUNimation (current holder)
Episodes: 24 episodes, sold in 12-episode sets (Black Lagoon, Black Lagoon: Second Barrage) or in a single collection
Vintage: Originally aired through most of 2006, released here in 2008 (the recent OVA is scheduled for release in 2011)
Genre: Girls with guns, action, drama, mafia, crime

Rock (Rokuro) Okajima is Japanese salaryman, on business for his company. The ship he is on is attacked by a group of mercenaries/smugglers known as the Lagoon Company. In an effort to first recover, and then to cover up a disc containing classified documents, Rock’s company abandons him to his fate. He somehow manages to survive, but refuses to go back to his calm life in Japan, instead choosing to stay and become a member of the Lagoon Company. This band of misfits includes large and tough Dutch, the owner of the Lagoon Company and captain of their smuggling boat; easygoing and peaceful Benny, the company’s mechanic and technology expert; and foul-mouth expert dual gunslinger Revy “Two Hand”, the company’s…well, I think it’s pretty obvious what she does. Rock joins on as a diplomat, the negotiating voice of the company, and he also serves to keep the short-tempered Revy in check (usually unsuccessfully). The story follows the group from one dangerous situation to another, including raiding an old sunken WWII German submarine, running various errands for Russian Mafia branch leader Balalaika, fighting off bounty hunters, and various other situations that typically involve getting shot at and blowing things up.

I think this image makes it pretty obvious what an ass kicking show Black Lagoon is. That is indeed a torpedo boat taking out a gunship.

The city of Roanapur, where the company is located, is full of many other colorful characters. Roanapur is mostly controlled by the Russian mafia group Hotel Moscow, and the local branch of the Chinese Hong Kong Triad. Hotel Moscow is run by former soviet captain Balalaika, whose former troops make up most of her elite squad. The Triad is run by Mr. Chang (one of my favorite characters), an ex-law enforcement officer with an easygoing attitude, who is highly skilled at wielding dual pistols. They maintain a delicate balance of power within the city, often with the aid of the Lagoon Company, which frequently works for both sides. The Church of Violence (more commonly referred to as the Rip-Off Church) poses as a Catholic church, but secretly runs an illegal arms smuggling operation. A one-eyed, tough talking nun runs the operation, along with a smart mouthed, trigger happy woman known as Eda (who also poses as a nun). Eda and Revy are frequently at each other’s throats, though they also fight well together when pressed. There are also plenty of bounty hunters around; such as the Taiwanese knife master Shenhua, who speaks in hilariously broken English; the constantly high Irish getaway driver Leigharch; and the voice-box talking, chainsaw wielding, pint-sized girl Sawyer the Cleaner. And it’s impossible to forget fan favorite Roberta, a vicious killer living out her life as a house maid for the Lovelace family, who is one of the few people to truly give Revy a run for her money.

Nobody messes with Balalaika and gets away with it. Or even lives to try.

The relationship between Revy and Rock is one of the most interesting in the series. At times he is able to calm her down, but at others he only makes things worse. When he once lectures her for what he perceives as grave robbing, she threatens to kill him if he ever tries to force his morals on her again. Rock’s naivety and innocence from living a normal life often make Revy uncomfortable and angry, but there are times when she does her best to protect that innocence from the evils of the world she lives in. It often bothers her that Rock lives between the light and the darkness, while she has always lived and always will live in the darkness; she even tries to convince him to go back home, but he feels more at home with Lagoon Company than he ever did in Japan. So as you can see, there are some more serious themes in the show, and the characters are more complicated than they appear on the surface; it’s not all explosions and massive shoot-outs…though there’s certainly plenty of that to go around.

When cars aren’t speeding through the streets and buildings and ships aren’t exploding, there’s some great exploration in the series about the nature of good and evil. Much of this, as mentioned above, is explored through Revy and Rock. There’s also Balalaika, who works off a strict code of honor, but wouldn’t hesitate to kill a friend if they happened to be on the wrong side (meaning, not on hers). Benny is an average guy, much like Rock, but has less scruples with the Lagoon Company’s activities. Dutch will switch sides if there’s a greater benefit; business is business, after all. Even some of Lagoon Company’s employers are working multiple angles. In a world where crime rules, what’s right and what’s wrong isn’t always clear, and Rock’s naive morals don’t always work or help him find the right answers. He even tries to save a young girl from getting involved in the world of the yakuza, but how can you save someone who doesn’t want to be saved from their fate?

Rock and Revy get down to business.

My husband was around while I watched most of this series, and he would ask me, “Why do you like this?” I think the question came because I typically don’t go for over-the-top action, with lots of gun fights and explosions. Things that characterize nearly every minute of every episode of Black Lagoon. Never mind the foul-mouthed, scantily clad leading lady who likes to shoot first, and shoot later (there’s no talking involved, unless she’s yelling at someone about wanting to shoot them). Yet somehow this excessively violent, foul (as in vulgar), dark, and hilarious anime struck all the right notes with me.

Originally released by Geneon, you can now find the series re-released by FUNimation. The 24 episode anime is sold in two 12-episode sets – Black Lagoon, and Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage. There’s also a manga, distributed by Viz Media, and a light novel that is currently unlicensed. A third season, an OVA centering on Roberta, began in July 2010. The show features excellent animation from Madhouse, great music by Edison, and a totally rockin’ intro theme called “Red Fraction” by Mell. The normal discs don’t have much beyond trailers as extras, but if you buy the sets (each season comes in a lovely steelbook) you get a bonus disc in each with things like interviews and music videos. Though the only thing I really found worth watching was the fantastic “Red Fraction” music video. The English voice over is pretty solid, though I was bothered by the sometimes heavy, sometimes missing Russian accent for Balalaika. Shenhua’s (Saffron Henderson) broken English comes out hilariously, though. Megumi Toyoguchi is very distinctive as Revy, but Maryke Hendrikse also does a good job.

Please keep in mind that this series is for mature audiences only. There’s quite a lot of swearing, lots of blood and death, explosions, drugs, shoot-outs…. There’s also a couple of episodes about a pair of young twins who were completely warped when they were kidnapped and forced to appear in snuff films for pedophiles, then turned into brutally efficient assassins. It’s definitely adult themed; don’t let your little ones watch it with you.

If you’re a fan of shows like Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, or Outlaw Star, this should be right up your alley.




  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Comic Attack, Kristin Bomba. Kristin Bomba said: New #anime review: Black Lagoon complete series […]

  2. I remember how cool you made the manga sound! Does the anime follow it pretty closely or would I be better off checking out the manga first?

  3. Jade

    Hmmmmmmmmm…I don’t know if I want to try the anime or not. I’m not a big fan of animation unless it really makes full use of the medium like Cowboy Bebop, Satoshi Kon’s work, Persepolis, etc. From the pictures, I can already tell that the hectic chaos visual that trademarks much of the manga is severely cleaned up.

    I could swear VIZ has had plans to publish that light novel for a while now. They may be waiting for a point in the manga run to publish it, but I think they’re caught up with the Japanese releases now. I hope they do release it, I’ve gotten a little addicted to light novels lately, haha. I even got the Genshikan book, which was…awkward but sort of entertaining.

  4. Kristin

    I really don’t know. I’ve only read that one volume of the manga, and it takes place after the main series. So, either, I’d say.

    Revy’s personality really shines in animation. And both voice actors (English/Japanese) do a good job with her personality. The show is very well made. Give it a try! It’s a lot of fun. See if you can rent/borrow the first disc somewhere. I’m not sure if it’s streaming anywhere…..

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