Black Lagoon (2006-2010)

Screenshot 2020-07-13 at 11.57.51

If this wasn’t already a manga by Rei Hiroe, I would say that the writer’s room had some very interesting days when creating this show.  Primarily when you consider that this perhaps has.  Well.  Everything.  Or at least everything that could be humanly possible…minus how skilled people can be at dodging death…and maybe the Vampires…and the Nazis that live in a ship on International Waters.. But who knows.  This is Black Lagoon.

Set sometime between 1993 and 1996 in the South China Sea, and in the fictional East Thai Harbour city of Roanapur, near the Cambodian border – Our stories revolve around the Black Lagoon company; a small but sharp group of pirate mercenaries/smugglers, which includes Dutch, the leader, physical muscle and heavy gunner.  Revy, the gun muscle, and Benny the computer guy, who all make unorthodox deliveries their bread and butter.  When a young Japanese salaryman, Rokuru “Rock” Okajima, is kidnapped and held hostage by them, everybody ends up taking a different course when he decides to join them and leave his old life behind.

Now to shoot for the details:

The Art style reminds me of anime that’s more western influenced while having hints of proportion distortion here and there, since about 95% of the characters are not Japanese.  I see hints of Cowboy Bebop, and a lot of other visuals are borrowed from a range of movies; primarily 1s by Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and John Woo.  The colours really bring this show to life.  Whoever was responsible for them, it’s a fantastic job.  In general, it’s beautiful to look at, from the disgusting urban areas to the lush and revitalising  land and seascapes.

The Animation is awesome, and includes some of the most fun action scenes out there.  Some of Revy’s gun battles are particular standouts.

The Voice Acting is absolutely fantastic with both the Japanese and English dubbing being as good as each other in different ways.  The Japanese dubbing includes character traits that aren’t in the english dubbing.  It’s clear when you watch the whole show that these characters speak multiple languages, and that english is really the first language of the Black Lagoon Company, but they speak in Japanese for the audience (in a fourth wall sense).  Even if their english pronunciation isn’t the best, keep in mind that you’re only receiving the story by reading the subtitles if you don’t understand Japanese.  The english dubbing doesn’t delve and chooses to keep the dialogue in 1 language the whole way through.  For instance, it doesn’t hint that Revy will insult Japanese gangsters by speaking to them in english – but that’s okay, it’s still funny when she does.  I’m very impressed.

The Characters…oh the characters. I absolutely adore this barmy bunch.  It consists mostly of 3 misfit Americans and 1 Japanese Salaryman, who was originally their hostage.  You have their leader, Dutch, a tall and built Vietnam veteran of African American descent.  Rebecca “Revy” Lee, a Chinese American woman who could be best described as Lara Croft if she was possessed by a Raging Alcoholic Tiger. Then there’s Benny, the Jewish-American college dropout who is their information and computer specialist. Lastly there’s the Salaryman Rock, the lead protagonist. Overtime, we see how both Black Lagoon and Roanapur change Rock, and whether or not he can be corrupted beyond repair.  At the same time, we see how Revy evolves from being content with ending Rock’s life, to protecting him as a type of Den Mother.  Main and supporting characters alike. There is nothing boring about Black Lagoon’s cast.  Nearly everybody (with few exceptions…to balance it out a little) is colourful, interesting, gritty, vicious, dirty, foul, dangerous and sly…just like the City where they live. The kind of city were Ladies Of The Night work during the day, the cops are as bad as the criminals, and body disposal with a chainsaw can almost go ignored.  The side characters are just as memorable as the main 1s, and when you consider that Roanapur and the surrounding area has Triads, the Columbian Cartel, the Italian Mafia, weapon-smugglers disguised as Nuns, Bounty Hunters, Aryan Socialists, Jihadis and Yakuza owning the town…it’s quite the environment. Do I have a favourite side character?…Roberta…who could be best described as Mary Poppins with the physical capabilities of both Rambo and The Terminator…You don’t cross Roberta.

The Story is awesome and very funny…yet also difficult to pin-point… If someone asked me what this was about, I’ll just say “The Adventures Of Black Lagoon”. Because that’s what it is. They’re not looking to go home…and that’s because they can’t – but rather they are living day to day, surviving and trying not to get killed. It is a character driven show rather than plot-driven. All they have are the work they do and what’s left over for food, booze and beds (Lots of Heineken). If there was a classic piece of literature I can compared this to…it would be Alice In Wonderland. Because here is Rock – A Normal Japanese man completely out of his comfort zone, surviving while trying to not kill anybody, in a world full of dangerous and colourful people..kind of like Batman.

The Music is consistently awesome and expresses a great range of emotions without seeming out of place. The opening theme, Red Fraction by Mell, it probably the perfect theme for this show; it’s adrenaline fuelled, heavy, wild and incredibly saucy, while sticking within the formula of being a J-Pop song.  The ending theme is 1 of the most important aspects of the show, as it brings you back to reality – that behind the flashy gunplay and trash talk is a darkness that is the stuff of nightmares. Characters are doing what they do because as far as they are concerned, they are already dead.  The music throughout the program shows influences from Trigun (also known for its gun battles), the Mariachi Trilogy (by Robert Rodriguez, the story of a musician with a guitar case full of weapons), and then you get spots that sound like they’re straight out of Pink Floyd, like  ’66 Steps’, spots that remind me of serious moments in the Yakuza video games (in which the 1st 2 games came out during this show’s production), and you also get the sounds that remind you of sunny islands in the pacific…A really well-made melting pot.

The Themes of Black Lagoon include Environmental Influence, Friendship, Morality, Mortality, Loneliness, Family and Survival.  It displays a surprising amount of heart when you consider the body count that piles up by Season 3 (and that’s just from Revy alone).  The episodes in Seasons 2 and 3 were especially touching on all fronts.

Would I recommend Black Lagoon? Yes I would, if you’re of age and enjoy certain types of shows and movies.  Its presentation is up there with the likes of Tarantino and Rodriguez, and it deserves its mature rating.  Either way, I had a lot of fun with this series, and would happily delve into it again from time to time.

Art style: *****

Animation: ****1/2

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: ****3/4

Music: ****1/2

Themes: ****1/2

Overall: ****3/4

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