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Anime Reviews: Black Lagoon
Bold and unashamed of it, Black Lagoon delivers filmic action that captures both the testosterone-fueled machismo of the 80s and the gritty realism of the 90s.
Title: Black Lagoon
Production: Studio Madhouse
Series Length: 24 episodes
Air Dates: 4/8/2006 to 6/24/2006 and 10/2/2006 to 12/18/2006
Age Rating: 17+ (some strong violence, extremely strong language, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: The Lagoon Company is a small group of pirates/mercenaries that operate outside the Thai city of Roanapur, considered by many to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Japanese salaryman Rokuro Okajima finds himself caught by the Lagoon Company as a hostage to collect money from his company, but when he is abandoned by his superiors, Rokuro decides to join his captors and stake out a new life. He is given the nickname "Rock," and comes to befriend his fellow members: Dutch, the black Vietnam veteran who leads the Company and acts as the pilot; Benny, the blonde college grad who handles all the Company's technical troubles; and Revy, the well-built Chinese gunslinger girl who never hesitates to kill in cold blood with her dual pistols. Together, the Lagoon Company sets out to make a name for themselves as well as a few bucks.
The Good: Spectacular action sequences; extremely fun and memorable characters; impeccable English dub; Hollywood-style story arcs
The Bad: Main characters could have gotten more development
The Ugly: The twins' story may haunt you forever
It didn't take long for me to warm up to Black Lagoon. Just one look at the characters and a couple screenshots, and I was sold. I, myself, have a soft spot for action anime which leans towards the ridiculous, so I was already interested by the word, "Go!" But, blind affection for adrenaline-fueled action aside, is Black Lagoon actually any good? Let's find out~
First off, the series' gorgeous artwork and smooth animation, while wonderful in and of themselves, allows for some truly magnificent action sequences. Crazy gun-fu catfights? Check. City-wide shootouts? Check. Driving a speed boat full-tilt up a sunken ship in order to get the right angle for propelling torpedoes off each other to hit a helicopter? You'd better believe it. Whether it's down-to-earth or completely insane, there's enough action in Black Lagoon to please just about everyone.
Good action is one thing, but it becomes more meaningful and, of course, more fun when it involves characters we love, hate, and love to hate. Aside from the members of the Lagoon Company mentioned in the summary above, you also have characters like Roberta (the maid of the Lovelace family, who used to be a feared assassin), Balalaika (the charismatic and ruthless female leader of the Russian mafia group, Hotel Moscow, who sponsors our protagonists), Mr. Chang (leader of the Hong Kong Triad who helps maintain relative peace in Roanapur), and that's only to name a few. Black Lagoon has a lot of characters, and they're all great. Keep an eye out for my personal favorites, Rotton the Wizard and Sawyer the Cleaner!
And because it just keeps getting better, all of these characters are given great voice actors. While the Japanese version is quite great, it's ultimately the English dub that stands out with its top-tier cast. Featuring Brad Swaile as Rock, Brian Drummond as Benny, Saffron Henderson as the very (funny and) offensive Shenhua, Lisa Ann Beley as the equally funny Eda, and though there are many lesser-known voice actors in the roster, they're still fantastic--particularly Revy's voice actress, Maryke Hendrikse, who gives her character a metric ton of personality. And if you're not averse to some grievous spoilers and even more grievous profanity, here's the short version!
The story, however, is slightly different from your usual anime, because it doesn't follow one continuous plot; rather, the series is divided up into 3-4 episode long story arcs, each paying clear and obvious homage to different styles of Hollywood action movies, with few recurring characters outside of the folks who dwell in Roanapur. While this more disjointed style is commonplace to us in American programming, it's a bit rarer in Japan, but Black Lagoon handles the arc transitions with masterful expertise, so if you're new to anime, this is definitely a good series to get you warmed up to the medium. All in all, it was a good move.
But now, I gotta kill my buzz by thinking about where it all goes wrong. Luckily, the only real flaw I could find is that our "heroes" don't get as much development as the series desperately wanted to give them as it progressed. While Rock and Revy get a fair share of character exploration here and there, everyone else really only gets only the bare bones; sure, you could say that mystery behind them is part of the appeal of the many citizens(?) of Roanapur, and that it makes them more unpredictable and, by definition, fun, but it's still a tiny blemish. And by definition, a tiny blemish is still a blemish.
Now then, if you're wondering why I lumped both seasons together, it's because they have the exact same staff with the exact same style and even the exact same opening/ending themes, and they did air around the same exact time within the same exact time-slot. So that's why I decided to include The Second Barrage with its predecessor (I don't even think the American release differentiates between them). And with that, the only thing I have left to say is that, if you're an anime fan and also (very likely) an action fan, you would have to be out of your mind to skip out on Black Lagoon. And if you're still new to anime and want to get a feel for the medium, or if you are just new to action series, then this is a no-brainer for you guys, as well. Just, uhh...it might be wise to also be old enough to handle the metric ton of F-bombs that will be thrown at you. I don't want to get you kids into trouble, now!
Final Score: 9 out of 10. Outlandish action sequences and insanely fun characters are the name of the game in Black Lagoon, and as long as you don't expect any game-changing revelations or characters pulling 180s over its runtime, you're going to have the time of your life.