Black Lagoon/Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage
by Polly


Do you have a craving for depraved violence, deranged sociopaths wielding weapons of all sorts of colorful varieties, and a good taste for popcorn flicks with body counts higher than a game of Serious Sam on the highest difficulty? Well, my friend, I do believe we have just the Japanese cartoon for you!

Black Lagoon can almost be considered a throw-back to older times with the way the current Japanese cartoon industry heading. Are you sick of all the moeblob [REDACTED]s, high school dramas, loli fanservice, and shitty fucking hentai visual novel adaptations (which lack any sort of the smut you perverts buy that shit for anyway) taking away from the guns, tits, blood, good stories, giant robots, and manly men that a lot of us used to revel in when we originally ensnared onto those funny Japanese Cartoons? Well, I am too, and so were the makers of Black Lagoon. It may not have all of those things I love and miss, but boy oh boy does it hit the nail on the head in a lot of other areas.

Before you dive into this show, let me just give you one bit of advice that's sure to enhance your viewing pleasure: TURN YOUR FUCKING BRAIN OFF AND LET THE PRETTY PICTURES ENTERTAIN YOU! Don't be afraid, Mr. Intellectual. There's a side of all of us that can enjoy things like this. Not every show you watch has to have some deeper underlying meaning or be some sprawling epic full of emotional twists and turns that'll bring you to tears. Sometimes your brain needs candy. The good kinda candy with blood and bullets. There's a certain type of hyper-action that can bring one inner-peace and even a smile to their face if they're willing to just let go and be entertained instead of preached to about something.

Rokuro Okajima lives a miserable and pathetic little life as your typical everyday Japanese businessman. He spends his days bowing his head to his superiors and performing all those boring menial tasks that nobody in the world wants to do, but have to be done so that the fat cats at the top can continue living their cushy lives. His only dream is to one day be one of those fat cats himself. And who can blame the guy, right? The life of a salaryman is all he can see for himself as he lives out his days. His bosses' lifestyle is the only thing he has to strive for at this point in life.

But fate had something much more in store for him, and before he knew it, a new reality like nothing he'd ever dreamed of came from out of nowhere and socked him right in the fucking jaw.

Quite literally...

Within the first 45 seconds of the show, we see our good salaryman getting whumped right in the face by a very large black man, only to look up afterward to find himself staring down the barrels of guns held by that very same large black man and a lovely, yet sinister and sneering woman. Little did he realize it, but this was the moment when "Rokuro Okajima" ceased to exist, and the man known simply as "Rock" came into being.

Rock has both the unfortunate luck of being sold out by his company and left to die at sea holding a disc of company secrets, and the good fortune of landing in the good graces of the Lagoon Company, a small band of mercenaries who "break the rules a little to put food on the table." Rock is taken aboard by Lagoon in hopes of a ransom, however when his company decides they won't play hardball, he's left to die shortly after as his company sends another group of mercenaries to clean up both him and the Lagoon Company.

It doesn't matter how many times I see it, it's still fucking great!
A lot of cursing, gunfire, and a MOTHERFUCKING TORPEDO CRASHING THROUGH A HELICOPTER'S COCKPIT FROM A BOAT BEING RAMPED INTO THE AIR later, Rock is welcomed into the Lagoon Company as a member. Admittedly, it's a bit far-fetched that a Japanese businessman would be welcomed so openly, but he THOUGHT of the crazy ass torpedo plan. It's also got a lot to do with the fact that he's pretty much considered dead now in his own home country and the fact that Revy, Lagoon's crazy ass dual-pistol wielding gunslinger, takes an immediate interest and possible liking to him.

As the viewer, we're left with Rock as our proxy into the gritty and unforgiving world of Black Lagoon. We see through his eyes not only the craziness that unfolds, but also watch him begin to adapt to his new life in Roanapur, a non-existant city in Thailand. Think of it as the Island of Misfit Toys for the absolute worst criminals the world has to offer. A place where even farting in someone's general direction will probably get you gutted like a fish and hung by the town's entrace as a warning to anyone else with flatulence control issues.

Most of Rock's screen time will be spent with Revy, the hot-headed, foul-mouthed, and better believe she's fucking dangerous ace gunslinger for the Lagoon Company. These two feed off each other the most and watching them grow together throughout both seasons can make for some nice human drama in a show that's mostly just brutal and violent. Her views on life and how very little she values anything but money provide quite a bit of friction and self-examination between the two. The confrontation they have in episode 7 of season 1 is some of the best drama and acting the series has to offer and spurs a subplot of growth between the two that's constant until the end of the second season.

Revy is Rock's complete polar opposite. She's loud, obnoxious, and would sooner put a bullet in your brain than negotiate something as trivial as who's getting the last slice of pizza. When the shooting needs to be done (and in cases even when it doesn't) she's the first to pull the trigger and the last to be standing in the middle of the bloodbath smoking a cigarette, still fuming for more bodies to put holes in. We're never given much insight into why and how she turned out the way that she has other than some vague glimpses from her past. When she's spun completely out of control and reached the height of insanity, the only member of the Lagoon Company that can talk her down is Dutch, the boss.

Dutch is the most fascinating character in the show to me. He's a Vietnam vet who never loses his cool no matter the situation and is quick to pull everyone in line when a mission goes to shit or Revy's gone off the god damn deep end again. His outlook on things is so much more laid back than everyone else in the crazy ass city and much of his dialogue is very well thought out with references to movies, literature, and even existentialists' beliefs. Sadly, we never get to see him grow at all, as is the case with about 90% of the cast of this show. We usually only ever see him shooting the shit with the last of the Lagoon Company's brotherhood, Mr. Benny.

Benny is Lagoon Company's tech guy. He loves computers and hates Nazis. He only really gets a chance to shine in the 2nd arc of the 2nd season and even then it's not that much.

Poor Dutch and Benny end up sitting most of season 2 out, never really getting to do much other than make short cameos in between all the gunfire and explosions. I was really disappointed not getting to see these two bounce off each other more and Dutch's interactions with Revy and Rock are certianly missed as well.

The lack of character development aside from Rock and Revy is a constant theme throughout the series. This is made up for by a cast of supporting characters outside of the Lagoon Company mainstays that are so damn colorful that it's just simply hard to forget any of them. This only makes it harder when they're either ultimately disposed of or just stop showing up in the storylines altogether.

Probably most important of these characters is the fearsome and absolutely cold as ice Balalaika, a former Soviet paratrooper with a dark past tied to the fall of the Soviet Union. She runs the Hotel Moscow crime syndicate in Roanapur and will show absolutely no mercy to ANYBODY that stands in the way of achieving her goals. Even the close relationship she seems to have with the Lagoon Company, especially Revy, isn't enough for her to back down when they're involved. She will crush your balls at eat your fucking eyes. If she's not hungry that day, then she'll have her entire fucking ARMY of trained soldiers come in and not even leave so much as table scraps. Watching her at work is so deliciously entertaining. She has a flair for dark theatrics, but is able to remain focused and calm under any situation.

Most entertaining and making for some of the best action in the god damn series goes to the unstoppable chambermaid, Roberta. When her young master is kidnapped toward the end of the first season, she sets out on a seek and destroy any motherfucker involved mission to light up the cozy little town of Roanapur. Take Terminator 2's T-1000, slap on a pair of glasses and a full-on maid outfit packed with more explosive goodies and guns that just pop out of nowhere and you've got our lovely war machine. Service with a smile, indeed. She's more than just a passing resemblance to the T-1000, as the animators were clever enough to even give her running chase scenes where she mimics its running motion frame for frame. The entire chase sequence and subsequent showdown with Revy make for an explosive arc that's quite simply some of the best damn action in a show in the past few years.

The most tragic, may be the twin terrors Hansel and Gretel, two child assassins brought into the crazy city by a group wanting to fuck with Hotel Moscow's shit. And boy do they ever succeed. When these two appear, all fucking hell breaks loose in Roanapur and all the crazies come-a-callin. A race through the city that's topped only by the following arc. Hansel and Gretel may provide some of the series' most gratuitous and disturbing imagery, but bring with them some of the moments that may leave you at your most vulnerable as their incredibly tragic and unfair background is brought to light. I strangely found myself feeling exactly how Rock felt toward the end of their story. The ending of their arc is one I consider to be the most disturbing, yet at the same time most beautifully done. It even earns itself a special ending theme for its final episode.

Other crazies that inhabit this crazy ass town include Shenhua, a crazy ass blade chucking Taiwanese assassin bitch and Eda, a nun of the Rip-Off Church. Both are brought in for special events in the series and spend most of their time at odds with Revy either in terms of attitude or outright combat. Mr. Chang, of the Chinese Hong Kong Triad, is a fella we rarely get to see and it's quite sad. It's believed that he's the one that taught Revy her two-handed gun style and we get to see him do a mighty fine bit of it himself. His calm demeaner and willingness to cooperate with other factions in Roanapur make him very unique among the city of whackjobs. Sawyer, the cleaner, is a teenage gawwwth chick with a chainsaw who speaks using a voice machine due to having her throat slit in the past. She's quite...awesome until she loses said machine and turns into a cowering and whimpering wreck right in the middle of battle.

And that's only a few. There gets to be a bit of character overload at times because so many are introduced throughout the series, but all are equally enjoyable even if there's not much development. Their sheer flair for being over the top and ridiculous is what makes them so entertaining to watch again and again.

Oh, and how easy you are to watch, Black Lagoon. This show is damn slick to look at. It is INCREDIBLY hard to find much fault with the show's art or animation. That's only to be expected from Madhouse, though. They've done such a fine job of creating the rugged and sleazy backdrop of Roanapur, while at the same time are able to convey so many instances of gorgeous ocean scenery and the bits of Japan's large cityscape were quite pleasing as well. The animation rarely falters, and that's very key in a show as action-oriented as this one. There are only a few instances where you'll notice animation shortcuts, but they're so incredibly brief you'll forget them the next instant because something awesome is probably about to wow you only moments later. Another exceptional aspect of the visual style of the show is the detail put into all of the weapons. You can tell a lot of work went into making sure these things looked as close to the original designs as they could. Being a fan of guns, (not necessarily shooting them) it was nice to actually notice a few models here and there I was familiar with.

Of course, a rockin' show needs a rockin' soundtrack. Right from the opening theme "Red Fraction," you'll have a pretty good idea of how the overall sound package of the show plays out. Rockin' tunes mixed with techno stylings propel the action forward and set the stage for every stage of combat. The calm and peaceful pieces are just as good, helping you to relax a bit from the constant adrenaline boosts. An interesting note is the ending theme, which is actually a very low-key piece that finally builds up to a monstrous drum solo to cap off the show. Really great soundtrack, totally worth checking out.

I fell I'd be doing this show a great disservice if I didn't mention two other bits of the sound department: The 5.1 mix and the English Dub.

If you have this show on DVD, do yourself a fuckin' favor and WATCH IT IN 5.1! Holy shit, the use of sound in this show is mind-blowing at times. It's such a great feeling hearing and feeling every gunshot and explosion riccochet around the room. Both your sound system and neighbors will thank you.

And what the fuck, Polly? English dub? What the fuck are you, some kinda Satanist? Yes. Yes I am.

Black Lagoon's English dub is simply amazing. It should come as no surprise, as this this show was clearly created with the Western audience in mind. They honestly couldn't have assembled a better set of voice actors to play all the key parts. There are a couple bad extras here and there, and an awkward sounding line or two, but I think once you get a shot of Maryke Hendrikse's explosive Revy, Brad Swaile's down to earth and emotional Rock, Dean Redman's calm but rough Dutch, Saffron Henderson's hilarious Shenhua, and Patricia Drake's downright frightening Balalaika, you won't go back. The actors in all the important roles do what most voice actors either don't know how to do, or just aren't directed to do: Act. The emotion and intensity put behind each performance never reaches the level of over-acting and character interactions feel very natural. Most importantly, those between Revy and Rock end up being the most intense. The last dub I enjoyed this much was Funimation's adaptation of Gunslinger Girl back in '05.

Black Lagoon isn't a show that wastes too much time on much of an ongoing plot, which may put some people off. It consists of 24 episodes (2 12 episode seasons) divided into story arcs of varying length, usually between 2-4 episodes. Each story is a nice and easy to digest portion, which you can easily pick up and put down while saving another for later. The pacing for the most part is pretty good overall, with only the final arc of the series being the oddball, lasting an entire six episodes. It's a nicely done story, but changes to a much slower gear than the rest of the series, so it may feel a little plodding at times. Rest assured, none of the stories are boring. Not in the least. They all provide a great entertainment value.

Let me finish by saing this: If you haven't already guessed, Black Lagoon is fucking awesome. It's so over the top and ridiculous, it may as well be the Contra of Japanese Cartoons. I'm stoked at the recent announcement of a third animated project, and the manga is coming out here very quickly. I consider this brand a bit of a rarity in the Japanese Cartoon environment. People who are sick to death of the cuteness and attraction to moe characters that has taken over the industry, thanks to the lonely and fat otaku that eat that shit up, may find something they like here. Hell, a friend of mine who can't even stand Japanese Cartoons for the most part loved the hell out of this show once he gave it a chance. You could at least use his story to give this show a fair chance to pull you in.

Just fire it up, turn your brain off, and enjoy the ride, baby.


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