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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Awesomeness from the "Black Lagoon"

Highly Recommended

By Jamie Tadlock (Source: Toon Zone)
Black Lagoon is a really awesome show.

Believe it or not, I’ve rewritten that sentence several times, trying to find a better, more intelligent way of putting it. But there really is nothing more to say. It is beautifully drawn, skillfully choreographed, and voice-acted by people with enormous talent. It manages to be funny, frightening, and dramatic by turns, striking the right moods at the right times without exception. The series's flaws, such as they are, are always the kind that you think of only after the credits have rolled. Its plot involves gangsters, war, and death in a way that is both over-the-top and realistic, and it manages to make it work.

The story has Rokuro Okajima, a mild-mannered Japanese salary-man, being abducted by the “delivery” company Black Lagoon in the hope that they can demand a ransom from his superiors. (Their actual assignment was to acquire the disc he was carrying, which contained details regarding his company's illegal business practices, but a certain member of Black Lagoon decides there’s nothing wrong with opting for a bonus). After effectively being told to die “for the good of the company” by his boss, Rokuro ends up getting christened “Rock” and becoming a member of the Black Lagoon group. After this, the show jumps episodically from one arc to another. This is by no means a bad thing, as the lack of a visible “end-point” allows the show to explore its setting and characters more thoroughly.  

Black Lagoon takes place primarily in the city of Roanapur, which the Black Lagoon company operates out of. It's a Gotham without a Batman. The defaced statue of Buddha that guards the city's port pretty much speaks for itself. We generally see the city as a beautiful place, from birds-eye aerial views, obviously done so that its beauty would contrast with the constant crime. The major force in Roanapur is the Russian Mafia, Hotel Moscow, headed by the scarred war veteran Balalaika. Close behind is the Chinese crime syndicate, headed by the sunglasses-sporting Mr. Chang, a master gunman. There’s also a Colombian Mafia and an Italian Mafia, and doubtless several others that remain nameless. The Black Lagoon Company works for these gangsters indiscriminately; their most common job would appear to be smuggling, but they also seem inclined to take whatever kind of work is offered to them. With the addition of Rock, Black Lagoon is made up of four people: the other members are the African-American toughie, Dutch; the Floridian technician, Benny; and the Chinese-American gun-woman, Revy.

The characters are likable and believable, despite their professions, and we want them to have happy endings even as we wonder if they deserve them. The most dynamic characters in the cast are the two protagonists, Rock and Revy (while Dutch and Benny are technically major characters, they get far less screen-time then you might think). Rock is a deliberate inversion of the usual cipher-like character that would be in his place; his angst when trying to decide whether he should return to his former, white-collar life or try to shoehorn his way into the role of a pirate is incredibly well written. It should also be noted that, despite being basically useless in a fight, Rock’s almost unconsciously committed acts of bravery still allow him to get some of the coolest scenes in the show. 

Revy is Rock’s complete opposite—foul-mouthed, sociopathic, and prone, once she’s started shooting, to have trouble stopping. She represents the criminal underworld, and all the things that tempt Rock towards it and make him shy away. There are times when she’s downright frightening—maybe the animators show her smiling at something that isn’t really all that nice, or she laughs at something that really isn’t really all that funny—but she’s a fun and interesting character all the same. She’s also by far the most memorable of all the cast. Action scenes where she blows apart an army of boats or methodically kills off a gang of yakuza are extremely riveting. In addition to being a capital B Bad-ass, there are also surprising subtleties to her character, including references to a troubled childhood, hints that she may be using that trouble childhood as an excuse for her actions, and scenes where it is obvious that she is as curious about Rock’s garden-fence world as he is about hers. These make her more relatable then she otherwise would have been.  

Black Lagoon has a unique art style, more rounded and prone to realism then other anime, but not static to the point that unrealistic aspects (such as, say, blade-crazy Taiwanese mercenaries or machine-gun toting maids) make us flinch. It also tends to give us beautiful, sweeping views of the surrounding scenery, whether it be aerial views of the city of Roanapur, shots of the wildlife inhabiting islands on the Sea of Heaven, or impressively drawn views of the Tokyo Skyline. The show's score is interestingly varied; several characters have their own themes, and Revy would appear to have several. The main theme is catchy, but also a little annoying. There’s also a surprisingly beautiful English ballad sung by one of the villains during the fifteenth episode. I’m usually not a fan of that kind of music, but this song is sung so well that I made an exception. The show’s supporting cast is as colorful as anything Dragon Ball Z or One Piece could come up with, but the show’s tone makes it work, and it should be noted that an impressive amount of thought has been put into one-off and other “un-important” characters. The voice-acting is amazing; I suppose the dub and the sub could be switched depending on your preferences, but Brad Swaile’s Rock and Maryke Hendrikse’s Revy completely over-ride any other opinions I might have on the situation.

The DVD set comes with a pair of “Extra” discs; the only extras of note contained on these are a music video for the theme song and an interview with the English voice cast. The interview is disappointingly dull and the music video is more then a little creepy, but it’s nice to see some effort for such a quality show, anyway. 

This is Black Lagoon’s first “Complete Series” set, and for those who haven’t already bought the show it’s certainly the best bargain at around $40. This is, in case you’ve forgotten what I said at the top, a really awesome show, and I strongly recommend it.

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