Written by Richard Brown
The Second Barrage is not so much a sequel, as a second season. The episodes are numbered from thirteen, implying a direct continuation from the original. But is it as good as the first series? Has the energy been kept? Has it grown a brain? Read on.
The Basic Plot
It’s been nearly a year since Rock, a Japanese former salary man, joined the Black Lagoon company, a group of professional smugglers. He survived Nazis, Terrorists, Gangsters, and the most dangerous woman in the world, his teammate Revi. He’s got used to life in Roanapur, if you ever get used to a city where murder is a cliché, but worse things lie in his future.
The Lolicon Rampage
The big change in the series is how dark it has now become, and by that I do not mean emo angst, I mean that violent criminality is depicted with decreasing amounts of gloss. This is not to say that humorous aspects have disappeared, the vibrant energy of the original series still remains, although it is directed differently. One story arc, featuring a counterfeiter, is this series comedy highlight, which sees every freak in Roanapur go after a single woman. But, and this proves to be the greatest strength of the anime, its grown up, there is now definitely a brain and a sense of cynicism to events. This was in the original series from the start, although in a much more subtle way, but the Second Barrage takes it to a higher level.
This is best represented by the first story arc, featuring the twin, child, assassins Hansel and Gretel. This is legitimately unpleasant viewing, both emotionally and intellectually, not just for their acts, but for what they represent. Sexually abused, stars of snuff films, the carnage they wreak is bad enough on its own, but the indifference of the regular cast raises an eyebrow. While there is a feeling of regret to events, most characters just accept them as they are, making no concessions for age. This will divide the audience in a similar way as the first series, but for a very different reason; its not brains versus brawn, it’s the nature of the material at issue here. But you have to respect the nerve of the creative staff in bringing this to the screen.
The actual meat of the series comes in the second half, which sees Rock travelling to Japan to act as interpreter for the Russian mafia group, Hotel Moscow, with Revi as his bodyguard. Putting aside the sudden revelation that the entire cast was meant to have been speaking English from the start, the anime is now character driven, rather than just bullet ridden. It’s the tale of two cities to use a cliché. Rock has to deal with returning home, and what his new friends do while he’s there. Revi benefits from a change of clothes, and develops perhaps a more patient personality. Balalaika, and her squad of Afghan War veterans, having previously been depicted as fairly honourable gangsters, are entirely different when we see their Japanese campaign. The series ends on a sad note, with Rock’s decline into the underworld looking increasingly certain, but perhaps just a hint of optimism towards the relationship between him and Revi. While the anime does not end as such, it at least has an end of season climax.
As the anime is quite serious now, the series does run the risk of loosing the original audience. With slower pacing, and fewer individual stories, the anime offers less in the way of immediate gratification, but the gamble pays off. The series remains fun, but now there’s legitimate depth. The downside to this new approach is that it opens up new weaknesses, and highlights old ones. After 24 episodes, we are still very much in dark as to the origins of the Black Lagoon gang, and character development has proved sparse for more than a few characters. The series has instead focused on building up the villains, (a relative term if ever there was one,) to its benefit. However, it’s fair to say that swordsman Gin and Balalaika are better defined than at least one of the characters featured in the intro sequence. It also should go without saying that the anime does not spend anytime re-introducing its characters, making the anime less accessible than it could be.
The Second Barrage represents the themes of the original Black Lagoon with a new level of maturity. No longer a simple shoot-em-up, it offers morally challenging drama, although perhaps at a cost. Roll on series 3.