Anime Review: Black Lagoon

Written by Richard Brown

Typically, the third series slot at the club is reserved for comedies, or animes that balance out the extremes of the first two slots. Black Lagoon, as a largely action driven series was a controversial choice. Here’s what I thought of it.

The Basic Plot

A Japanese office worker is taken hostage by pirates, a gang of three criminals operating out of the old torpedo boat, Black Lagoon. When it becomes clear the documents he was carrying are an embarrassment to the company, he is promptly abandoned and marked for death.  Forced to join the very people who kidnapped him, he is given the nickname Rock. Now he was to cope with Dutch, no relation to Samuel L. Jackson, Benny, the tech, and self-destructive gunswoman Revi, and life in Roanapur (the original gangsta’s paradise).

 

A Pistol Called Sword Cutlass

We all judge animes according to our prejudices, its unavoidable. On first impressions Black Lagoon was exactly the type of anime I avoid, a girl with guns anime with the same target audience as Tomb Raider. Such things are exploitative, and a little boring, but I was pleasantly surprised. While not exactly deep, Black Lagoon proved to be smarter and more entertaining than the boobs and bullets fest I was expecting. It functions as an action series with a macabre sense of humour, like a brutal version of the Lethal Weapon movies. The piracy aspect to things is actually quite minimal, in the same way Cowboy Bebop didn’t have much to do with actual cowboys. Most of the action is stylised and tongue in cheek, occasionally being hilarious. One inspired episode sees a game of chicken between a torpedo boat and an attack helicopter, another sees a terminator tribute with a maid, which is is sheer genius.

This slightly daft approach is balanced out by its unglamorous depiction of the crime world, and occasionally brutal violence. Revi, when assigned to cause a distraction on a boat, simply murders everyone she comes across, leaving bloody footprints as she goes. This is probably the most controversial aspect of the series, Revi and the anime itself has no self control. While not gleeful in the bloodshed and certainly not violent for its own sake, the series does not hold back. This gives the series its vibrant energy and creative combat scenes, but will divide the audience between those who like over the top action, and those who don’t. It also gives us a variety of characters, featuring, amongst others, the Russian Mafia, International Terrorists, Nazis, the avatar of Chow Yun Fat, the afore-mentioned maid, arms-dealing nuns and a drugged–up getaway driver. While lacking the subtlety of a sledgehammer, you be hard pressed to call the series boring.

 

The best element of the show, from an intellectual perspective at least, is the relationship between Rock and Revi, two very different characters. Revi is far removed from most anime women; hard drinking, and angry to point of homicidal rage. Revi is not a calm and composed killer, and while the opening sequence gives the impression of a brazen and confident tomboy, she is depicted as being as damaged as you would expect a killer to be.  She actually acts more masculine than Rock, perhaps the only honest man in the city, who refuses to abandon his tie, wield a gun, or become embittered. As a passive salaryman, he has a hard time coping with her, treated as a whipping boy, and mocked for being so naive in a town of criminals. One of the best scenes in the series is when he finally works up the nerve to have it out with her, a brave move considering she had recently exterminated 30+ Neo-Nazis. Unexpectedly, the series demonstrates the skill to handle drama using only two characters, a table, and a single bullet. The real surprise however is Revi is not the lead character, Rock is, meaning there is some level of introspection to events. However, it is also true to say that actual character development is fairly minimal, the other regulars, Dutch and Benny are pretty two-dimensional due to a lack of screentime. There also isn’t an ongoing storyline, although most of the episodes are multi-part. The net result is a series that is incomplete, but you probably won’t mind.

Conclusion

Gratuitously violent, slightly sexist, and one of the few animes I’ve seen with openly racist dialogue, Black Lagoon is not for everyone. If anything, the series reminded me of the kind of anime you got here in the early 90’s, when Manga Entertainment ruled the earth and every tape was a video nasty. The series is often a case of brawn over brains, but it proves to be  a lot of fun. Black Lagoon knows exactly what it is, and does it well.

8/10

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