For my first post on this shiny new blog of mine, I am going to write about an anime show I discovered quite recently and am so very glad I did: Black Lagoon. Adapted from Rei Hiroe’s manga of the same name by Madhouse, Black Lagoon has two twelve episode seasons (aired in 2006) and a five episode OVA (original video animation) titled Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail that was released sporadically during 2010 and 2011.
Black Lagoon details the (mis)adventures of the Lagoon Company, a small seafaring group of mercenaries (or pirates, if you prefer) based in the fictional city of Roanapur, the criminal capitol of the world, after they pick up Rokuro Okajima, aka Rock, when the company for whom he pushes pencils decides that they would cut him loose in the South China Sea rather than to have to deal with a scandal. The three other members of the Lagoon Company are as follows: the captain Dutch, the tech-guy Benny, and Revy, the muscle.
Black Lagoon is a show that has taken all of its beats from the all-too-frequent excessive action films of the eighties and nineties and decided to raise the insanity another couple of notches, plant tongue firmly in cheek, and let the bullets fly. And the result is bloody and brutal and hilarious and about as fun as it is possible for a television show, or any other work in a narrative medium really, to be.
An aspect of Black Lagoon that I find refreshing for a work so unabashedly over-the-top (at least in terms of its action), is that Rock is not suddenly some bad-ass gunslinger after hanging out with mercenaries, pirates, and Revy (especially Revy, the girl will end you without batting an eye), but he also isn’t portrayed as anything close to useless. Rock, fresh off of a job for a Japanese mega-corporation, doesn’t have an obvious skill set for the mercenary lifestyle, but he does prove useful very quickly when it comes to things like negotiation, translation, and analysis. Later in the series, Rock seems to be able to talk his way in, and out, of just about every situation. In addition, Benny never picks up a gun as well, he just mans his computers and is useful without killing dozens of redshirts.
I have a confession to make: in real life, I am nothing close to a romantic, but when it comes to television (and movies, and comics, and books, and…) I tend to be on the other end of the spectrum than my real life self. This bit of minutiae is relevant for one(two?) reasons: Rock and Revy. Rock and Revy, as characters, have some of the best chemistry between leads that I have ever seen, and they aren’t even flesh and blood. Their relationship is surprisingly subtle, develops naturally and possesses some rather frustrating (and therefore realistic, sigh) unresolved sexual tension. Rock and Revy are the central characters of the series, and they probably each have at least triple the screen-time of Dutch and Benny combined, and the fact that the characters bounce off of each other so well makes that imbalance almost unnoticeable.
The central premise of Black Lagoon is, admittedly, a bit thin, but the slack is always picked up by the unique and visually striking characters occupying the city that is Roanapur. The most important of these is Balalaika, the head of Hotel Moscow (the Russian mafia), who possesses a beautiful face scarred by burns, and ice water running through her veins; she has the makings a great villain, if she wasn’t the Lagoon Company’s greatest ally. There is even an arc where she takes Rock to Japan to work as her interpreter, Revy tags along as well to make sure he stays alive (spoiler alert: it was a good decision). The other heavy-hitter in Roanapur is Mr. Chang, head of the Triad’s Roanapur branch, who possesses a fragile peace with Balalaika and a killer pair of shades. He also is just as cold-blooded as Balalaika and he is also a friend of the Lagoon Company (they are pirates after all).
Rock and the gang tend to frequently cross paths with such colorful characters as Roberta, a South American maid who is even tougher than Revy (and Revy is one tough cookie). Shen Hua is a pretty and somewhat ditzy Taiwanese mercenary with a penchant for using knives instead of guns. Not to be left out are Eda and Yolanda, the sisters of the Ripoff church, where they traffic enough firepower to take over a moderate sized nation. Eda is also the closest thing Revy has to a female friend (despite the fact that she is pointing a gun at her in an above picture). Sawyer the Cleaner, who uses a chainsaw, and Lotten the wizard, who just wants to look cool while he kills, also populate the background of the city where-you-should-be-afraid-to-sleep among many others.
Is Black Lagoon the best show I have ever seen? Not even close. Is it just about the most enjoyable show I have ever seen? Hell. Yes. The show may not be for the feint of heart, but just about any fan of action movies should give it a try or they are missing out on a treat. To quote Revy from the first episode of the show, “This is way more entertaining than Hollywood is ever going going to be.”