Category Archives: Animation

Superman: Unbound: My Review is Also Unbound

Marvel may be dominating the world of live-action super-heroism, and probably will continue to do so barring some unforeseen dramatics, but DC Animation has been equally dominant in the (admittedly significantly less lucrative) realm of animated film-making. They continued their solid stretch of quality film-making with Superman: Unbound, based on the 2008 “Brainiac” story arc in Action Comics by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. The sixteenth DC Universe Animated Original Movie, Superman: Unbound is directed by James Tucker and has a voice cast lead by Matt Bomer (White Collar) as Clark Kent/Superman, Stana Katic (Castle) as Lois Lane, John Noble (Fringe) as Brainiac, and Molly Quinn (Castle) as Kara Zor-El/Supergirl.

It is just another day in Metropolis, Superman is off doing something or other for the betterment of humanity, the sun is shining, and Lois Lane has been taken hostage. Again. Since this occurs in the first two or three minutes of the film, it is a given that she is rescued from her predicament with all of her snark still intact. Her rescuer is Superman’s adolescent cousin Kara Zor-El, who has taken on the moniker of Supergirl. Kara has all of the power, with twice the midriff. Clark Kent may have the power of a god and be an unparalleled master of disguise (Glasses! So subtle, so genius!), but he lacks that specific tact needed to deal with a troubled teenager (who was actually familiar with the home planet that was obliterated) without pushing a few buttons.

You're not my real Dad!

You’re not my real Dad!

Superman: Unbound was shaping up to be an understated meditation on the importance of family and open communication in all sorts of relationships, but this is all derailed (damn you comic-book cliches! I’m kidding, hooray for explosions) when a robot from space engages in a lengthy brawl with the Man of Steel and it is revealed that the pair of Kryptonians may have to deal with an enemy Superman never knew he had, and Supergirl wishes she could forget: Brainiac. Brainiac is a being that is part organism and part machine who thirsts to know…everything. The impossibility of that mission has caused him to rig the game by eliminating the element with the greatest potential for chaos in the universe: life, and all the free-will that goes along with that. Brainiac travels from planet to planet miniaturizing and bottling cities from intelligent worlds for his collection before destroying those planets. One such conquest was Kandor, the former capital city of Krypton.

Superman, desperate to stop the inevitable destruction of his new home, decides to seek out Brainiac in the cosmos and leave the Earth in the care of Kara, who still remembers the fruitlessness of the defense Krypton mounted against Brainiac. Meanwhile, Lois wants to stop hiding her relationship with Clark Kent and has discovered the joys of wearing miniskirts to work (admittedly, this probably makes her interviews go more smoothly).

The character designs in Superman: Unbound were hit and miss for the most part, with Brainiac and Supergirl looking fantastic but Superman and Lois Lane looking slightly off, and not quite like themselves. Note: the characters don’t unnatural, it just never quite feels like Superman and Lois Lane, at least based on their appearances. The background animation and environmental scenes are all superbly rendered, even if the actual motion of what’s on screen can feel clunky (a minor quibble, but a quibble nonetheless).

Who said superhero movies couldn't be shocking?

Who said superhero movies couldn’t be shocking?

The character of Superman works better for me here than he has in a long time, certainly better than in Man of Steel, in that it adds shades to the character that do not detract from the character’s core qualities while adding a depth that is just not inherent to the character (sorry fans of the character, I’ve never quite gotten it). His upstanding nature has made him self-righteous, and his all-consuming protectiveness has added hints of timidity in all things non-violent. Superman: Unbound also conveys something refreshing in that it is usually not seen with character, at least not on screen: he’s out of his depth. Brainiac is Superman’s match and then some, and they both know it. Additionally, Lois Lane is at her least cloying in the film, which saying quite a lot considering my dislike of the character (I may be ambivalent towards Superman, but I genuinely dislike Lois Lane…I’m sorry, fans of the character).

Matt Bomer’s voice-work is certainly competent, and the actor looks the part (not needed in a voice-actor, but I thought I should point it out), however, it is generally bland and unmemorable. I did appreciate that Bomer made his voice sound slightly more nasally when voicing the definitely-not-Superman Clark Kent, as opposed to the definitely-not-Clark-Kent Superman. Stana Katic is equally competent and unmemorable in her role of the feisty reporter commonly known as Lois Lane.

Brainiac makes for a good villain, and is suitable as a foil for Superman who is not named Lex Luthor (also: good on Superman: Unbound for not inserting that character when he is unnecessary). Superman is essentially a god, but he wishes nothing more than to be able to be fallible without disastrous consequences ensuing. Brainiac seeks godhood, and the question regarding his apotheosis isn’t if he will become a god, the question is just when did he shed the last remnants of whatever humanity he had to start with? John Noble probably does the strongest voice-work in the film, though I feel it was a mistake for him to interject any emotion into Brainiac’s voice. Cold, calculated brutality is just so much more terrifying than some of the heated decision-making we saw.

I kind of like the decor.

I kind of like the decor.

The action is a good, though it sometimes it feels like the action sequences are from a stylistically different film from the quieter scenes with fewer explosions. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be jarring at times. The plot of Superman: Unbound moves along at a very quick pace, and the film could have definitely used an extra ten minutes or so to develop the characters and their relationships a bit better, though profit margins must be maintained and animation is expensive to produce relative to the revenue that they yield (not a judgment).

Superman: Unbound continues the increasingly impressive streak of DC for quality animated features, though it is not up there with some of the more exceptional works they have put out. The voice-acting is solid, and the focus on lesser-known characters (to the general public) such as Supergirl and Brainiac is refreshing when facing the overabundance of Lex Luthor (who I like) in Superman media. Superman: Unbound is a solid animated effort, and fans of the character, the genre, or non-mainstream-superhero-cinema (it being about the most mainstream of superheroes not withstanding) should enjoy it.

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Wreck-It Ralph: 8-Bit Nostalgia and Product Placement

Over the past couple of decades, the primary location where video games are played has shifted from the arcade to the living room, and while the graphics may be improved, the nostalgia for those quarter-to-play games remains. Wreck-It Ralph taps into this nostalgia and focuses on the characters living inside the arcade-games, particularly Wreck-It Ralph, the bad guy of the game Fix-It Felix Jr.. The film is produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, and directed by Rich Moore. The voice cast includes John C. Reilly as the titular Ralph, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Ed O’Neill, and Dennis Haysbert.

Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is your typical arcade villain, he spends his days wrecking buildings that are destined to be fixed by Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer), and he spends his nights alone living in the junkyard while all of the other residents of the game live in a cushy apartment building. After going to a Bad-Anon (Bad Guys Anonymous) meeting, Ralph’s frustration with his lot in life builds to the point where he barges in on a party for all the citizens of the game, except for him of course. He then heads off to the central hub where all of the game characters from the arcade can mingle in order to find a game where he can finally gain some respect, and a shiny medal. After a mishap in a shoot-em-up game, he winds up in a Candyland inspired racing game where he must team-up with a glitching little girl, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who just wants to race. But a malicious King Candy (Alan Tudyk) desperately wants to keep Vanellope away from the racetrack, and isn’t afraid to go through Ralph to do so.

Wreck-it_Ralph

The voice-acting of Wreck-It Ralph is top notch, particularly the work of John C. Reilly in the title role. Reilly is one of the most underrated actors working today, able to be incredibly subtle while doing some outlandish comedy. His voice is naturally downtrodden, in fact I can’t recall one of his characters that is not at least a little bit depressed, so his casting as the frustrated and (wait for it) depressed Ralph was ideal. Reilly’s work is strong throughout Wreck-It Ralph, and his work anchors a film whose plot could have easily ended up being a framing device for sight-gags.

Sarah Silverman, as the intriguingly named Vanellope, straddles the fine line of endearing and cloying when playing (voicing) spunky children. The character is surprisingly well-developed for a child in an animated film, but she is onscreen a little bit too much, and her antics get old rather quickly. Though, it must be said that she is an easy character to support. Jack McBrayer, of 30 Rock fame, is cast in yet another goody-goody role as the hero to Ralph’s villain. He is good-natured, but frustratingly naive about the ways of the world and the manner in which he treats Ralph.

wreck-it-ralph-title

Jane Lynch provides most of the funny one-liners in the film as a hardened soldier programmed with the most tragic back-story ever (the only day she didn’t check the perimeter was her wedding day…). Her character is the stereotypical gruff, competent soldier type so common in just about every narrative medium, but it is very funny. Alan Tudyk plays the villainous King Candy and goes for broke with the over the top performance, but he is effective, and actually quite menacing, despite the pitch of his voice.

The animation is, as is the case with most 3D animated films these days, superb and detailed. The sequences of 8-Bit animation give the film a large modicum of charm that many of the computer-animated films released these days lack. Having all of the characters exist in different arcade games allows for a variation of designs of the characters that actually makes sense, from the exaggerated features of those in Fix-It Felix Jr., to the anatomically correct sort-of-realism of those from Hero’s Duty, and just about everything in between (Pac-ManStreetfighter!). And for once, the vast variations fit the story, and don’t distract from it. The settings are all detailed and visually resplendent, but none of them are all that interesting. It is either a town, or a battlefield, or “Candyland.” The central hub where all of the different characters is much more interesting, if less elaborate, but very little time is spent there.

Wrecking-It in multiple languages.

Wrecking-It in multiple languages.

The story of Wreck-It Ralph is surprisingly complicated for an animated family film, but the execution of some aspects of the story-line, particularly in the third act, leaves a lot to be desired. Wreck-It Ralph is yet another animated film to end with an extended chase sequence, which may look pretty but are almost never tonally consistent. The ending of the film also redefines what it means to have a happy ending. I am, in general, not anywhere near a fan of endings that wrap up everything in a neat little bow, and that definitely holds true here. I liked the film, I truly did, but that doesn’t change the fact that the ending was sweet enough to give me a headache (context: really sweet things tend to give me headaches).

Wreck-It Ralph is worth watching if only for the constant stream of references and homages to other arcade games. I couldn’t help but to get a kick out seeing Clyde, one of the ghosts from Pac-Man, running a support group for the antagonists of various games found in the arcade. Or seeing Ryu and Ken (from Streetfighter) going out for drinks after a long day of fighting on the streets (sorry for the wordplay). In this way, Wreck-It Ralph is not dissimilar from the Toy Story series which featured a plethora of various different toys both as characters and as cameos.

Wreck-It Ralph is a very fun, very well-made and well voice-acted animated feature from the people at Disney, the concept lends itself to visual splendor and Wreck-It Ralph delivered on that promise. This is not a great film, the story is too easily resolved and the plot is more than a little bit hectic, but it is definitely worth watching, for both children and adults, who will probably actually get more out of it than younger viewers.

Hotel Transylvania: A Monstrously “Meh” Romp

This is a year where quite a few of the animated films designed for consumption by children have taken cues from the horror genre, the films: ParaNormanFrankenweenie, and, of course, Hotel TransylvaniaHotel Transylvania transplants the monsters from the old Universal Horror series of films (DraculaFrankensteinThe Wolf Man, etc.) to the modern age, throws in a resort run by Count Dracula meant to be a haven from us vile humans, and an adolescent vamp ripe for her first love. The voice-cast is chock full of names including, but not limited to, Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Cee Lo Green, Jon Lovitz, and Fran Drescher. Genndy Tartakovsky directed and Sony Pictures Animation produced the inoffensive Hotel Transylvania

Count Dracula (Sandler) is your typical single dad, he hopes for his daughter to grow up happy and hopes that she never leaves the safe, secure home he has constructed for her. Mavis Dracula (Gomez), his adolescent daughter, is about to turn 118 and reach adulthood and she wants for nothing more than to be happy and leave the safe, secure home he has constructed for her. This home: Hotel Transylvania. The hotel is a resort destination for all sorts of ghouls and monstrosities, where they can seek refuge from the cruelty the humans will inflict upon them if their existence is discovered.

hotel-transylvania-3d-1680x1050-660x412

The hotel is filled to the brim with monsters for Mavis’ annual birthday party, including Dracula’s close friends Frankenstein (James), Wayne, the Werewolf (Buscemi), Murray, the Mummy (Green), and Griffin, the Invisible Man (Spade). But all his party planning and helicopter parenting may be all for naught when Johnny, a twenty-one year old human (Gasp!), shows up at the door with a stuffed backpack and a free-spirit that resonates strongly with Mavis. As Dracula seeks to hide Johnny’s human nature from his guests, he may find himself opening up to the world that spurned him and to finally become willing to let his daughter grow up.

The animation looks fantastic in this film, and while the action onscreen is frequently busy, it is never confusing, which is a rather impressive feat considering that there are frequently dozens of different characters onscreen at once, most of whom are of a different species or subset of monster. The character designs in Hotel Transylvania tend towards the more exaggerated, but it works well enough, and what is transpiring onscreen is sure to please the younger audience members viewing this movie.

Hotel Transylvania - Gang

While this film is definitely technically proficient, it lacks in terms of story and characterization. As is the case with a good number of films, primarily those marketed at children, the story beats are all obvious from a mile away. That isn’t so much the problem, as is the execution of said story beats in Hotel Transylvania. The story in the film is cute, maybe even clever, but the script doesn’t mine any of the potential for anything other than the shallowest of interpretations of its premise.

There are only three real characters in this film, and a bunch of celebrity voices who comment on the goings on of the Hotel Transylvania. Count Dracula is the only character with a real arc, coming to accept humans as not just being the roving bands of people brandishing torches and pitchforks, through his interactions with Johnny. Johnny and Mavis’ development essentially consists of them being the same at the beginning as they are at the end, accept for being, you know, in love. Hotel Transylvania is another one of those films that espouses the idea that if love isn’t instantaneous, it isn’t valid. For any of you out there who doubt that twelve or so hours is enough for a young adult to know if they want to be with someone forever and ever (it should be most of you), you may groan at this predictable development. I most certainly did.

hotel-transylvania2

Like so many animated films, the climax of Hotel Transylvania takes the form of an extended chase sequence. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this particular scene in which Dracula, Frankenstein, and friends run through a crowded village, has one of the most cringe-inducing, it is so sweet, plot developments I have ever seen. This is a film about what goes bump in the night, or what they do in their spare time, and it bothers me to see such dark material, or material that should be, turn into a “let’s all be friends” without any issues whatsoever affair. This type of dark material was handled more maturely, and better, in this year’s ParaNorman and Frankenweenie.

The voice cast is competent, but it is filled with so many celebrities it becomes distracting at times. The lead trio of voice actors do their jobs well, but the remainder of the cast can’t help but to seem like the stunt-casting that they so obviously are. For example, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Cee Lo Green, and David Spade seem like they are only voicing characters in the film to provide “hey, that’s _______” moments for the parents watching in the audience with their children.

Hotel Transylvania is a good movie for children. The animation is excellent and the monsters are vibrant and amusing, but the story is thin and devolves into an extended chase sequence near the ending. This film is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it’s probably even Adam Sandler’s best movie in years (that is kind of sad), and it managed to deliver on everything that it promises, but it promised so very little.

Five Adaptations of Science-Fiction and Fantasy Classics that Failed to Launch Franchises

Literary works have long been mined for their cinematic potential, which has resulted in some of the greatest films of all time, and also some of the most disappointing. Works of science-fiction and fantasy have frequently seen adaptations hit the big screen, and all too often they fail to be the critical or commercial successes that their source material should warrant. In the case of works a part of a series, the initial film’s lack of success tends to prevent subsequent works from being adapted  for the screen. The following five films never got the sequels that they were so obviously meant to lead into, and in at least a couple of these cases, it may have been a good thing.

I like the moons.

I like the moons.

Dune

I know that my previous post was about Dune (read it here), but the film most certainly belongs on this list and, in some ways, it probably (okay, definitely) inspired it as well. Dune is one the cornerstones that modern science-fiction is built upon. Vast in its scope with a thoroughly detailed world, Frank Herbert’s novel remains as interesting today as it did (almost) fifty years ago when it was first published. Dune spawned five sequels by Herbert that span thousands of years worth of story and remains as the best deconstruction of the “messiah” archetype ever written.

The 1984 David Lynch directed adaptation is an admirable attempt to translate the world to the screen, but the complexity of the story and the raw amount of time needed to properly set up the characters and their motivations (why won’t Sting stop smirking? To find out, read the book.) hamstrung the production from the start. With a sizable cast led by Kyle MacLachlan, the film suffered from uneven pacing, eighties-style CGI, and a running time of less than six hours (I am not advocating six-hour features, I am just implying the amount of time necessary to adapt the story). The film’s greatest failing is the lack of addressing the fundamental ambiguity that the primary character embodies: what happens when the hero has won? Despite this, I can’t help but to enjoy Dune for the big ball of good intentions and missed opportunities that it is and would have welcomed an adaptation of Dune Messiah (if I had been alive at this point, that is).

Ian McKellen, ladies and gentlemen.

Ian McKellen, ladies and gentlemen.

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass is adapted from Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the United States), the first novel of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. His Dark Materials is a recent work, published between 1995 and 2000, but its influence and importance is undeniable. The books were heavily influenced by John Milton and his epic poem Paradise Lost and function as something of a counterargument to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Also, in my mind, any books that are banned as much as these ones have been are definitely worth reading. The novels center around Lyra, a precocious girl of twelve years that gets embroiled in a war between man and god, and religion and secularism. Along with her daemon (an animal familiar that everyone in her world possesses), she starts on a journey involving gypsies, armored polar bears, and a mysterious substance known as dust.

His Dark Materials is a fascinating series that tackles big questions and delves into interesting theories and philosophies (was original sin a good thing? are there Earths parallel to our own?), but the film The Golden Compass sidesteps many of these issues to create something easier to understand, not nearly as controversial, and naught but a hollow shell of the story it was adapted from. Directed by Chris Weitz, the film boasts a fantastic cast of primarily British thespians who all do good work, and has some stellar special effects (Ian McKellen makes for one regal polar bear), but the philosophical and questioning undertones have been all but completely eliminated to create a by-the-book (not literally) fantasy adaptation. It under-performed at the box office and never had a sequel green-lit, and that may be a good thing.

That android is portrayed by Alan Rickman.

That android is portrayed by Alan Rickman.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a work that takes absurdity to levels that Lewis Carroll never reached (and that is saying something), the five-part trilogy (you read that correctly) by Douglas Adams has become legendary for its wacky humor and endless ability to be referenced (42! Towels! Vogons!). Released in 2005 and directed by Garth Jennings, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a cast led by Martin Freeman (currently Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit films) as Arthur Dent, the bathrobed and British hero. Released to moderate success both commercially and critically, the film never managed to strike enough of a cord to warrant a sequel, no matter how many heads Sam Rockwell had.

The film sees Arthur Dent hitching a ride on a spaceship along with his best friend, who just so happens to be an alien, just as the earth is being destroyed. One of only two humans left alive in the universe, he embarks on an intergalactic journey to discover the answer to life, the universe, and everything (it isn’t what you would expect). The film is fun and captures the feel of the novel quite well, though some of the humor is lost in the translation to the big screen. I also feel that the reveal about the mice lacks something (the mice are key). The Restaurant at the End of the Universe was never put into production and here we remain.

We've all been there. Am I right?

We’ve all been there. Am I right?

John Carter

The most recent film on the list and the one based on the oldest novel, John Carter had the scope, it had the spectacle, it had the impossibly pretty cast, but it did not have the box office, or anything resembling competent marketing, or even a good title. Adapted from the first Barsoom novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of MarsJohn Carter stars Taylor Kitsch in the first of two abysmal box office showings of his in 2012 (at least this isn’t Battleship) as the titular John Carter (of Mars), with a large supporting cast including Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris (the said princess of Mars) and Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkus.

John Carter is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it was not terrible, and it definitely had the potential to reach a wide audience…if anyone had known what it was about (how hard would it have been to add “of Mars” to the title?). Based on the novel that essentially invented the space western (without Burroughs there wouldn’t be Star Wars, or Star Trek, or Cowboy Bebop, or, god forbid, Firefly), John Carter is a missed opportunity for what could have been the start of a very enjoyable franchise. John Carter is a former confederate soldier that gets transported to Mars, only to discover he can jump really far and is super strong (oh yeah, and no Superman and what he led to. Seriously, look it up) and inevitably get caught up in the strife between the various types of Martians. He also falls in love with a princess. It is very silly, but in the very fun way movies can do so well. John Carter could have done well, but it didn’t and that is quite a shame.

Yeah, Gandalf is pretty cool.

Yeah, Gandalf is pretty cool.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

No, not that one. The first film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was this 1978 animated effort by Ralph Bakshi, a controversial underground animator (his film Fritz the Cat was the first animated film to achieve an X rating). Covering the first half (or so) of the story in the novels, it ends with the Battle of Helm’s Deep (the end battle of The Two Towers), and never received a part two. The film received mixed reviews from critics but was commercially successful (a gross of over thirty million on a four million dollar budget). This adaptation of Tolkien’s tome is also less friendly to the uninitiated than Peter Jackson’s trilogy, but is a clear influence on the later films.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is one the first films to make use of rotoscoping, or animating over live-action footage (Richard Linklater is a more recent proponent of the style). The use of this technique created a grounded look to the film (for the most part), even amid the craziness. The film is no masterpiece, but it stands on its own and is a worthy, if inferior, counterpart to the Peter Jackson trilogy. It is worth seeing for any fans of either Middle-Earth or animation. I would have liked to see Bakshi finish his adaptation, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Black Lagoon

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.

From left to right: Benny, Rock, Revy, and Dutch

From left to right: Benny, Rock, Revy, and Dutch

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.

Yes, those are nuns. Also, Rock is able to talk his way out that situation.

Yes, those are nuns. Also, Rock is able to talk his way out that situation and get the eye-patched .nun to give him what he wants.

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.

She fired a bullet point blank at his not five minutes before this moment.

She fired a bullet point blank at his head five minutes before this moment.

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.

Balalaika is kind of scary...in a good way.

Balalaika is kind of scary…in a good way.

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.”