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Black Lagoon Review

It was only a matter of time before I did a review on this series.

Review

There are a whole slew of things that I love about anime. It always has a way of turning the mundane into something exciting and entertaining. Moreover, anime can also make a solid, exciting, preexisting concept into an ultra-thrilling, table-flipping, adrenaline-fest. Although anime always has the potential to botch promising concepts (see Gangsta.), I feel that it succeeds far more often than it fails. Black Lagoon is one of the biggest successes in terms of action-oriented anime that I’ve ever seen.

For those who don’t know, Black Lagoon is a 2006 series about a Japanese salaryman named Rokuro Okajima who, after being kidnapped on a business endeavor in the South China Sea, is unwillingly drafted into a mercenary group of modern-day pirates called the Lagoon Co.

Thereafter, Rokuro - who is then nicknamed ‘Rock’ - joins the Lagoon Co., proceeds to do the dirty jobs with them, and becomes a permanent resident of the horrendous city that they live in called Roanapur. The Lagoon Co’s jobs often consist of running errands for the drug cartels and criminal syndicates that control Roanapur, leading to some pretty over-the-top gun fights and other action scenes. To the luck of the viewer, Black Lagoon delivers in both quality and style when it comes to its action sequences.

Not only are they well-animated and include their fair share of explosions, but it’s the actual situations that the Lagoon Co. and friends are inserted into that make for a lot of the entertainment value. In addition, Black Lagoon doesn’t just have it’s action to thrive on. The series is bursting at the seams with dark comedy, witty dialogue, and probably one of the most entertaining and well-balanced casts that I’ve seen in any series.

That, and it’s not set in fucking high school…or even Japan for that matter.

Balalaika is the greatest.

The main cast (Rock, Revy, Dutch, and Benny) have some of the most enjoyable character interactions that I’ve seen. Although they aren’t necessarily relatable as people, their unique and diverse personality traits paired with their occupation make them incredibly well-rounded and likable.

The side cast from Shenhua, to Mr. Chang, to Balalaika, to Eda, to literally everyone else who has a reoccurring role in the show, also add another layer of diversity and character richness that a lot of shows don’t have. Though some get more screen time than others and some are just huge ethnic stereotypes, they all have their own, distinct personalities and quirks that mesh consummately with the main cast.

Seriously, the supporting cast is half the reason I watch this show again and again.

Along with this, the show also bolsters a lot of on-screen character development and backstories - at least with Rock and Revy. What I really love is how the backgrounds and pasts of each character provide them with a unique set of morals and personal philosophies. These moral guidelines often differ greatly from those of other characters. In turn, these variances present them with internal dilemmas that give them the opportunity to develop. Even the side cast get some developed backstories which just adds to character depth. This development combined with some of the best script writing that I’ve seen makes for some deep and relevant conversations between characters.

That, or some of the most hilarious and vulgar banter that I’ve ever heard.

Now, as much as I love to pile on the praise for this series, it isn’t perfect.

Since the storyline is splintered up into 3-4 episode arcs, some habitually are stronger than others. Personally, I think the final arcs of both seasons are relatively weak compared to most of the others. They focus way too much on arc-specific characters which happen to be some of the worst characters in the series.

The series also kinda does what Spice & Wolf did in terms of endings. It ends ambiguously which knocks off a few points considering how climactic the finales to the arcs had been beforehand. Not only that, but there’s no real conclusion. However, like in Spice & Wolf, it doesn’t tarnish the show for me because of the arc system. It doesn’t have a streamlined plot that requires point A to end at point B. The viewer can just assume that the Lagoon Co. proceeds to do what they had been.

Also, the show has a 5-episode OVA...which also ends with an open ending.

Fancy that.

Characters

If you couldn’t tell from the previous paragraph, the characters are some of the best...and arguably some of the worst parts of this series.

I believe the Lagoon Co. to be one of the strongest main casts in a series. I know at first glance that some would probably just write them off as common archetypes:

Rock being the indecisive coward, Revy being the batshit-crazy bitch, Dutch being the brute/voice of reason, and Benny being the nerd.

I mean, yes, those are aspects of their personalities, but they’re so much more than that. Each main character comes with a unique backstory, set of motives, and personal mantras that make them so great.

However, due to their job and relatively niche backstories, it makes it really hard to relate to the cast on a personal level. Luckily, that doesn’t keep them from being some of the most enjoyable characters to grace the anime world.

I would also like to reiterate how fantastic I believe the supporting cast to be. Although they are almost never the focal point of an arc, they still get ample characterization and screen time to make them seem semi-realistic and fun to watch. The problem with the side cast also lies in their lack of relatability and sometimes lack of realism. It is really difficult to identify with characters that dwell in such a different world, both mentally and physically.

Rock is the only character that 99% of viewers could even hope to relate to and even his situation is considerably atypical and unique. The other issue that some may have - but I really didn’t - with some of the side characters is just how one-dimensional some of them truly are. However, though some were barely fleshed-out, none of their personalities really fit into an archetype for anime; they were still distinct enough to be enjoyable, at least for me.

One final thing I’d care to mention is that this series is filled with strong female characters. If you’re in the mood for a badass female lead, Revy and even Balalaika should scratch your itch.

Animation/Sound

This section is gonna be so easy.

Black Lagoon was a product of Madhouse.  I it’s not hard to see that Madhouse animates action beautifully with the likes of Trigun, Claymore, Hellsing Ultimate, and Redline also under their belt. To be frank, this series looks great with the animation being astoundingly fluid and the art style highlighting the hyper-realism of the setting.

I mean, Black Lagoon can easily stand up to most of the anime being produced today in terms of animation quality and it was made almost 10 years ago.

Now, there are several things I’d care to mention when it comes to the sound department.

First, the opening is pretty dope in my opinion. It took me a while to warm up to the barely-decipherable chinglish that is sung, but I like it a lot now for some reason; some will love it, some will hate it. The soundtrack is also worth mentioning because the music is surprisingly good. There’s a diverse mix of techno, blues, and hard guitar riffs which makes it easy for the soundtrack to match the tone of whatever is occurring on screen.

...and then there’s the track titled “Tear Drops to Earth” which serves - at least I think - as the show’s pseudo-theme.

It’s a soft, acoustic track that juxtaposes the other heavier music. It plays during the less action-oriented and more serious scenes of the series and it’s oh-so fitting. It’s peaceful and a phenomenal change-of-pace.

The English Dub

Unless I review Ghost Stories, I don’t think I will ever give the dub of a show it’s own section. I am willing to make a slight exception for this series.

I have to applaud Ocean Studios on this one because this dub is fucking brilliant. I’ve watched the series subbed and it’s pretty damn good - not gonna lie - but the dub is better. Each voice actor absolutely slays their roles from Brad Swaile as Rock, to Maryke Hendrikse as Revy, to Patricia Drake as Balalaika, to the entire side cast.

I could go way more in-depth on why it so well done, but you can just check that out in my Best English Dubs list.

Aside from the voice acting, the scripting is as close to perfect as it can be. It’s vulgar and unhinged which makes sense considering it’s a series based around criminals. Honestly, this series has so many fantastic one-liners that I’ve lost count. I don’t do this often, but I actually recommend watching this series dubbed over subbed.

Overall

Black Lagoon is a series that I could go on all day about how much I enjoyed it. There is so much entertainment value bundled up into just one of the 12-episode seasons, let alone both of them. As an action series, Black Lagoon doesn’t fall flat in the least with its realistic and detailed art style working in tandem with realistic animation. Pair this with an above-average musical score and an arguably killer OP (depending on your taste), and you have all of the working parts for a fantastic anime.

However, Black Lagoon also delivers as a semi-dark comedy with a masterful blend of characters that get a commendable amount of development and backstory. Moreover, while the sub for this series is great, the dub is absolutely killer and I suggest that it be watched dubbed if you don’t utterly despise them.

Not only was the voice acting for the dub award-worthy, but I personally think that the scripting was better and added more realism and hilarity to the series than the sub did.

Unfortunately, I have to subtract some points in a few places because perfection doesn’t exist - at least to me.

While I love how the story is segmented into arcs, a couple of the arcs - most notably the final ones - are weaker than the others due to lack of focus on some of the more enjoyable characters and increased focus on blander ones. Not only this, but the series ends on an ambiguous semi-cliffhanger. This is remedied a little bit by the arc system that the show uses, but a concrete conclusion would’ve been appreciated seeing that the OVA doesn’t wrap the series up any better.

The last gripe I have is with the side cast.

Although they are incredibly entertaining at points and all have unique personalities and interactions with the main cast, some of them are greatly underdeveloped and one-dimensional which some viewers may have a problem with. However, while this was apparent to me, I still think that the supporting cast did their job splendidly and were an absolute hoot to watch.

Now, while this series does draw immense praise from me, I can’t recommend it to everybody. I feel like this is self-explanatory, but this show is violent and isn’t afraid to flaunt some blood. So if you’re one to get queasy easily, you probably should steer clear of this series. Also, this is a mature series intended to be viewed by a mature audience with its abundance of foul language and mature themes. If you’re under, say, 15 or 16-years old, you probably shouldn’t be watching this. I mean, half of the jokes, references, and parts of the character backstories may go over your head if you are.

But I can pretty much give this series a solid recommendation to anybody else. This series is seriously one of the most entertaining anime that I’ve seen to date. However, I just suggest that you watch it for yourself.

Watch or Don't Watch?: WATCH!

That’s all for now

Until next time, keep watching anime!!

ringwormsherm

Greg is a 23 year-old from Traverse City, Michigan. He likes catching frisbees, drinking coffee, and driving over the speed limit. His favorite anime is definitely not School Days.

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