Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail Review
When the original Black Lagoon anime came out it was easy to see we had stumbled upon something special. It told the dark, yet touching, tale of pirates, serial killers, ex-soldiers and gangsters trying to thrive in the thoroughly corrupt city of Roanapur. And it nailed the vile, yet tempting side of crime, all the while reminding us on each and every corner that these people are living on the edge of society. That they are the scarred, the outcasts and the leeches of society. Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail is a direct sequel that continues that story. It too tries to portray the grim reality of one such scarred person, but fails to be as touching or substantial as previous story arcs in the series.
After Roberta rescues Garcia Lovelace from the cartel that kidnapped him the two return to their home in Venezuela where Garcia’s father awaits. Their peaceful days don’t last long though. When Garcia’s father arrives at a public political assembly he is assasinated by US special army agents. Faced with the loss of her beloved master Roberta loses her mind in agony and sets out to kill every last one of the agents. As it turns out her targets are on their way to Roanapur for their next assignment. She prepares for battle and head over to Roanapur without informing Garcia of her leave. Soon after her departure a disturbed Garcia, alongside one of his maids, arrives in Roanapur in the hopes of hiring the Lagoon Company to help him find Roberta before something terrible will happen. However this matter is more grievous than it first appears. On the one hand the US is a valued ally to most of the organization in Roanapur, which means they will in turn be trying to hunt Roberta down. And reinforcement soldiers from the US are on their way to secure safe passage for the US agents. On the other hand Balalaika and her Soviet army want the American soldiers out of Roanapur and fast. And Garcia himself hires several of Roanapur’s more “colorful” henchmen to aid him in securing Roberta’s path. Even some ghosts from Roberta’s own past decide to take their chances, and they will eliminate all who stand in their way, regardless of allegiances.
On paper Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail looks promising. Roberta is arguably the most overpowered maid in anime history, and having her clash against US army special forces on Roanapur grounds is an exhilarating idea. It is regrettable then that the first half of this OVA basically boils down to a detective show where Rock and Garcia roll around the city, searching for hints to Roberta’s whereabouts. Action is at a minimum here, and most of the time is spent on Rock planning his next moves. Only on the second half of the third episode of the OVA (which has a total of five episodes) do things really pick up when Roberta makes contact with the US forces and all hell breaks. The build-up to Reberta’s conflict is thus long and tedious, differing starkly from what Black Lagoon stands for. Undermining this part of the OVA even more are some poor direction and dialog choices. Without spoiling any of the plot I’ll just say that the main characters spout childish, overly cheesy, and sometimes plain irritating lines that no real person would ever say. When the action does pick up things literally blow up and burn in flames. Roberta’s hunt is brutal, gory and bloodier than you might have expected. Be ready for some very disturbing imagery. Bones will break and organs will be spilled. Visually the OVA look similar to the rest of the series, which means it is sharp and prefers the use of dark tones and shades in order to convey itself. The same goes for the audio department, which still delivers quite nicely without reinventing itself in any significant way.
FUNimation’s release of Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail is simple to a fault. Just the five OVA episodes, with a textless ending theme and some trailers being the only extras. The five special introduction videos that came with the Japanese release are missing. In other words – 41 minutes from the Japanese version of the OVA are missing. In the Blu-ray version the series is presented in 1080p native HD. The audio options are either Dolby TrueHD 2.0 for the Japanese track or Dolby TrueHD 5.1 for the English one.
Despite the direction issues I wrote of earlier my biggest problem with Roberta’s Blood Trail is its lack of a compelling character to root for. Sure, Roberta is a badass, but she is also a serial killer and a terrible person to boot. Rock was my go-to character in the original series, but his snarky and arrogant attitude in the OVA makes him unbearable. The only relatable character is arguably Garcia. He plays a more prominent role in Roberta’s Blood Trail than he had in his original Black Lagoon story arc, and is also the one character that truly evolves and grow during the span of the OVA. Garcia starts the OVA as a child seeking help from the adults but by the end of Roberta’s Blood Trail you will have seen him sully his hands and take an active stance. It’s a commendable feat.
The lack of ambivalent characters which deserve our attention made it hard for me to care. It’s very clear from the get-go that neither Roberta nor the US soldiers have a righteous cause. So when they started butchering each I felt oddly indifferent about it. The original Black Lagoon was an excellent show not because you enjoyed watching the Lagoon Company kill people. It was excellent because you enjoyed the action and simultaneously also felt a pang of guilty for romanticizing the life of pirates living in the slums (which is something Rock was often guilty of too, as Revy frequently reminds him). Here that sting is lost. You cannot romanticize mindless murder and butchery. Hence it is very hard to care about the outcome of Roberta and the US agent’s clash. And if you planned on watching this OVA just to see Revy and her Cutless pistols in action again you will be sorely disappointed to hear that she has very little screen time compared to Roberta, the US army, the Roanapur gang members and even Rock. To top everything off the ending of the OVA feels rushed and unfitting. It is so simplified and unnatural you will feel cheated.
It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail is a real letdown. Despite being based on a great series it’s an under-achiever that performs poorly and doesn’t expand the source material in meaningful ways. Cheesy dialog, a lack of likable characters, a weak plot and a terrible ending lead to an OVA that Black Lagoon fans will probably end up regretting they ever saw.