Black Lagoon Review
Guns, cigarettes, criminals and blood; a whole lot of blood. These are the supporting pillars of Black Lagoon. Our story begins when a ship carrying the Japanese salaryman Okajima Rokuro is attacked by pirates and he is taken hostage. After his company brassily refuses to negotiate with the pirates Rokuro has a change of heart, crosses sides and join the pirates. He receives the nickname Rock and becomes part of the Lagoon company – a courier company that works on the black market and does odd jobs, some of which are outright illegal. The other members of Lagoon are the American Dutch, the American-Chinese Revy and the Australian Benny. Their base of operations is Roanapur – a lawless city on an island in the Indian ocean. It is a place where ex-soldiers, prostitutes, blacklisted criminals, and organized crime syndicates roam in broad daylight. The Lagoon company takes any job that crosses their way. Most of the time they serve these “fine” criminal organizations. But on the rare occasions when something goes terribly wrong and an organization or person turns against them Lagoon are
thrown directly in the line of fire and must kill and blast their way into safety.
Rock doesn’t regret leaving his grey, somewhat degrading, salaryman office job and becoming a pirate, but his new position renders him in the middle of violent struggles and immoral acts that he often finds shocking. As a result he constantly needs to walk the fine line that will allow him to keep profiting from his thrilling new occupation without staining his hands with other people’s blood. Although it is not immediately noticeable Rock is a strong-willed character with enough guts to stand up for himself and his beliefs. Not all of his peers approve of his middle-road beliefs though. The hot-headed Revi doesn’t waste time in telling him how she despises him and the two’s relationship eventually reaches a breaking point that ends in a surprising manner. From there on the two work as a team and become somewhat of an odd, not completely functional, couple. If Rock is an example of an obedient law-respecting person Revi is anything but. Her past is a harsh and cold one. She dresses sloppily, kill people without a second thought and is a prime specimen of the dirty twisted criminals that populated city slums around the world. Although the other members of Lagoon – Duch and Benny – almost always receive some screen time during the show they are never at the focus of attention. There is, however, a third character whose importance equals that of Rock and Revi – Hotel Moscow’s Russian leader Balalaika. Balalaika and her direct underlings are ex-soldiers who fought for the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union she and her fellow soldiers decided to work from the underground to resurrect it. Because Hotel Moscow is made of ex-soldiers it is one, if not the, most powerful forces in Roanapur. And unlike Rock, who is timid, and Revi, who will kill is she needs to, Balalaika is cruel to the core. Her personality literally colors Roanapur red with blood and she has a delicate and special relationship with Revi and Rock.
If it wasn’t clear enough by now Black Lagoon is a pure action series, with gunfights and explosions occurring on a regular basis. The series manages to stay relevant and entertaining thanks to the surprisingly large pool of ideas it derives its stories from. During the show’s 24 episodes’ length the Lagoon crew encounters anti-establishment activists, Nazis, psychotic murderers, Italian mafia members, Japanese yakuza and much much more. Black Lagoon differentiates itself from most anime by the sheer amount of swearing said throughout it. Everyone and his little sister swears, and in several languages at that. Notably Black Lagoon is also the only anime from the 1990s to feature detailed real world money and has more than four languages spoken throughout it (if you listen to the Japanese dub that is). All the swearing, drinking, smoking and killing quickly swoops us into a groove that is as addictive as it is rewarding. Each story arch is comprised of three or four episodes – just enough to keep us engaged without becoming long or grueling. Of course, just like any other series Black Lagoon has its ups and downs. Incredibly though these ups and downs are well balanced – when the story elements fall short Rock, Revi and the rest of the characters pull their weight and bring the series back up on track fast.
For this review I watched the Black Lagoon DVD/Blu-ray complete series set from FUNimation Entertainment. This set contains season one and two of Black Lagoon on three Blu-ray discs and three DVDs respectively. The show comes in a fat box with a nice dust sleeve on top. Black Lagoon had two seasons when it aired on TV. Both seasons are included here and since their opening and ending themes are almost identical the show moves seamlessly to the second season. The entire series has been remastered and is presented in native HD. The episodes are compressed (as one would expect when 24 episodes are presented on only three Blu-ray discs) but the result is still nothing short of impressive. The difference between this set and the old Geneon Entertainment release is astounding. The picture here is much sharper, the colors more vivid and banding is kept to a minimum. Black Lagoon’s mature, somewhat realistic, visuals haven’t aged one bit and remain effectively appalling and gruesomely attractive. The Blu-ray version is, unsurprisingly, the best way to enjoy this series.
Black Lagoon’s least impressive part is its music. With the exception of the energetic opening theme and melancholic ending theme Black Lagoon has a bland arrangement of tracks, some of which grow stale in a manner of minutes. Of course, most of the time you’ll be too preoccupied with the insanely hyped armed confrontations and won’t pay any attention to the music anyway.
The Blu-ray comes with an English DTS-HD 5.1 audio track and a Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Japanese audio track. The English voice acting is superb. However, the English dub should be avoided. There are three reasons behind this. First, the English dub strips down the spoken languages into just one – English. A character that speaks in Russian or Taiwanese in the Japanese version will speak English in the dub, taking away some of Black Lagoon’s charm. Second, there is a technical problem with the English dub – the voice actors and actresses stood way too close to the microphone while recording and their voices are constantly muffled-up. It’s a head-scratching technical oversight that should have been plucked in the bud at a very early stage but was amateurishly left as is. And third, for some odd reason I didn’t find the DTS 5.1 surround sound to be a big improvement over the Japanese HD stereo track. So considering the Japanese voice acting is superb and the subtitles are flawless there really is no room for comparison. That’s too bad, and actually ironic, since later episodes in the show reveal that the language the residents of Roanapur speak on a daily basis is in fact English.
The Blu-ray extras also fall a bit short. They include clean versions of the ending themes, a somewhat pretentious behind the scenes video with the English dub crew, the original Japanese trailers for the first season of the show and some FUNimation trailers. By no means is the extra menu empty, but none of the extras have any substantial content worth mentioning.
Black Lagoon is a wonderful show that manages to get almost everything right. The action if furious, the plot is solid, Rock is a great main character and the sordid nature of the black society is present throughout. It’s also a straightforward series with an effective formula and good looks. There is no excuse not to watch Black Lagoon. If you like anime and are not afraid of blood Black Lagoon is a must-see series and also a great addition to any collector’s shelf.
- The story arcs are varied and always deliver.
- Rock and Revi are iconic anime characters.
- The action is fast and furious.
- The music is bland.
Final Score: 9.5/10 (Amazing)
Product Information: Black Lagoon DVD/Blu-ray Complete Series by FUNimation Entertainment. Release Date: December 4, 2012.
Review Equipment: A Samsung 32-Inch LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a PS3 using a ver. 1.4 HDMI cable.