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As I mentioned during my return to the Vice Pit, I marathoned BLACK LAGOON during my week-long sabbatical and, boy let me tell you, it breathed some life into my anime watching. So much so that I felt compelled to share my thoughts about the show here (in even more detail). Tom reviewed the first episode a while back and some of you Vicers have already dropped a handful of reviews about the rest, but I felt that all the talk about the show’s COWBOY BEBOP/Tarantino style missed one thing that will stick in my gut for a while to come...
This show is dark, man. I mean, morally pitch black.
Got that? Good, now hold that thought for later. First, let me summarize the show for you…
In short, a lowly Japanese salaryman, nicknamed Rock, is taken in by a modern-day pirate band that operates dangerous cargo and escort missions in the South China Sea. These outlaws - - Dutch, Benny, and the dual-gun-wielding, jean short enthusiast poster girl, Revy - - roll around various countries, mixing it up with neo-fascists, gangsters, assassins and even a murderous South American maid.
While there’s no shortage of gunplay, explosions and other assorted mayhem, Revy and Rock are the real axels which keep this show moving. Their constant interplay -- and their parallel arcs -- are what hooked me more than anything.
See, Rock’s life in Japan was pretty pathetic. Falling in with the Lagoon Company winds up being a way to strike out on his own and do something exciting. Revy, on the other hand, is a child of the streets - - a gal who’s been pushed around by the system all her life and developed a lust for violence to simply survive that pushing. Her ice-cold attitude is a refreshing, and highly entertaining, break from most female leads I’ve seen. Though she dresses in cutoffs with a bare midriff, Revy is no sexpot and there’s no love lost between her and anyone else in this show.
Well… save possibly for Rock. He develops his own intriguing contradictions in his arc, having to reconcile the incredible violence he willingly surrounds himself with and his own naivety about who’s innocent and guilty in this criminal underworld. I found myself both rooting for and pitying the guy as he gets further into this outlaw lifestyle.
There are no heroes or outright villains in this show. Every character has shades of grey and, when pressed, nearly every character resorts to increasing levels of violence to escape the situations they find themselves.
Yeah, it’s kind-of depressing… so let’s break from this discussion to talk about the action because, after the first couple episodes, things do get appropriately campy.
BLACK LAGOON absolutely kills it with exciting, innovative action. Really, the fun here is of the A-TEAM’s classic grade of explosive cheese. I couldn’t have found more simple, basic glee than I did just watching the Lagoon Company devise a plan, execute it and then be left with no choice but to blast their way out after all the planning goes to hell.
There are nods to various modern heist movies, John Woo shootout sequences and even a TERMINATOR 2 homage with the aforementioned killer maid. This really is the closest an anime gets to the unbridled machismo of a Schwarzenegger or Stallone flick.
Getting back to the heady talk, though - - in the midst of the Dolby 5.1 Surround supported massacre, the show finds crucial time to let its character moments breathe. We really get to know what is going on in these morally-ambiguous mercs’ heads and I was quite surprised by the amount of character development in this generally fast and furious thrill ride. The violence and humor is memorable (even the mildly-offensive combinations thereof, like the Taiwanese knife fighter who sounds like a stereotype of a nail salon worker) but what sticks with you most is these outlaws’ mean personal philosophies and the terse ways they all express those philosophies to the world.
On the highbrow, BLACK LAGOON ends up being a commentary on the nature of corruption and choice. Are you able to choose to live one way or another? Or do your surroundings corrupt you beyond repair? By the end of the show, you will know without a doubt where these characters stand on their view of the world, and what they do to affect it.
SIDENOTE: I’d be remiss not to mention that this show also has one of the most memorable ending credits sequences in recent memory. Its dirge-like, haunting, and... c'mon, you just have to watch it...
The final arc was described by some as weak compared to the others in the bulk of the show, but I couldn’t disagree more. Having to return to Japan as interpreters for a malicious Russain employer, Rock and Revy finally must face whether Rock will choose this pirate life or attempt a return to his old, corporate one. Using a pretty familiar Yakuza crime backdrop, this arc sees the tension ramp up to an uncomfortable zenith, leaving you truly unsure what was going to happen next.
I won’t spoil it for you. But I can tell you, it gets bloody. Well, much bloodier than usual.
I highly recommend BLACK LAGOON for your action anime watching, and with characters like Rock and Revy, this show will stick to you like the tar in their lungs from all those sweet, sweet cigarettes.
Sam Weller is a writer and actor who's scribed for shows like FIRST EDITION, GEEK THERAPY, and most recently BATGIRL: SPOILED. He also really likes anime. To know what is going to happen next, follow@cravesam