Sarumarine (Level 9)

Art Shift in Season 2 of Gunslinger Girl is... weird...
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Black Lagoon is one of those series I've seen dozens of pictures of without knowing anything about it. I wasn't really interested until reading some stuff about the characters and some of the gun play. I bought the first season to see what it was about and enjoyed it so much I bought the second season shortly afterward. I was surprised to find the discs come in some really nice cases that feel solid and have simple but good cover art. Basically the show is about a Japanese businessman who gets kidnapped by modern day pirates known as the Lagoon Company. After a lot of ugly business involving his corporation trying to kill him to avoid a scandal, he joins the pirates for many misadventures involving mountains of guns, gangsters and profanity.
Anyway, after watching twenty four episodes I thought I'd put down my thoughts. If I had to give this series a grade, (to quote Revy) it would be "Fuckin' A".

First Season

Death Poppins, Maidinator- she has many names
Death Poppins, Maidinator- she has many names
The first season has a lot of fun moments while introducing the main cast. In the second episode a helicopter gunship is taken out by a torpedo boat ramping off a shipwreck. A product of showcasing the main protagonist, Rock, as a thinking man. But while he may be the narrator, I find Black Lagoon far stronger when focused on the cast instead of one character. The tone of this show is very Gray to Black. The pirate group Lagoon Company shine when they're interacting with each other. The main gunwoman Revy is pretty much a sociopath with two fancy pistols, but she's far more entertaining when reacting to Rock's misplaced morality or waiting for Dutch to give her the go sign to tear apart a fleet of ships. From what I've seen of the manga, the anime makes the characters slightly more likable. Revy doesn't get to slaughter a bunch of unarmed sailors while she goes to town on Neo Nazis. Balalaika doesn't seem as cold mostly in part to her voice actor, but it doesn't make her any less dangerous.
I'm sure opinions vary whether or not this is a good thing. Personally I'm not opposed to "hey, these are shit people in a shit world", but considering the mood whiplash in the second season I enjoyed the small changes. Black Lagoon is at its best when dealing out action, which makes Roberta's episodes a lot of fun to take in (with a very rare happy ending). The umbrella shotgun and the suitcase machine gun are fantastic not to mention the Terminator-esque chase that quickly follows. This show is good about taking certain quirks from Japan and mixing in lots of gunfire and violence. All of this set against the backdrop of the beautiful South China Sea and the fictional harbor city of Roanapur. It's a horrible place to be, but it doesn't skimp on bright colors and great scenery.  
What's also entertaining is the amount of detail on all the weapons that take center stage in the various shootouts. Black Lagoon is very good about gun barrel close ups and flip tricks when the moment calls for it. Dutch fans his revolver to pop off quick shots in the first episode and Revy gets some interesting camera angles as she fires in two different directions down a hallway. Even random characters belonging to gangs and terrorists outfits often carry a wide variety of guns from semi-automatics to revolvers. It's a small attention to detail that gives the show a lot of flavor between falling bullet shells.
Then of course, by the second season Black Lagoon stops messing around.

Second Season

Right out of the gate comes the extremely twisted Hansel and Gretel. Two murderous orphans that roll around killing people because of their extremely messed up past. Not to say the first season was never dark at times, but it gets eclipsed quickly in the first couple episodes. These two are an uncomfortable mix of amusing, tragic, creepy and just monstrous. While Gretel whips out a Browning Automatic Rifle for a comical big gun, small girl moment, Hansel has a pair of axes that get put to good use chopping people's hands off. They end up targeting Balalaika and Hotel Moscow which, unsurprisingly, ends very badly for the both of them.
Hansel gets ten minutes to bleed out after his knee and hand get shot off by sniper rifles. He cries like a dying child probably would in that situation and it's grueling to watch- even considering he's just a killing machine. Even ex-Soviet special forces commander turned mafia boss Balalaika gives pause to admit: this is so fucked up I'm emotionally exhausted. Maybe in not so many words.
But at this point the only right thing to do is put both of them down since they're so irreversibility broken. Rock takes it especially hard after circumstances allow him to get to know Gretel more than he probably should and gets trapped in "What If". It really sets the tone for the rest of the season, because it doesn't get much better than this. Normally action oriented, everything starts to play on Rock's race to the bottom to see if he can become just as cold as every other murderer in the show.
There's a small intermission with Greenback Jane involving comic relief like Rotton the Wizard and some colorful professional killers. But once things get to Japan it's all downhill from there. While I may have had too much fun with Balalaika's good will in the form of ruthlessly protecting her interests in the first season, this arc reminds me that "Oh yeah, she's still a murderous mob boss." Rock acts as as a translator for meetings between Balalaika with the local Yakuza before things get ugly. He gets to watch a Yakuza boss's young daughter gets dragged into the fighting, get abused and ultimately destroyed for her trouble. A lot of backstabbing goes on between Hotel Moscow, Yakuza gangs, and Rock himself before he realizes he can't change anything.
The action is still fun. A guy cuts a bullet in two with a katana that even Revy gets excited over. There's a short chase involving a van and a semi-truck. But it very much takes a back seat for the emotional ping pong going on between Rock and Revy and everyone else they come in contact with. It's still good, but a very different flavor than the first season.
I'm looking forward to Roberta's Blood Trail. I've seen a few things about it but I'm not sure how current my information about it is. Should be fun. Or, fun in relation to Black Lagoon that is.
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