Sometimes I watch a series that makes me remember why I love anime and Black Lagoon is one of those series. I finished watching it last year but its memorable characters, unique setting and sheer lunacy still keep me entertained. Madhouse Studios have an exceptional talent at creating anime or adapting manga: Monster, Dennou Coil, Paprika… Add Black Lagoon to the mix.
For those who haven’t watched it: Rokurō Okajima, a put upon salary-man is in South East Asia delivering a disk with top-secret nuclear plans for his company. Unfortunately, criminal group, Hotel Moscow want that disk and hire the mercenary group, Lagoon company to intercept Rokurō on the high seas. Realising his value a hostage, the Lagoon crew (consisting of Dutch, Benny and Revy) take him hostage on their World War II torpedo boat named Black Lagoon.
Just when things look bad, Rokurō’s company decide to act and make things a lot worse by hiring a heavily armed rival mercenary group to take back the disc. Needless to say, Rokurō is considered an expendable asset by his company and finds himself in a dangerous cat and mouse game alongside the crew of the Black Lagoon, having to work with them to come out alive in an explosive finale.
Once the battle is over, he is given the option to stay with the crew which he takes, feeling betrayed by his company and divorced from everything he thought real. Now, he finds himself renamed Rock and inducted into the underworld of Roanapur. And this is just in the opening two episodes.
If the initial plot doesn’t sound wild, the execution is and things get crazier as the series progresses with more bizarre villains, exciting set pieces and revelations of how unhinged people can be. Black Lagoon is an anime based on Rei Hiroe’s equally action packed manga. Taking place over 24 episodes we follow Rock on his journey into the darker side of reality. Story-arcs usually take place over two or three episodes, never over-staying their welcome.
Both the anime and manga can be described as Tarantino-esque as they pick and conflate reality and cult cinema: Triad faction leader Chang is an anime version of Chow Yun-Fat’s character in God of Gamblers, Roberta is a former member of a guerrilla group reminiscent of FARC whilst Dutch is a veteran of the Vietnam war.
The action comes thick and fast, always on the edge of believability and is all the better for it as the wildness gives it that extra punch to make every scene memorable. What really makes the show is the characters and location.
Roanapur is a place governed by the Russian Mafia (Hotel Moscow), Chinese triads, Columbian drug cartels and corrupt police officials. And these are just the normal dangers as the Lagoon company later faces off against terrorists, unstoppable chamber maids, vampire/cannibal twin children and chainsaw wielding Goths. The episodes featuring these characters maintain high levels of excitement and always end with a great dénouement (the fate of the last twin was equally unexpected and shocking).
There is, however, a surprising level of seriousness underneath the layers of lunacy and this comes in the sustained and interesting character development. Rock must continually make a choice – remain with the Lagoon company and enter this shadow-world or go back to Japan and his average life.
The animation is beautiful, taking time to reveal a beautiful but deadly world and paint interesting characters. The editing and directing are sharp and gives the anime a kinetic feel, allowing the action to punch through at the right moments and lingering on more poignant scenes.
The fact that it takes place on a chain of islands in South East Asia and not in Japan is a breath of fresh air and allows the creators to exercise more originality in setting as some locations feel like they could be in the Wild West or a jungle paradise with only a sparkling ocean between them.
The audio is also impressive. From the opening titles rock-themed Engrish of Red Fraction by Mell to the music created by Edison, the music features melancholy themes and driving rock, always working with the images to build up the atmosphere or subvert it.
This anime features probably the most enjoyable English dub this side of the 90’s, bringing to life the characters, especially the Lagoon company. Brad Swaile as Rock, is great at conveying a man struggling to adapt to the chaos and stay true to himself. Maryke Hendriske as Revy brings a harder, slightly off-kilter edge than her Japanese counterpart while Dean Redman as Dutch brings gravitas and control to the role.
To sum everything up, this anime is a high-octane blast that will constantly entertain with the large cast of interesting and bizarre characters and the variety of storylines packed full of action. Its sheer brashness and individuality make it hard not to like. Highly recommended for action fans and good news is on the horizon with the Third Barrage (new season) announced.