Brilliant, violent, sure to please!
Black Lagoon is an action packed, character driven anime following a group of multinational mercenaries who take jobs from criminals based around the use of their boat and combat abilities. Taking place in the South East Asian Sea, the key setting is Roanapur, a fictional city which is best described as a ‘hive of scum and villainy’. Against this backdrop, the anime explores many facets of modern crime – ranging from Neo Nazism to human trafficking.
Despite the occasional absurdity, the anime attempts a very realistic representation of criminal life. Past the often-crazy action sequences, the story is remarkably deep. Existentialism is a constant theme, and the anime has a lot to say about morals and ethics, always giving each side a story and questioning the viewer’s idea of what is right or wrong. This is expertly handled by the inclusion of Rock, who is given an outsider’s view into the world of crime. Importantly, crime is rarely glorified in this anime; the characters here are no Robin Hoods, and there is a large focus on their psychological issues and physical weaknesses.
However, I can understand why some people may find faults in Black Lagoon’s story; action sequences are sometimes given a higher priority, meaning story arcs may become underdeveloped. However, this may not be the case in the second season.
Animation in Black Lagoon is generally flawless. Overall, everything is fluid and smooth, especially the action sequences, which are a joy to watch. Compounding this is a heavy attention to detail. Weapons mechanically discharge their cartridges with small plumes of smoke in split seconds, buildings explode sending pieces of identifiable shrapnel spinning out, and gunmen distort their faces in the intensity of battle – these details and so many others join together to create some seminal scenes.
The art style is very realistic, with little distortion of the characters. Character design also manages to create distinctive people without going overboard – you can tell Benny apart from every other guy in Roanapur, but he wears a fairly average shirt and slacks, with ponytail. Even the show’s most distinctive character, Revy, manages to fit in realistically.
No issues in terms of sound effects – guns bang, boats vroom and stuff blows up convincingly. Music during the anime is fine as well, meditative when dealing with the heavy themes, and pumping when the action gears up.
The opening credits are accompanied by an upbeat tune that suits the tone of this anime perfectly – pulse pounding, with a subtle, underlying layer of loneliness. However, the ending credits fail to deliver the appropriate mood, with the quiet, reflective piece. This works in a couple of episodes; one example that comes to mind is after Revy lights her cigarette off Rock’s, and the subdued tone flows wonderfully. In general though, something more upbeat would have been more suitable.
Voice acting in Black Lagoon is especially important, considering the wealth of nationalities and the inevitable accents that come with them. The Japanese version generally delivers in this department, with Balalaika sounding convincingly Russian and Dutch sounding like the American he is. Each character also gets the voice they deserve; credit goes to Revy’s voice actress who is honestly perfect.
The cast of Black Lagoon is one of its biggest attraction. Not only are they an interesting study in flawed characters, but they are hugely entertaining as well. And unlike most animes, viewers are drawn to the supporting cast in a way not dissimilar to a movie following many characters.
The entire roster manages to be distinctive without being unoriginal. Revy takes the ‘badass’ girl image one step further with some truly questionable tendencies, and Dutch exudes a sense of power and control, without being supreme.
Some viewers may be unimpressed by Rock, but often it is for want of further investigation. As an outsider in this crazy world of crime, Rock develops a real strength of a character that reflects a determined attitude, and our own desire for a life out of the ordinary.
Black Lagoon will not appeal to the average anime viewer – this is a fact. Its Western influenced storytelling is far removed from your typical anime. It lacks story arcs that last for more than a couple of episodes. Even the most popular characters do reprehensible things that can leave the viewer feeling a little sick. So, in terms of universal appeal, Black Lagoon loses a point.
However, Black Lagoon satisfies those looking for an action fix or those looking for a gritty character driven piece. If you like style, violence, and don’t mind the sometimes heavy themes, Black Lagoon’s ‘slice of criminal life’ will be just the thing for you.