Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 6th 2008
Black Lagoon: Second Barrage
DVDs 2 and 3
Sister Eda has a scheme in mind that's sure to bring Greenback Jane into her and Revy's hands when the horde of Roanopur's most colorful characters come seeking her, and Rock finds himself caught in the middle. It will take all of Black Lagoon's ingenuity to drag themselves out of this mess, and Benny, for a change, plays a key role. Later, Rock returns to Japan as an interpreter for Balalaika in her dealings with yakuza families over establishing a power base in Japan, and Revy tags along as his “gun” and bodyguard. As he continues to walk in the twilight between the world of light that was his past life and the world of darkness that represents the villainy of his current existence, Rock encounters a teenage girl on the cusp of making the transition from one world to the other, a girl who will ultimately stand at the center of the violent maelstrom into which he steps reluctantly and Revy steps happily. In what may be Rock's defining moments, which way will he turn?
The final two volumes of Black Lagoon do so much right that it's hard to decide where to start. These episodes are rude, crude, socially unacceptable, and ruthlessly violent, but they are also remarkably intelligent and at least modestly insightful in their exploration of what, exactly, makes a person a proper villain. They offer so much more than that, too, including character background insights, further development (finally!) of the relationship between Rock and Revy, and even an occasional twisted bit of humor or moment of true sentiment. Far from brainless, this is easily one of the elite anime action series of the past few years, and these two volumes firmly confirm that status.
As has been especially true in Second Barrage, the series offers a heaping serving of hard-edged action goodness and colorful characters. Whether it's a chainsaw-wielding female “cleaner,” a chubby firebug, an arrogant yakuza punk, or a master of the katana so skilled that he can cut a bullet in half in mid-air, the series repeatedly delivers on its especially violent action content. People get riddled with bullets, blown up, chopped to pieces, drowned, and just ordinarily beat up, sometimes in combinations. Yes, some of the scenes are graphic enough to make even fans of violent action fare a bit queasy, and combined with the sense of menace and ugliness sometimes present in this content (the same kind of feel you can get off of the more graphic gangster movies), this content sometimes gives the impression that the producers are trying to send a message: as fun as this may be to watch, this is not a lifestyle you would ever want to have for yourself.
In fact, what it means to be a villain – and how exactly one becomes a villain – becomes a sub-theme which runs through these episodes. Background clips shown on Balalaika, Revy, and (briefly) Eda at least partly reveal the direction they came from to be the hardened individuals they are now, and the newcomer Yukio represents a young woman just started down that path, one who only reluctantly embraces it at first but ultimately lets it define her. We see one end product in Balalaika, a monster as frightful in her efficient ruthlessness as any live-action Hollywood creation. (And yet, like Scarface or Don Corleone, that just makes her all the more fascinating.) Revy, as the woman with a passion for fighting and the chaotic, represents a radically different, but still equally nasty, alternative. Standing in the middle is Rock, who, as both he and other characters puts it, “walks in the twilight” between the normal world and the world of villains, seemingly unwilling to be fully pulled either way.
This run of episodes has other nice touches to it, too. The way the relationship between Rock and Revy develops in the Japan arc proves quite interesting, as Revy seems to be taking on a genuine concern for Rock, and the “even villains can be human” moment at the end of episode 18 may strike a chord despite the individuals involved. The series never fails to manifest a sense of fun, either, such as its depiction of what causes a woman used to chopping up bodies to lose her cool, the occasional panty-flash scene, seeing Revy actually wear a skirt (but she knows how to cover up!), her play with the local kids in the playground, or neat little tidbits like Benny's computer wallpaper in episode 19.
Madhouse's artistry slides just a little bit in quality in some of the late episodes but otherwise continues to deliver a good-looking series featuring numerous interesting-looking characters and a full barrage of dynamic action. (It does not skimp on its depictions of graphic violence, either, although it does take the edge off of a couple of the most extreme cases.) It also sounds great, occasionally even borrowing some symphonic themes for its background and never failing to amp up its action scenes. The original opener remains except for the final episode, and the original closer is replaced only in the final episode, by a techno-metal number called “Preach Headz Addiction.”
The dub faced a difficult challenge through the Japan arc because of numerous instances where different languages were involved, including Revy specifically speaking in English at one point and languages barriers standing between characters in other cases. For better or worse, Ocean Studios dealt with the problem by mostly ignoring it. In scenes where Rock must translate, he is heard speaking in Japanese, and some Russian does get spoken in other scenes, but otherwise the dub just drops several instances where a language barrier exists in the subtitles and original Japanese dub. Is this a better approach than Revy's painfully shoddy “Engrish” (and from a character supposedly raised in New York City) in the Japanese dub? Opinions will vary greatly. The dub otherwise delivers its normal profanity-laced top-tier effort, especially in Patricia Drake's wonderful performance as Balalaika, with one exception: Lalainia Lindbjerg never sounds quite right as Yukio.
This being a former Geneon 2007 creation, naturally neither volume has any significant Extras. They even hide their reversible covers behind opaque cases.
In addition to an epilogue which brings the second season back full circle, the series ends with one tantalizing question: did Rock just not have time to look away in one key late scene, or did he deliberately not do it? Until the green-lit third season comes to fruition, though, that's all we have of the animated content for now.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Lots and lots of graphic content, Rock and Revy relationship developments, sense of fun.
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