Reviewby Theron Martin, May 18th 2007
Young Japanese business drone Rokuro Okajima was given a simple but important task by his company: carry a critical CD on a business trip to SE Asia. His mundane, metropolitan world gets turned upside down when a team of modern-day pirates called Black Lagoon not only steal the disk but kidnap him for ransom as well. When his employer decides that preventing the disk from falling into the wrong hands is more important than saving him, Rokuro finds himself thrown into the harrowing world of Black Lagoon, a world utterly unlike the one he knew before. He ultimately joins leader Dutch, mechanic Benny, and the spitfire combat specialist “Two-Hand” Revy as a permanent crew member while helping out on assorted missions and incidents of peril, including dealing with enemy gunships and gunboats and investigating the wreck of a sunken Nazi submarine that a group of Neo-Nazis also seeks.
Before the opening theme on its first episode finishes, Black Lagoon has boldly announced that it ain't no cutesy kiddie fare. Japanese vocalist MELL belts out English lyrics like “They make me violate them no matter who they are” and throws in the occasional profanity against a rapid, pounding beat which sets the tempo for one hell of a hard-rocking opener. Full of energy and attitude, it's a song worthy of inclusion in any hard rock/metal fan's music collection. It also perfectly sets the tone for a tale which blends classic fish-out-of-water elements with a “girls with guns” motif and the traditional “hard-core troubleshooters trying to make ends meet” set-up and sets it to a metal-heavy musical score. It may not be the most original of endeavors, but to find a series of this ilk so thoroughly defined by the tone and tempo of its music one would have to go back to Cowboy Bebop.
But where Bebop used a laid-back style regularly punctuated by intense action, casual philosophizing, and the occasional quirky or poignant moment, Black Lagoon strives for pure 'tude. Nowhere is this more clearly embodied then in Revy, a curvaceous, tattooed lady clad in cut-off shorts who is the team's resident wacko weapons specialist. Crass, confident, sexy hotheads like Revy pop up regularly in anime aimed at young adults because their cockiness and brazen behavior stand diametrically opposite the traditional Japanese ideal for a young woman, which makes them both interesting and exciting. What separates Revy slightly from sisters like Bebop's Faye Valentine, Mezzo's Mikura, or Miami Gun's Yao is her facial expressions, especially the gleeful, crazed smile she sports when she truly lets loose or her perturbed look on the first volume's front cover. Hints that she may be the product of a very broken past (but how else could such a persona actually develop?) are dropped but not pursued much in this volume.
Revy's foil is Rokuro “Rock” Okajima, who does have his moments as he adjusts to his radically different new lifestyle but mostly undergoes the same kind of thrown-into-the-fire learning curve Yuji did in Blue Gender. Will Revy be his Marlene? Much too soon to tell, although the style seems too blunt to allow it. Of the other principle cast members, laid-back Benny does not make much of an impression, while Dutch serves the role of the commanding but not intolerant leader and the pretty but heavily-scarred Balalaika is convincing as the seemingly-cultured but equally brutal Russian Mafioso type who regularly employs Black Lagoon.
While the writing certainly gives its characters plenty of snappy dialogue and interesting things to do, it is not especially deep, compelling, or ground-breaking, nor has it yet shown any signs of an overarching plot. Thus it falls to the action elements to carry the series. They clearly aspire to emulate the works of John Woo, but despite their flashiness there is something slightly lacking about them; freshness, perhaps. Anime action has already gone to such extremes that it takes something truly spectacular to blow a viewer away anymore, and while the first four episodes do try very hard, the only scene that comes close to doing that is the climax of the boat/gunship confrontation in episode 2. Other action scenes still pack enough juice to quench the thirst of most action junkies, however.
Although the opener includes some interesting shots, such as its highly-detailed looks at hand guns and shell casings, the first true sign that you're in for a visual treat comes just a few seconds into the first episode, when Rock stares down the barrels of Revy and Dutch's guns. We get to see the scene from Rock's perspective, which makes an effective first impression. Throughout the rest of the first four episodes the viewer is treated to painstakingly detailed equipment and weaponry, quality background art, and appealing character designs. Revy is obviously supposed to be the chief eye candy, with Rock clearly intended to be the conservative visual counterpoint, but all of the main cast members look great. Totally absent is any hint of cutesiness, and while the inherent sexiness of Revy and some of the settings is on display, it isn't overtly stressed. The only true fan service to be found here involves the weapons and the intense, graphic violence. CG effects are used sparingly and unobtrusively beyond the closer, and the animation supports everything quite well. This is one good-looking series.
The spectacular opener has already been mentioned, while the closer sounds more somber and sedate until a dramatic tempo change near its end, which segues into the Next Episode previews. The rock and metal-heavy soundtrack in between complements the action and scenery quite well.
The English Dub, produced by Ocean Productions for Genon, sparkles. Maryke Hendriske, who was probably previously best-known for the much tamer role of Lunamaria in Gundam Seed Destiny, will certainly get much more attention for this one, as she nails the temperament and attitude of her hard-spoken character at least as good as, if not better than, the original seiyuu. Dean Redman, in his debut anime performance, makes Dutch sound convincingly like a big, deep-voiced American black man, which corrects arguably the biggest flaw in the original Japanese dub (seiyuu Tsutomu Isobe, by comparison, just makes him sound like your typical deep-voiced Japanese man), while veteran Brad Swaile (Gundam's Amuro Ray, among many others) succeeds at making Rock sound wimpy and frustrated but with sparks of brilliance. Other roles are, at worst, cast and performed as good as the originals. For as smooth as the deliveries are, the English script sticks impressively close to the original, only adding in the occasional filler line or extra profanity – and a lot of harsh language already carries over directly from the Japanese. The opener is sung entirely in English, even in the Japanese language track.
The regular version of the first volume contains only on-disk company previews and a great insert picture of a smoking (literally) Revy holding one of her guns, although it does offer both 2.0 and 5.1 English language tracks. The Limited Collector's Edition includes a bonus disc which contains the other Extras, among them a music video for the opener, a behind-the-scenes documentary on the English production, clean opener and closer, and promo videos. What truly makes the LCE version worth the extra price is the art-adorned steel storage case which comes with it (shrink-wrapped to the DVD case), which is set up to hold all three main disks for the series plus the bonus disk in a case only slightly thicker than a normal DVD case.
Geneon has such high hopes for this series that they have already licensed the follow-up second season, which is due to be released in November. It has all the elements it needs to be a big hit – sexy heroine, loads of coarse language and graphic violence, great visuals, and a kickin' musical score – but some concerns have been raised about whether or not it can find a suitable audience since it is a distinct step outside of the normal anime style and closer in spirit to an American action serial. Such concerns are overstated, however, because any older action junkie who gives this one a chance should eat it up.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Awesome opener, great English dub and visuals.
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