Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 1st 2007
Dutch and Benny watch helplessly as the Neo-Nazi boat takes control of the water above the sunken sub and sends its own divers down, while Revy and Rock have a frank discussion about propriety, motivations, and a little about Revy's past while ransacking the sub. The Neo-Nazis soon learn to their dismay that interfering with Dutch and Revy can be a deadly proposition, but why does Revy seem especially angry? A circuit of errands imposed upon them by Dutch gives Rock and Revy a chance to show off their individual strengths and hash out issues lingering since the sub mission, but things threaten to get out of hand when Rock also shows no sign of backing down this time. A job to deliver some special “cargo” to a Columbian cartel takes a turn for the complicated when the boy in question turns out to be a bit more significant than they had been led to believe, and it seems the family maid has come to retrieve him.
Ready for another generous dose of bloody, foul-mouthed, ass-kicking mayhem? Volume 2, which covers episodes 5-8, delivers in a big way, in many senses outdoing the first volume while still finding time for a few odd notes and some serious character development. This is not your typical little shonen action series about heroes discovering their potential; this is a mature, gritty tale about people living on the edge, doing whatever it takes to maintain their survival, freedom, and lifestyle even if it means breaking a few laws or killing a few people. Rock at one point in episode 8 professes to be a “villain in training,” and that's as apt a description for his situation as any.
Episodes 5-6 finish out the skinhead/Nazi sub story arc began in episode 4, in the process demonstrating exactly why Dutch and Revy are two people you do not want to cross. The conversation that Revy and Rock have on the sub, and how it gets under both of their skins, sets the stage for the more oddball errand-running in episode 7, where the series shows that it does have at least a bit of a sense of humor and gives us a chance to see the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches both Revy and Rock take to doing business. Episode 8 begins a new mini-arc involving the son of a Columbian noble and the family maid who comes to retrieve him when he gets kidnapped, one that just starts to kick into high gear as the volume ends. Viewers will, unfortunately, have to wait until the next volume to find out how badass the maid truly is.
For all the violence, swearing, bravado, and gunplay, though, the character development truly separates this series from lesser examples of the genre. Revy is made out to be the nasty, earthy, sexy bitch in cut-off jean shorts and halter top, but as this volume shows, she is a young woman shaped by deep-seeded Issues from her past, ones that she only knows how to deal with through violence and killing. Her nihilistic view on life leaves no room for the kind of innocence and compassion that Rock represents, yet one almost gets the sense that she invited him to join Black Lagoon, and gets thoroughly bothered by him, because he represents to her what she lacks. Rock, for his part, showed a bit of backbone in the first volume but was primarily set up to be the milquetoast fish-out-of-water newcomer, and that trends continues through the first 2½ episodes in this volume. That changes dramatically in the second half of episode 7 in a beautifully-handled face-to-face confrontation with Revy which alters the power dynamic between the two, establishes that Rock actually does have balls, and forces Revy to realize that she isn't the only one living this lifestyle to escape all of the crap in her past. It is, arguably, an all-time classic scene.
Madhouse Studios has a well-established reputation for producing quality animation, and Black Lagoon stands as one of their best recent visual efforts. The visual appeal goes beyond animation which never falters, mostly gorgeous settings, and the meticulous detail of the equipment designs; the way director Sunao Kutabuchi frames his scenes and chooses his angles gives the series as a whole a very distinctive look. (Two examples: a scene in episode 5 where Revy sits down while hashing things out with Rock, or the way she exhales when smoking in episode 7. Just look at the way she sits and the angle the camera takes on her in the former, and the sexiness of the latter.) Colorful, visually appealing, and nicely-rendered characters designs, another hallmark of the series, convey the essence of the character at a glance. Revy, as the visual centerpiece of the series, gets the best treatment and has the most expressive look, but even minor supporting characters look good. Although we get plenty of shots of Revy in her sexy get-up, her sex appeal and a bit of porn playing in the background of one scene provide the only fan service in the volume.
The hard-rocking metal-flavored opener “Red Fraction” returns, proving one again that, despite its rough Engrish, it rocks out harder than perhaps any other anime opener ever made and looks great while doing it. The episodes always nicely segue into the seemingly more low-key and peaceful opener with the ramped-up ending, while the music backing the episode content adds extra flavor to the regular rock themes and metal beats by mixing in light Columbian numbers in episode 8 and more light-hearted numbers in episode 7. It also knows when to go silent.
The second volume proves what the first volume suggested about the English dub: at worst it stands as one of the year's best. Almost every line brims with the kind of coarseness and attitude which can be difficult to convey in Japanese but sounds much more natural in American English. The bitterness and hard edge Revy should have comes through much clearer in the superb performance by Marÿke Hendriske, while the original performance by veteran seiyuu Megumi Toyoguchi sounds a little too soft and nice for the role. (Anyone who questions this comparison need only listen to the line Revy tosses off in episode 8 imitating a Southern black plantation servant and how tremendously better it sounds in English than in Japanese.) Naturally the roles which are supposed to be black actually sound black in the English dub but not in Japanese. The dub does use considerably more foul language, but the series dialogue would not feel right without it. Otherwise the script never wanders far from the subtitles.
The second volume follows the pattern of the regular release of the first by offering only company previews and a reversible cover (not obvious due to the black case) as Extras. An English translation of the credits can also be found on the liner sheet. The Limited Edition version includes an exclusive set of dog tags shrink-wrapped onto the DVD case.
If you liked the first volume, you'll love this one. It offers almost everything you could want in a mature, sexy, action-oriented “girl with guns” tale. It may not have quite the style of its predecessor Cowboy Bebop, but it lacks nothing for entertainment value.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Superb English dub, great look, sound, and character dynamics.
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