Reviewby Theron Martin, Oct 26th 2013
Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail
In Venezuela, the bombing of a newly-formed political party also kills Diego Lovelace, patriarch of the noble Lovelace family and father of young Garcia (who was featured in the story arc covering episodes 7-10 of the original series). That sets his maid Roberta, the former “Bloodhound of Florencia,” on the warpath. Her discovery that American military operatives were behind the bombing leads her in pursuit of them, which takes her to Roanapur once more. That puts the entire city on edge, as the presence of both the Americans and the nearly unstoppable maid make the criminal elements at the city's heart antsy, as she threatens the delicate balance of power. Lagoon Company gets reluctantly involved when Garcia and his new young maid/protector Fabiola hire Rock to help find her, a prospect which eventually draws him into an effort to construct and predict the Big Picture of what is going on concerning Roberta, much to Revy's chagrin. As Rock delves deeper into the corrupt heart of the city, various power players make their moves, and the body count starts to rise, only one thing seems clear: before all is said and done there will be blood spilled, and quite a lot of it at that.
In the mid-2000s Black Lagoon set a new standard for adult-oriented action series by taking a crass, vulgar, and bloody look at a fictional Southeast Asian city that was a veritable den of gangsters from around the world. Juice it up with high-octane, sometimes over-the-top action scenes and mix in a load of colorful characters, very black humor, and a touch of mature sexiness and you had an enormously entertaining series which successfully walked a delicate tightrope between being fun and sometimes very, very sick. This five episode OVA series, which was originally released sporadically between June 2010 and June 2011, fully continues that tradition; it is even numbered sequentially with the original two series, and thus covers episodes 25-29. Thus it is specifically aimed at fans of the original, for whom this is a must-buy. Those new to the franchise could probably get by if they at least watch episodes 7-10 (the part of the story to which this is a direct sequel) first, though such individuals will miss some of the references to other parts of the series and may not fully appreciate Rock's character development here. This is not, by any means, a stand-alone story.
Whether or not this third time around is as good as the original series is a much more difficult question than whether or not it is as entertaining. Without a doubt, these five episodes succeed at the latter, and in the process they remind viewers about just how convoluted a place to do business Roanapur can be. Over the course of this story we get more insight into the true power structure of the city and a firm reminder that even those who seem to be in charge still answer to someone. We also see further character development, too, as Rock strays further into the darkness and corruption of the soul fostered by Roanapur as he tries to carve out his own niche in the city, Roberta's difficulty in coming to term with her own past misdeeds is explored a bit more, and the previous snippets suggesting that Revy's current demeanor is part of a seriously messed-up past come more into focus with some further revelations. (Creators of shonen action series could take some notes here, as episode 29 quite effectively and powerfully accomplishes its flashback in less than a minute.) And of course we get plenty of ultraviolent action, with its intensely graphic nature kicked up a notch or two from an original series that was hardly tame to begin with. What little fan service these episodes have is also more intense, as the first two episodes have a couple of shots of outright nudity. (And yes, Revy is the subject of one of those scenes.) We also finally, definitively, find out that the series is set in 1995.
Where these episodes stumble is, surprisingly enough, in the philosophical realm. The original series was always a little prone to waxing philosophical about the nature of its grime and where Rock stood on the axis of sainthood and villainy, but aside from getting repetitive about how nasty a place Roanapur is that philosophizing usually did not get in the way of the story. Here it sometimes does, and it is simply a matter of the writing getting carried away with the allusions it tries to draw. While not a big problem, it is enough of a distraction to drag the overall rating down from an elite level.
The artistic effort once again comes courtesy of Madhouse Studio, and the standards produced are pretty much in line with what was seen in the original series – in other words, do not expect the kind of upgrade in visuals one normally expects in OVAs. But that's fine, since this was a good-looking series to begin with. The most distinctive-looking scenes are the ones showing Roberta and Fabiola in civilian garb, as one could not properly appreciate in the first series just how much of a looker Roberta is when she does not dress in such stodgy apparel as the maid outfit. Designs go too far in emphasizing canines in wolflike grins, but the efforts to desexualize characters that would otherwise be quite sexy continue and one can certainly not complain about the content not getting graphic enough; watching episode 28 while eating is not recommended for those with weaker stomachs. Like with the first series, the animation is distinctly better than average but not top-rate.
The musical score is still every bit as solid, though. Jun Nishimura, who also scores all of the Index/Railgun universe titles, is back, and while he uses some different themes here they still conform to the mix of techno and hard-core rock heard in the original series and do every bit as good a job of hyping up the content where appropriate. Original opener “Red Fraction” returns but in a remix version that is decidedly inferior to the outstanding original. The closer is entirely different, though, as a curious choice was made to use an instrumental version of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” which opens against a picture of 9/11's Ground Zero and continues on to show snapshots of various characters at a young age. In a way, though, the song fits the series' theme about wanting to bring individuals home from a warlike situation.
Funimation wisely bounced English dub duties back to The Ocean Group, which for the first two installments created one of the best English dubs of the 2000s. All of the actors for the significant roles are back, and their performances are a sharp as ever; the irreplaceable Maryke Hendrikse nails some parts that couldn't have been easy to voice and Tabitha St. Germain (the original English voice of Shana in Shakugan no Shana) handles Roberta's descent into madness well. New roles are equally good, with Shannon Chan-Kent (the voice of Misa in Death Note) being a fine fit in the most important new role as Fabiola. The English dub is also as sharp-tongued as ever, with all of the profanity, racial slurs, and general rudeness which can make this series such a fun, adult-oriented view.
Funimation's release of the title comes in their standard DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack, one disk for each. Like many of their releases, it has bonus interior artwork (an alternate rendition of Revy), but its only Extras are clean opener and closer and U.S. Trailers for the OVA series. In an increasingly annoying trend from Funimation, subtitles are locked so that they can only be shown when set to the Japanese dub. The Blu-Ray version is so substantially sharper than the DVD in picture quality that someone who can play the former will find no reason to watch the latter.
Roberta's Blood Trail is not a masterpiece in any respect, but it does its job plenty well enough and never comes up short in the entertainment department. It is a worthy continuation of the franchise.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Offer plenty more of what people came to love in the first series: foul language, intense action, graphic violence, and subtle character development.
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