Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 9th 2008
Black Lagoon: Second Barrage
The Black Lagoon crew is back for a new round of adventures in the environs of the SE Asia city of Roanapur. When a series of murders amongst the criminal elements of the city threatens to disrupt the fragile peace between the mafia, cartels, and Triad, evidence eventually points to a pair of young, thrill-killing Romanian twins named Hansel and Gretel as the perpetrators. Soon a horde of bounty hunters, including Revy and Sister Eda, is after their heads, but Balalaika and Hotel Moscow have their own ideas about how to get revenge, ones that ultimately get Black Lagoon members caught in the midst of the mess. Later, an expert counterfeiter runs afoul of her cartel employers in her quest for counterfeiting perfection, which results in a large number of unsavory types looking for her and Revy and Eda again getting involved.
After a delay of nine months due to the Geneon fiasco in the fall of 2007, the release of Black Lagoon's second season is finally back on track thanks to Funimation. Fans who liked the first season typically rave about TSB, and based on this volume, not without reason. All episodes 13-16 do is deliver a sexy, seedy, nasty, great-looking, and highly graphic run of four episodes loaded with colorful characters, intense violence, sometimes over-the-top action scenes, and story elements that might make even the most desensitized media zombies squirm uncomfortably. It may be sick and twisted at times, but those with a high tolerance for blood-soaked violence and off-kilter humor should find a lot to like here.
Perhaps the truest testament to the series' quality is that the Black Lagoon crew members are not even the stars through most of this block of episodes – in fact, the crew as a whole only takes the forefront for half of one episode and a couple of brief stints in others – and yet the series does not miss a beat. Sure, Revy still gets involved in plenty of gunplay and otherwise just being Revy (to not heavily use a character like her in a series like this would be an unforgivable sin), but through most of the episodes 13-15 the balance of attention alternates about evenly between Revy and Eda, Balalaika, and the twins, with occasional appearances by other minor supporting characters from the first season. Episode 16, by comparison, shifts the focus between the Revy/Eda duo, the counterfeiter Jane, and this newcomer cowboy named Russell. Rock and Dutch make the most of what little screen time they have, and Benny is barely an afterthought.
Despite the minimal presence of the series' stars, this approach works because of the wonderfully colorful supporting cast. Few women in anime are as convincingly tough, cold-blooded, and intimidating as Balalaika, and the suave Mr. Chang gets some prominent screen time. Jane definitely has her own distinctive style, as does Russell; watching his cowboy tough-guy façade struggle to deal with the oddballs of Roanapur's underworld is quite amusing. The cast of hitters he assembles, including Shen Hua from episodes 11-12 of the first season, the milk-drinking “Wizard” and especially the “cleaner,” make for an entertaining Rogue's Gallery of violent misfits, and the Ripoff Church's staff shows that Eda is not the only member who isn't to be messed with in a fight. Some of the dialog exchanges between Eda and Revy alone are almost worth the price of the DVD, such as Eda's quoting of twisted biblical scripture or one discussion about what kind of weapon Jesus would carry with him while walking “through the valley of the shadow of Death.” (Revy's answer? Since he's Jewish, it would have to be something Israeli-made.) Sacrilegious? Probably, but that makes it all the more fun for those not easily offended.
And then there's the twins, and my, what a pair of sick puppies the creators have come up with here! Horror movies figured out at least as far back as the early '70s that few things are more disturbing than children twisted to evil, and boy, do episodes 13-15 run full-bore with that concept. With their Gothic dress and smiling faces they look adorable even as they get soaked in blood while having a casual conversation across a gruesomely tortured corpse, and their conversation about “macaroni boiling over” and “having borscht for dessert” in reference to their targets is positively cutesy until the axe and the full-sized Browning machine gun come out. They epitomize conscienceless mayhem and a twisted world view born from horrible cruelty, and those are far from the only signs of mentally disturbed behavior the two show; their true gender is unclear since both shift back and forth between being the male “Hansel” and female “Gretel” personalities, amongst other things. Despite a background more awful than most will want to imagine, until the latter half of episode 15 their actions are so severe that they will engender no pity or sympathy. To the great credit of the writing and direction, though, the second half of episode 15 should turn that impression so far around that only the most hardened hearts will not feel at least a little sorry for them as the credits conclude – and definitely watch the closing credits on that episode.
As good as the writing is throughout these episodes, the visuals are a worthy match. Madhouse is in top series form with both the artistry and animation, offering a high level of quality control to go with well-staged action scenes, excellent background art, and distinctive, interesting-looking character designs, especially the twins. Only in the slightly stiff use of CG in a couple of scenes does the artistry show any significant flaws. Although the creators pull punches just a bit on the most thoroughly graphic content, the production does not shy from delivering plenty of bloodshed and a little bit of true nudity to go along with all the foul language and occasional sexual references.
Save for some minor visual adjustments, the heavy, hard-rocking original opener “Red Fraction” by MELL, which can only be fully appreciated in the DTS 5.1 Stereo setting with a surround-sound system, continues to slam through these episodes, while the original closer continues through episode 14 and again for episode 16. Episode 15's closer instead sets “The World of Midnight,” the achingly beautiful a cappella song used earlier in the episode, to alternate visuals in creating an amazingly poignant ending to such an ugly story. This one-shot effort is, with little doubt, one of the best closers in recent memory. The soundtrack is otherwise serviceable but not as inspired as it was through most of the first season. These episodes do deserve special mention for the attention to detail in their sound effects, however; when a car gets shot to hell in one scene, it sounds exactly like it would in a live-action movie.
The entire English dub cast returns from a first-season production that was my pick for 2007's best ensemble effort. New roles are cast and performed just as well, so only severe nitpicking will find performances that are even slightly inadequate. The Ocean Studios-produced dub even gets the occasional voice changes in the twins right, loses nothing in the dubbing of their giggling, and apparently opted not to redub the song sung by Hansel in episode 15 that was done in English anyway. They did, thankfully, redub the creepy English song the twins sing in episode 13, producing an immense improvement.
As with the first season, the English script consistently keeps the gist of the original while spicing it up with more foul language and even wittier exchanges. Although it adjusts some slang usage in other places, its most notable change is replacing the “Big Brother” and “Big Sister” used by the twins in reference to each other in the Japanese dub and subtitles with consistent used of “fratella mea” and “sora mea,” the Romanian equivalents for “my brother” and “my sister,” a nice attempt to further reinforce their cultural identity even if it does sometimes sound just a little clumsy in execution. The English script even uses this replacement with the apparently mangled Romanian (“fratti mai soul” and “soula mai mare,” both of which are repeated verbatim in the subtitles but seem badly wrong) the police officer Watsup rattles off when talking to Balalaika about the twins in the middle of episode 13. The English script also corrects another gaffe in the Japanese script and subtitles by updating a reference to AK-47s to the more current AK-74s.
Although Funimation is releasing these volumes on behalf of Geneon, this is still the original Geneon-created release, complete with their logo on the case cover and “Geneon Previews” in the Extras. There are no Extras beyond that in the regular release, however.
With no real production weak spots, the second season of this series about a torpedo boat crew in the seedy underside of SE Asia gets off to a strong start by beginning with a lot of nasty, bloody, action-laden fun. It's great-looking, well-written, and sports an impressive English dub, leaving dedicated action and graphic content fans little reason for not picking it up.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Excellent (and error-correcting) English dub, great look, lots of bloody and nasty fun.
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