Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail fully exploits the OVA format to deliver a grittier, grimier ride through Roanapur. While the franchise traditionally splashed more explosions on our TV screens than gloopy ruby-red blood, that trend reverses here as our heroes slice, dice, bludgeon, and even saw their way through a bunch of unimportant nonentities. And that’s probably why we’ll love it despite some of its unfortunate blunders.
Broadly speaking, this third outing is Black Lagoon suited, booted, and ready to conduct poker-faced business. Of course there still throbs a vein of chaos in this violent story: young maid Fabiola Iglesias’ ball-smashing debut fight in a bar is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser worth watching on repeat. Not to mention, the plot – one barmy housemaid against the US Army – sounds as though it was brainstormed with the same respect for plausibility as a Family Guy sketch. Nevertheless Black Lagoon: RBT reveals a new flirtation with sobriety, delivering more introspection and fewer action sequences to push the narrative along. Dense characterisation and naval-gazing discourse are the main courses on its menu, so that as the story progresses the action becomes progressively thinner on the ground.
The main reward of this approach is the greater prominence of the dialogue, a peculiar Black Lagoon hallmark that has let it comfortably occupy a place at the top table of intelligent thrillers. Its playfully ironic repartee, as vague and metaphorical as it can get, also has superb comic timing and an urgency that skips and dances even when its intention is to slow things down. If anything, it thickens the characterisation precisely when the characters threaten to morph into silly cartoons.
Even so, the bottom line sees Black Lagoon: RBT all too often abandoning the straightforward fantasy of Roberta’s revenge hunt for unnecessary, ultra-complex politics. In this murderous game everyone gets to play, from the various mafias to government agencies, and the viewer will often have to take for granted that the developments are natural since untangling everyone’s motivations becomes a mental assault course. Related to this is the unconvincing shift in Rock’s personality. The normally reserved salaryman transforms into a scheming antihero who can outthink even the most twisted of villains. At one point he predicts in preposterous detail the contents of a discussion happening miles from him merely because he thought hard about it. Assassins dressed up as maids – yes, this we can accept; gentle Rock in a sudden Death Note turn – no, no, no. It is a transformation that seems as unwelcome as it is sudden. The fact that the plot mechanics hinge on him becoming as cunning as the murderers he hunts only leads to the events at times appearing contrived and overcooked.
Dingy alleys and crammed slums. Guns gleaming with dark, phallic pride. Scowling faces with penetrating stares. And all of this overhung with a semi-permanent sunset lighting in which violets and reds and pinks and oranges simmer and smoulder in a sultry symphony of colours. On the other hand, blood splatters. Blood splatters on the ground, blood on the walls, blood even on the implied camera lens.
Black Lagoon: RBT’s animation envelops the viewer in a thick atmosphere and a gory conception of realism. The characters, unlike the backgrounds, look conventionally flat and move with no extraordinary dexterity unless required to during action scenes, but the show remains nevertheless damn beautiful to watch.
I adore Mell’s ‘Red Faction’, which explains my acute disappointment at the bland remix that serves as the opening theme. I would have preferred either a new offering entirely or the old version with all the lyrics in place. The rest of the score functions well but evidences no notable artistry.
Anyone notice that the deadliest and bat-shit craziest people in Black Lagoon: RBT are the women? And queen of the cuckoos Roberta brings in a mesmeric performance here. She swallows handfuls of pills, which she then distractedly chases down with a straight whiskey. That merely suggests she didn’t read the packet instructions. But then we must consider her burning desire to take on the United States Army! This involves running around like a she-wolf in a butcher’s shop while the would-be warriors in her path become only so much sausage. Ferral and howling, she recreates a particularly awesome kind of animalistic rage: she slinks across rooftops light as a cat, she vaults and somersaults and lands on all fours; her eyes are always darting, her teeth shine in the moonlight, and the wolfish grin she wears is something straight out of A Clockwork Orange. Yet, we cannot dismiss her role as mere gimmickry. While she’s boldly caricatured on the edges, she displays the satisfying two-dimensionality that we’ve become used to from this franchise. During her monologues with ghosts of people she has killed, we witness a human as tortured as her squirming victims. Only, her scars are invisible.
It seems almost unfair how uninteresting the guys are in comparison, with most of them popping up just to die anyway. Only Rock continues to have any significant impact, with his neutral, peace-seeking ideals morphing into something more unnerving. The good part is that his performance here relies far less on his interaction with Revy; whereas he seemed to exist mainly to serve as her foil in previous seasons, here he becomes a force in his own right. In fact, Revy mostly contents herself with sitting in the background, in turn glaring and smirking at events around her until called upon to back him up. My concern is mainly with the suddenness of the change in Rock. The show spends too little time laying the groundwork for his performance to convince, leaving us instead with an uncomfortably confused character. Moreover, I question the future utility of Rock, who represented the last glimmer of morality in the darkening cesspool of Roanapur: with powerfully enigmatic antagonists like Balalaika and Mr. Chang already commonplace, can a moody, scheming Rock still stand out?
A growling, pounding funfair of violence and collateral damage – like Disneyland in reverse – Black Lagoon: RBT offers a fascinating maturity in style. Moreover, in terms of dialogue, its humour and self-awareness remain gleefully intact. Only Rock’s unnatural performance as a tortured antihero skulking and plotting mysteriously in the shadows bogs down an already overcomplicated plot. Instead of a whirlwind narrative with a bemused, morally upright salaryman at its eye, we get a web of intrigues and personal subplots that binge on melodrama once too often. Still, for all its flaws, Black Lagoon: RBT remains one of the few shows still giving us what we used to take for granted in the 90s: pretty-looking violence, rampant fun, and wit as sharp as an oiled machete.
ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Notice: This review covers all three installments of the franchise. No reason to make different reviews about the same thing.
Grudgeal said: It's a distillation of every bad or semi-competent Hollywood action flick cranked up to eleven, interspersed with some light philosophy, homages to other media (war films, Yakuza films) and some surprisingly mature subjects like terrorism and child abuse. Its got a cast like a Tarantino film, actually strong and competent female characters who don't break down and need the male shoulder to cry on, and its tone and content is both over-the-top hilarious and at the same time features moments more mature than ten dozen Claymores and Narutos… That, AND boobs and guns.
^ Yeah, you said it. Black Lagoon can be a highly entertaining anime if you go all myopic on it; meaning to watch only specific aspects of it and have a blind eye to all the rest. To put it bluntly, it is a guilty pleasure series and you are going to watch it for the violence and the profanity. One should see it as nothing but a fun ride with the Train of Doom rather than a reasonable and excused piece of fiction. If I am to make a list of the things it does right, those would be the following:
- Very good production values, done by the most awesome Studio Madhouse. They didn’t hold back on the budget and thus we got highly detailed backgrounds, very exciting battle choreographies, and good use of lighting effects, while the BGM was always having its way of making your blood boil or feel the drama of the moment.
- Extremity in all accounts. The violence was extreme, as so were the characters’ personalities, the battles, the profanity, the death toll, the explosions, the smoking, the drinking, and practically everything else. There may be lots of action anime with guns but none was THAT much. Only Hellsing comes close and only with lots of supernatural abilities thrown in to make it unnatural.
- Gar fighters and butchy women. Very uncommon in our era of moe girls and pitiful male protagonist.
- Pints of seriousness thrown at intervals. Despite being a guilty pleasure series aiming at entertainment and not realism, it was constantly throwing at you info about the harsh reality and how the cruel world really works behind the scenes. That was giving a feeling of finesse to it, making it seem intelligent and with substance compared to all the crazy stuff that was going on in it.
- Making a parody of it all. Eventually, it is also having fun with the clichés of its own genre and finds its way to ridicule them, thus providing a feeling of self-criticism that made it seem more honest and likable to what it actually is all about.
Even without all the above, trying to excuse my opinion of the show, I can still tell you in a more straightforward way that it is BAM GAGAGA PSSSS CRASH action and by far the best “chicks with guns” anime ever made so far. As such, you should not try to make sense out of it or you will simply hate it right away. The action scenes lack realism and a critical viewer will most likely bitch at how bullets never hit important characters while mooks die with instant headshots, or how the villains constantly freeze and stare like idiots or how useless they are at aiming at something standing half a meter away from them, or how the heroine can do some really impossible acrobatics to kill 10 men with a six-shooter. Ok, yeah, makes no sense but it is done in a cool way. As others said, “And how many shows out there are realistic?” Yeah, right, few to none.
To put it in another way, it is like ordering a cheeseburger with extra sauce. Most fast foods are tasty because of the sauce and for that reason if you like the sauce you will get a whole barrel of it with this anime. If on the other hand you prefer the cheese or the bun or whatever else, chances are you will not be thrilled with a barrel of sauce you don’t even fancy. So there you go…
The characters are a thing that can easily make many to consider them AWESOOOME and stuff like that and I won’t lie that they are very easily becoming memorable. Besides their badass attitude and firing away bullets left and right, cursing, laughing maniacally, they also have a softer side to them. Meaning they are not just hollow FPS caricatures; they get lots of fleshing out by revealing their backgrounds and things which affected them and turned them to what they are today. It is all fine if you stare them as myopic as I was telling you about before. A closer examination with a nice pair of reading glasses of course will reveal that there is very little character development or catharsis going around, thus they are not actually super great characters if seen properly. But who cares about that; glasses are for pussies; just shut up and look at the fireworks.
Eventually, the whole cast boils down to just the main duo. Revy is the badass amoral bitch with guns, who loves to shoot at people and acts all Chuck Norris during battles. Rock is the average, politically correctly raised man, who constantly tries to apply morality in a violent world which cares very little for such nonsense as they call it. And the chemistry and dialogues between them is what offers a more interesting side to them, despite the fact they are nothing but simplistic polar opposites. One would even wonder why is Rock in the show to begin with; he is a useless pussy. Well, he is there to remind the viewer of what the Average Joe looks like next to the amoral mercenaries fighting all around him. With him to constantly questioning their ways, we get a better grasp of their immorality. It’s like the funny fat guy in any teen adventure; he is there only to make the blunt looking main hero to look all… well, heroic without feeling stupid. Same thing albeit in reverse.
As for the story, granted it is a weak one in terms of plot but definitely interesting in terms of premise. The heroes are constantly hired to do missions (practically stand alones, outside of reccuring characters) that involve some really shady or illegal activities, with Rock bitching all the way and Revy pretty much shooting at everything that moves. The discussions they have with secondary characters during the intervals (Revy reloading guns, lol) provides all the simplistic yet satisfying emersion to the story, leaving the viewer to question his values and perspective on a basic level… before Revy starts shooting again and once more all that matters is who manages to remain alive in the end of the battle. And since bullets bounce off her and villains are complete idiots, well, there is little worry if she wins or not.
But anyways, just like anything else based on vivid emotions, even Black Lagoon works best in small outbursts. Since there isn’t that much context to work with indefinitely, the feeling of the show eventually started to swift further and further away from its initial feeling before it eventually became almost like another casual watch. You see, the second season went for longer arcs and better portrayal of the ephemeral adversaries. Although that gave a bit more depth and duration to get to like the arcs, at the same time lowered the action part somewhat, while constantly giving you enough time to suddenly think “Oh so dramatic; hey wait, this makes no sense!”
This became even more apparent in the third season, which was just one long arc with even less overall action, less cool characters and progressively more emoness crawling in. It is because the main characters had nothing else to show and started to degrade to sorry asses looking for pity, while Rock had no more tears to shed and suddenly turned to a Machiavelian anti-hero out of nowhere. Thus you get the older characters becoming the exact opposite of what they were at first, which makes no sense because they were fine as they were, reversing personalities is lame, and nobody expected development in the first place in this sort of show. Ok, we expected to see Rock boning Revy now that he was bolder and she was softier, something of which never happened and instead we only saw her being almost raped in the past. Lame! The newer characters were also uninteresting and out of feeling with the beginning of the first season. So there you go, just like any other show full of superficial entertainment, it shot itself in the leg for stretching it for too long without anything worthy to show after awhile.
But anyways, I am overanalyzing something that is practically shallow entertainment. If you manage to be half blind to the far fetched situations and don’t mind the emoness that slowly crawls in along the way, it is a great show and you will love it. And despite my harsh words, I still consider it the best in its subgenre.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 8/10
General Artwork 2/2 (well-made)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (detailed)
Animation 2/2 (good for what it is all about)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 4/10
Premise 1/2 (average)
Pacing 1/2 (episodic)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 2/2 (cool/sexy)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 8/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high if you dig the action)
Memorability 3/4 (aside from the cheese, it is a memorable show)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
Stupid but entertaining. Becomes less interesting as it goes on though.
Disappointing. Roberta's Blood Trail should've been a 2-3 episode arc instead of an entire season. The story draaaaags things out and is needlessly convoluted at the same time. Roberta & her master don't deserve to have an entire series dedicated to them especially when they spend it being grim or sad the whole time. The whole production lacks the charm, lively characters and fine balance of philosophy & entertainment that the first 2 seasons had in spades. Instead, everything in s3 is overkill and hamfisted. For Black Lagoon diehards only.
*To be fair, the manga is even worse. But S1 & S2 managed to improve greatly over the source material. No such luck here.
You know, this is similar to the last 12 episodes of Death Note for several reasons.
1. They were both added in for the sake of Madhouse milking the series dry.
2. They both have dissatisfying cop out endings.
3. They both represent the nadir of each series both narratively and character-wise.
Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail is like one of those extra things you add in. It feels like it's gonna be good, but when you delve in it fails to deliver. This is one of those. I was much expecting this series to do some good for the anime after Second Barrage turned out to be a disappointment for being repetitive. What we had here was a missed opportunity where we have the Roberta (the maid from the first series that knocked Revy out) who goes on a killing spree to avenge Garcia's father's death. It starts out pretty well with the Lagoon crew going for the maid in expectance of getting paid, but then Chang wants the money for himself. It was also quite amusing to see Revy get a group of her own to hunt the maid, but then things took a turn for the worst when Rock started making plans. I expected more out of him, but NOOOO he had to try to save a life. And then we get to this bland ending where Garcia makes out with Roberta and everyone who didn't die lived happily ever after so to speak (despite the fact Roberta killed almost EVERY one of the soldiers and was pardoned for it). What the hell?
Ultimately, it was a complete waste of time with overkill action where one could easily call bullshit. Unless you're a die hard Black Lagoon fan I recommend you skip this, and even if you are I STILL recommend you skip this.
Plot and Characters
I loved Revy in this, Same cold stare and with that zero f's attitude she keeps in her pocket. The sexual advance she made at rock was awesome and how she took rejection was even more interesting. Revy has done zero harm to this anime and I'm glad they're writing more manga.
Rock... sucked. I mean I expected a lot of what he did, but I detested how ideological he was. I mean... He's always ideological but they went WAY overboard during the OVAs. He's always quick to share what's on his mind and that makes for unnatural dialogue. I knew one guy like Rock and the guy was a complete tool. The string of events leading up to the maid's capture seemed lame and unbelievable. The fact that Rock orchestrated this makes it even more unbelievable.
The Maid - I love how she totally loses her mind to the point where she can't tell what's reality. Her logic and backstory make it easy to see why she's so batshit crazy. Loved it.
Balalaika - I loved her in the first two seasons... but they kinda changed her personality in the OVAs. Definitely the same old mob chick I love but something was off. She doesn't have anything to prove to the Americans and she already knew that. So, why would she do what she did? Why would she go on her crazy little rant to the Americans. Mind you, this is coming from the same chick who said she only wanted to see how long she could dance in the pit of hell.
Lovelace kid - He wasn't too bad. I didn't hate him and he's kinda required considering he's the Maid's boss now. I think he was a positive force in the OVA.
Mini maid - Not goanna bother to look up her name but she was interesting and consistent with the Lovelace family. The clash she got into with Revy over finishing off a dying man was pretty epic.
Eda - I disliked the part where she spoke with Mr.. Chang through a voice modulator. It was mostly out of character... And Eda wouldn't do that...
The OVAs are definitely worth watching however several of the characters have sudden personality changes from previous seasons. Far too much to be considered character growth.