A note: This review covers both Black Lagoon and Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage, and the score is a composite of the two series. If I were to rate the two seasons individually, I would most likely give season 1 around a 7.5 and season 2 around a 6.5.
Black Lagoon looks like a mindless action series. It smells like a mindless action series. However, it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a mindless action series.
To be sure, Black Lagoon almost certainly has mindless action in it. Minor characters spew streams of automatic fire at the protagonists without so much as scratching them. Buildings and vehicles explode at the slightest provocation. Villains emerge from flaming wreckage completely unscathed. Without doubt, these scenes are completely brain-dead, but this is not really what Black Lagoon is all about.
In fact, more than three quarters of the show is reserved for dialogue. One might think that this would slow down an action series, but instead it is easily the best part of the show. Put simply, the show's script sparkles with wit and intelligence. Through an interesting blend of obscure pop culture references, serious philosophical debate and hilarious one-liners, Black Lagoon has some of the best writing of the year.
Unfortunately, Black Lagoon is hampered by a disappointing final arc. The ending drowns itself in a seeming avalanche of petty plot details that I didnt really care about, and the things that made the first season so great (the black humor, interesting philosophical discussions, and risqué attitude) are almost completely gone. In particular, a large part of the normally excellent dialogue is carried out in English. While all of the English is grammatically correct, it's hideously voice-acted, almost to the point of being unwatchable.
In fact, as a whole, the storyline is somewhat uneven. Some of the episodic arcs work well (in particular, the Twins arc at the beginning of the second season is wonderfully creepy), but others either are too ridiculous to really take seriously or get bogged down in unimportant details. Fortunately, as mentioned earlier, the story usually takes a backseat to the dialogue, which is fantastic.
The technical aspects of the show are serviceable, but certainly not outstanding. Animation-wise, the show looks fine most of the time but seems unsure of itself when it comes to the action scenes. Some scenes literally consist of two characters running in a straight line while shooting at each other, and are somewhat dull to sit through. Still, the character designs and backgrounds are top-notch.
There are a couple of problems with the sound. For one, the show leads into the ED at the end of every episode. This slow and depressing instrumental piece is often at odds with the frenetic action that has happened right before it, and serves to dampen the mood of the show. Also, the aforementioned switch to spoken English represents a key misstep in my mind. Fortunately, the OP and non-English voice acting are both great, so Black Lagoon's sound isn't a complete failure.
The wonderful dialogue serves to create characters that feel much more real than the cookie cutter clichés that have come to dominate most of today's action series. Despite the inherent ridiculousness of the setting, all of the characters are believable and likeable. In particular, the two primary protagonists, Rock and Revy, are fantastically well-developed and serve as primary illustrations of the show's theme of moral relativism.
As a denizen of the "normal world," Rock represents the core moral values of modern Japan. Conflict is wrong, life is sacred, good and evil exist, etc. Then, over the course of the series, his traditional beliefs are challenged again and again and again. These beliefs are most apparent in his conversations with Revy. In the beginning, whether he can help it or not, he judges her. He sees her as a thoughtless, cold-blooded beast, an amoral killer that should be both despised and pitied. However, over the course of several heated arguments, Revy slowly shows him that he cannot judge her, because he has no experience whatsoever in her world. He is an alien, a visitor. He does not live in the "night" like the rest of the people of Black Lagoon's accursed city of Roanapur (where even the church is corrupted); he can only peek in through the "twilight." Combined with the characters, this moral "twilight" is ultimately what makes the show what it is.
In many ways, the show strongly resembles Cowboy Bebop. Both series can superficially be written off for their action or episodic plots, but both have significant and interesting things to say about the outcasts of society. While Black Lagoon fails to match Cowboy Bebop in sheer execution, the anime is certainly a step in the right direction for the otherwise increasingly derivative action genre.
What I Liked: Intriguing representation of modern piracy and the "underground". Main characters are big on personality and memorable. Revy. Roberta. Patricia Drake as Balalaika. The Aryan Socialist Union. The occasional non-sequiturs and small pieces of black humour dotted throughout the series. The design for Roanapur. Pretty consistent but average animation.
What I Didn't: Brad Swaile's American accent is WAY too strong for his role as Rock. The laughable voice acting for the Nazis in Episode 4. The way the series barreled through the antagonistic groups (e.g. The Rip-Off Church, The Aryan Socialist Union) made said groups seem more like set pieces than organisations. The ending wasn't really a conclusive ending. Soundtrack was surprisingly dated for such a recent series.
Final Verdict: A gritty series that prefers gunfights and explosions to wallowing over humanity's vices, Black Lagoon is action at it's finest and most visceral. It's backed up by a strong cast of characters and enough gun porn to make one's head spin. The English dub's not too bad, either.
Overall: This series isn't for the light-of-heart or innocent ears. It's harsh from it's language all the way to it's characters. If you have a problem with cursing I recommend avoiding the series because you can't go 5 minutes without hearing something obscene.
Story: The story follows a team of pirates called the 'Lagoon Company', who smuggle items throughout the Southeat Asian seas. The team take on a variety of missions that usually result in gunfights, hand-to-hand combat, and/or sea battles. The story is pretty much consistent throughout without any real overlaying plot. This is not one of those series that get's increasingly complex as it goes on, winding it's way towards an eventual end. Black Lagoon's plots are given in arcs. Each arc is made up with two or three episodes during which the Lagoon Company complete their current job.
Animation: The art itself is wonderful, very detailed though the characters come off as simplistic sometimes. The animation is rough though. It's not fabulous but it's not bad enough to deter you from watching.
Sound: The music is a wide range, from poppy beats to hard rock and all things in between and is always appropriate for the current events of the story. My problem is that the sound effects are louder then the dialogue a lot of the time, or at least, that was the case while I was watching it.
Characters: The show offers an interesting collection of characters. You have 'Benny' the computer geek, 'Dutch' the intelligent, reserved warrior, 'Revy' the hot-headed tomboy, and 'Rock' the emotional tag-along. All and all it's not too unexpected, you see similar groups in other animes whose plot circles around a small band of warriors. They are all likable in their own way but a bit one sided at times, though as time goes by you get snippets of information about all of the characters.
For the time worth watching this, people have been describing this as the younger sister of “Cowboy Bebop”, being the anime equivalent to the big action blockbuster Hollywood movie (The Rock, Bad Boys, any 80s’ action flick you can think of) with the many details of graphic violence, excessive cursing and language, sexuality thrown in there and a bit of inspiration some such filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino & John Woo, although the former did a bit of anime in his venture (yes, you should know what I’m talking about).
The story follows a team of pirates/mercenaries known as Lagoon Company, which smuggles goods in and around the seas of Southeast Asia in the early to mid-1990s. Their base of operations is located in the fictional harbor city of Roanapur in southeast Thailand (somewhere in the Amphoe Mueang Trat district, likely on the mainland north/northeast of the Ko Chang island or on the island itself).They transport goods in the 80-foot (24 m) Elco-type PT boat Black Lagoon. Lagoon Company does business with various clients, but has a particularly friendly relationship with the Russian crime syndicate Hotel Moscow. The team takes on a variety of missions—which may involve violent firefights, hand-to-hand combat, and nautical battles—in various Southeast Asian locations, even going as far as Phu Quoc island of Vietnam and when not doing much, the members of the Lagoon Company spend much of their down time at The Yellow Flag, a bar in Roanapur which is often destroyed in firefights.
Now for the characters of the show, it does have a very vast range of characters but sometimes that showcase as little as they can. Rokuro Okajima, or Rock, is the main protagonist of the show as the Japanese salary man who is so bored and displeased with his daily life and no one exactly gave a shit about him. Actually, when the company he worked for send him out to deliver a package and he gotten captured, they just abandoned him as he was expendable to them. Aside from being captured, Rock manages to keep his mild-mannered and humble attitude throughout the whole show, which is in contrast to our next character, Revy, also known as “Two Hands” (at least she didn’t swing chains). She is one of the most foul-mouthed, merciless, sadistic and fatal characters of the show and that really got the show in drive. Hell, most of the opening sequence is practically her being showcased in action and while she often gets irritated by Rock in the first season but she is protective of him as the series goes along.
The other members of the Lagoon Company include Dutch, the black leader of the company, who is more of the easygoing and relaxed members and last, there’s Benny, the tech specialist member who in his past gotten into the mafia and would’ve ended up dead if Revy didn’t saved him. Now, I would like these characters to have backstory in the show but unfortunately, it’s being taken up by the former two characters of the series, which really disappointed me considering they seemed like interesting characters to know…maybe they might be in the manga, though.
Like I said, there was a wide variety of characters in the show that will probably be too many to mention and name drop like Balalaika, the boss of Hotel Moscow, one of the many gangs that are mentioned in the show and not only she is very skilled at what she does but practically a character that makes her presence to be feared. There is also the Hong Kong Triads lead by Mr. Chang and his top assassin Shenhua; The Colombian Cartel, The Church of Violence, The Aryan Socialist Union (Neo Nazis.) and The Washimine Group (Japanese Yakuza), who are more heavily-involved towards the end of the show.
The show is total 24 episodes, with the first and the second season called “The Second Barrage”, and I will say that the second season has more of a storyline while the first is just random missions with little storyline aside from the main one and yet for some characters like Roberta and her arc makes me crave for more of her (luckily, there is an option for that) but the vampire incestuous twins Hansel and Gretel didn’t feel organic to the series or even to most of the plot. They could’ve been thrown out of the show entirely and not much of a difference would have been made.
As for the animation, the credit all goes to Madhouse for the many use of blood, detailed fight scenes and gun battles, chase scenes, beautiful scenery, and for the opening and ending sequences, which the music for both worked well. The OP theme, “Red Faction” by MELL will get your blood pumping as the show begins, although singing it….I would not suggest if you get the lyrics and the ending music….yeah, music, it’s not much of a theme but many people complained about it being slow, depressing, and drags down the tone of the series…..maybe it does but most of the time when the show have its serious moments, it’s appropriate to rather end on that note rather than just generic hard-driving rock music. The ending music for episode 15 was actually one of my favorites but the last ending theme music was more of a “meh” to me.
Now, as for the dub from Geneon/Ocean, it is a bit 50/50, on the one hand, the dub fits more naturally than the sub, considering its flair is more international and some characters speak English naturally, performances from Brad Swaile, Maryke Hendrikse, Brian Drummond & Dean Redman, which from him I will say this: “Finally, a black character in an anime is voiced by an actual black guy.” This is a good thing, people. But, unfortunately, some of the voices either irritated or creeped me out like the voice of Hansel and Gretel really had me freaking out a bit, considering I heard them before on a show that in a conscience that I’m not telling you….well, one of the actresses was the voice of Nurse Witch Komugi. Garcia just seems annoying and grating whenever he speaks and whoever voiced Shenhua has the worst and slightly offensive Chinese voice I have ever heard. It sounds like that fake accent most people would put in a black-owned hair salon and that’s about as Chinese as the Panda Express.
FINAL VERDICT: By all means, Black Lagoon is worth seeing and definitely worth buying. This could be one of the few anime that I see Western culture getting into, maybe not as much or iconic as Bebop but still. It has a very in-your-face tone mixed with dark comedy and sometimes even darker drama once it gets more storyline driven. Your friends will love this but I wouldn’t recommended seeing this with family or kids…..unless they into that, too.
Black Lagoon... where to start? The story is, to be blunt, epic. It's completely believable, showing the dark underbelly of humanity. The writer(s?) managed to blend the deep emotional and psychological themes common to most Japanese anime (that I've seen anyway) with the senseless violence and brutality that makes Western media just so darn entertaining. Pair it up with gorgeous artwork, an absolutely perfect soundtrack, and possibly the best sound effects ever heard in an anime, and you have a dark, evil masterpiece. The voice actors choses for the English dub were incredible as well, capturing the sophistication of a Russian mob boss, the vulgar humor and trash-talking of a hired gun, and so many other unique and memorable characters. The characters themselves were amazing as well: from the dark and deeper-than-expected mercenary Revy and her horrifying past to the unusually plain but potentially explosive Japanese businessman Rock. Even the minor characters, like the bartender and the various thugs that come, get shot, then vanish into a "muddy hole in the ground" show the signs of having plenty of thought and effort put into their creation. All in all, Black Lagoon is a thrill ride of a series. I've watched it more than a hundred times and I still find myself coming back again and again.