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.
When someone kills Diego Lovelace, the only man to have been kind to 'the Maid' Roberta, any shred of faith and hope left within her is destroyed. For her, the only recourse is to find those responsible - allegedly agents of the United States of America - and make them suffer the same fate as her late master. Meanwhile in Roanapur, the mafia bosses are getting nervous about the world's deadliest woman running wild and drawing the attention of a superpower to their comfortable nest of sins. When Diego's son, Garcia Lovelace, arrives asking the Black Lagoon company to track her down, this seems the perfect opportunity to avert disaster. But can they stop Roberta before she reaches the United States Army and, inevitably, brings their wrath upon all of Roanapur?
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