This is a Review of both Black Lagoon and Black Lagoon: Second Barrage. The scores I set are after thinking on both of them as one series.
"At the entrance to the gulf, a Buddha statue that's supposed to bring peace to the world stands in ruin. Beyond that lies the port of immorality, Roanapra. From the overland entrance to the town, there's always a noose, hanging for some unknown person. Beyond that lies the city of pleasure, Roanapra. At one time I was a salaryman in Tokyo, now I'm a pirate here."
Black Lagoon is about a guy named Okajima Rokuro, aka Rock. As he said, He's a Japanese businessman who is on his way to make a delivery when his boat is boarded by pirates. Thats right, I said pirates. I did a little research and it turns out pirates still exist. Mostly in places of ill repute, much like the setting of our show. Anyways, these guys kidnap Rock and bring him along with them. Rock meets his new best friends: Dutch, one of the coolest black men to ever grace anime, Benny, the blonde jewish hacker, and Revy, one of the most insane gunslinging girls ever to come out of New York. "And they go and have zany adventures." I'm gonna have to copyright that statement one of these days.
I believe that this is a good time to point out that out of these four main characters, only one of them is actually Japanese. The other three are American. Dutch is an ex military guy who lived through Vietnam, Benny's a Floridian, and Revy's a Chinese American from New York.
Now, I'll start with something I noticed on my rewatch of the series. Its something you notice after you have watched anime for a while, and it's a thing called stock footage. I'll give an example. There is a battle going on, and the main character uses his special attack. You then notice that this is the exact same clip as the last time he made this attack, and the time before, and the time before. The characters are talking, and apart from the words being different, the pictures are the exact same as the last conversations they've had, except in different order. Now, stock footage is usually done to cut down animation costs. If you've already got something done, why do it again a hundred times when you can just reuse what you have?
Now for the relevance. It doesn't seem like Black Lagoon has any stock footage in it whatsoever. The gunfights are so different, and the characters are ever changing, so there doesn't seem to be more than a few scenes that are reused in the entire show. Now, I consider this a mark of quality. If you take the time to animate all parts of a show, and not just throw together old clips, the show will have a quality that displays your hard work. No gunfight is the same. The characters are doing stuff while they talk, and this stuff changes dependent on the situation they are in. DUring a time of relaxation, Revy is cleaning her gun. Dutch is at the helm, and Rock is smoking. These are not the only things they do, all the time, forever; it varies depending on their mood. I could go and find examples, but its really early in the morning. I believe this little fact makes this anime that much better. I've seen a review that called some of the animation mediocre, and I'll agree, that some scenes are not as well done as they could have been, but the fact that there was little to no stock footage involved goes a long way in my opinion.
Right, now for the story itself. It starts out with the kidnapping, and leads into other adventures. The show takes an almost "story a week" approach to itself, showing a story arc for an episode or two, then ending it for the next one to begin. However, I can't quite call it a "story a week" show, because the characters are changing. In a "story a week" show, the characters really don't grow or change based on thier experiences, due to the fact that there is no telling what episode you are watching, and if you're watching the show in order.
I'll give an example. Spongebog Squarepants has no character development that is not promptly forgotten by the next episode. This is because there is no central plot to the show, just a retarded sponge who works at a fast food joint for a crab who believes that money is the opposite of the root of all evil. There is only the episode and the jokes of that show, there is no past, no future, just the present joke.
With Black Lagoon, they have their short story arcs, but they always impact the characters in subtle ways. Revy doesn't fully accept the new guy Rock and has to overcome that. Rock has to deal with his new job and coworkers, Dutch has to deal with how Rock will affect the attitudes of his employees. Everyone grows and changes over the course of the anime, and by the end of the first season, you see a definite level of trust between them that wasn't there before.
This brings us to the characters. I believe that this is where the show shines the most. Our little band of pirates are complex and very well developed, and I would not hesitate to put Revy up with Faye Valentine, or Rock right next to Spike Spiegel. The way these characters grow and develop throughout the series is something that you don't see very often in anime, outside of shows like Cowboy Bebop.
The sound score is one that I am up and down on. To sum up my thoughts, I'll just call it appropriate. The situations they put music to were all very good for their pieces, especially a scene early on in the series when Revy puts on a pair of headphones and listens to the same music playing in the background... while she kills people. The OP and ED also were hard to catagorize, because they seemed to show different sides of the anime. The OP had a good beat, psyching you for the fight scenes, and really showed an upbeat, action show. The ED on the other hand, was very slow, dramatic, and some could say depressing. It seemed to represent the half of the show where things get serious, where not everything is a sugarcoated as some would think. Two parts of the whole, representing the different sides of the same thing.
Now, I'll stop praising and start nitpicking. Fortunately, I have very few nits to pick. This anime is one of has one of the dirtiest scripts I have ever seen. Everyone is cursing left and right. Of course, the setting almost demands it, working in the hell hole of the criminal underworld. So I really can't complain overly much about that.
However, I can complain about how they ended the show. The second season ends with us thinking that it will go on, that the story isn't done. This is true. The story wasn't done, and was continued in the Manga. Now, this leaves us with a few questions, such as, what happens to the gang after Rock and Revy get back? How will they deal with this new development in their relationship?
These are all questions that we ask about Black Lagoon, but what I have to give the show credit for is that they didn't go to filler. Too many shows decide that since the anime is about to outstrip the manga, it's filler time. Black Lagoon didn't take this route, but rather ended it when they ran out of material, and put the anime on hold until the writer has the next part of the story done. Will we actually see a Black Lagoon Season 3? Maybe. I can't say. What I can say is Bravo, Black Lagoon, for not falling prey to filler arcs.
Now, these are some of the few complaints I have about Black Lagoon, other than the fact that the fact that the third season hasn't come out yet. So, I say that this show was one of the better ones that I have seen, and will most likely remain a favorite in the same way that Cowboy Bebop has.