Black Lagoon was really the first of the fringe-y mercenary genre of anime. Or at least, the first to get it right. Combining a likable cast of pirates with an intriguing backdrop and some of the best bang-up fighting you can get, Black Lagoon is a highly watchable, highly entertaining anime.
1) Great Cast-Anime like Black Lagoon tend to treat female characters as either useless or tits with guns. In comparable titles like Jormungand and Phantom, many of the female characters are treated as nothing more than bewbs. While Revy is wearing revealing clothing, she maintains a very unfemale-like character throughout the series and fits right in with the boys. She has a lot of things going on in her head and very little of her background is known, lending a certain air of mystery. Her relationship with Rock is also very hard to pinpoint. While there might be a tiny bud of something akin to romance, we’re not led to believe either way because the characters hide it so well. The closest we get is sharing the light on the butt of a cigarette, and the emphasis on this is actually very memorable and thought provoking, bringing the audience to question the characters fighting as maybe something more.
Revy is such a great character to get to know and while she can be an overbearing bitch and a complete psychopath, the question of how a person can become like her is in the air and the series seems to want to explore that concept, though Revy’s character won’t let any progress go forward. The fact that Rock is the only character who seems to be able to break into her shell reveals a lot about Rock as a person, as well as his relationship with Revy. He cares about her more than anyone ever has, and neither of them seems able to realize it.
Rock himself is a really good character. Usually the outcast is the protagonist who gets shit on and that’s no different in Black Lagoon. But Rock is actually useful and while he’s not the greatest asset to the team, he manages to get them out of some binds. He’s the more human character of the group, disturbed by the killings and especially disturbed by the team taking charge of a kidnapped kid. He’s there to add tension and be a polar opposite, but he doesn’t become so forcefully different that it’s painful to watch. He’s part of this new world, but he’s also civil. A gentleman pirate if you may.
Dutch is the apparent leader, though he’s not given a lot of thought. He’s intelligent at times, bloodthirsty at others, but he also seems to hold some compassion. He’s a more violent version of Rock. Benny meanwhile is just there. He’s never given much screen time and serves as the tech guy.
The series’ emphasis is on Revy and Rock. Halfway through it gives Revy time to especially shine when facing the maid killer Roberta, another tragic anti-hero. Once again, the series treats her as a total badass. The maid outfit gives the outward appearance of prissiness but inside, she’s a murderer, a tragic murderer assimilating into the real world. The series does the same thing with Hotel Moscow’s Balalaika, who is totally badass. It’s nice to see a series where no female character is totally useless and all are…flat out scary.
The entire cast is well thought out, the bad guys are cool. It’s just a really well thought out series of characters.
2) Stupidity With Limits-Black Lagoon has its dumb moments. The Roberta section is long-winded and completely ridiculous, but at the same time, it’s so freaking cool you don’t care. There are some side characters introduced later on in the series who serve as comic relief, but they all have a purpose and some of the ridiculous things that happen (a European getaway driver smoking pot and driving through the DMZ) are outright hilarious. But the series limits it’s stupidity. There are tons of really great, humorous moments, but not enough to be overbearing. It balances a dark, nihilistic viewpoint and depressing characters with a sense of hilarity. And being able to balance those is really tricky. Look at Jormungand. No balance whatsoever. It has tons of serious moments then a random comedy moment that throws off the audience. Black Lagoon balances it; and damn well.
3) Playing with the Real World-Black Lagoon manages to be a thriller in the real world without using tons of fake places and creating fake tensions. The island of Roanuper is a great idea, a place where all the lowest of the low come together. The Russian mob, the Triads, and random mercenaries all converge here. The series takes place in the Pacific Ocean and uses places in the Philippines and some random islands as the setting. This setting is both beautiful and enjoyable. Scenes of island jungle and beautiful waters keep the show watchable and makes you feel like you’re on a vacation. By playing with real life organizations and throwing in tons of references and historical things, it gives it a sense of realism; almost akin to a Hollywood movie. By doing all these things, the series comes across as so much more enjoyable. Many comics, movies, and anime would rather create tensions and create countries to have these tensions. Black Lagoon knows how to manage the real world with the cartoon world.
4) Killing for Killing’s Sake-The series’ isn’t a ho-hum shoot ‘em up akin to The Expendables or Commando. It has substance. As I said before, Revy is plagued with all kinds of problems, so is Roberta. The killing and fighting in the series can sometimes be a little over the top and violent but there’s a theme running underneath about why these people kill and what it all means. The series is not completely existential and doesn’t ramble on, but it does acknowledge that there is a certain shame to killing and there are so many circumstances that turn a person into a Revy. Revy is a complete badass on the outside, but on the inside we know she’s an emotional wreck, hiding all kinds of secrets with the blood of her enemies. It’s that kind of writing that creates compelling characters and reason to keep watching. Killers are boring to watch when written as murder machines. The first action scene is cool, the second meh, the third is when an audience wants to walk away. A killer needs a reason to kill. In Commando it was the taking of his daughter. In the Expendables it was about money. But that’s not good enough. They need a reason to kill, they need a reason they can kill, and they need regret. Human characteristics like this help the audience not only sympathize with the character, but also grow to realize why he or she kills. The series delves into these ideas subtly while overtly showing the tragedy that comes about killing, especially in the Roberta story arc. While you may not have thought much about it, there was still a sense of loss of innocence in Roberta. She became a soldier, she gave it all up, she tried to create a new life for herself and be a normal girl, but wound up being thrown right back into killing all over again. There is more to the series than a bunch of badass’s shooting at each other. And that is what makes Black Lagoon different from all its contemporaries.
1) Nazi Arc-While the Nazi arc was a pretty good throwback to old style exploration movies and Clive Cussler novels, it broke up the story with lots of flashbacks to the submarine’s crew. This was the original reason I quit the series; it just broke things up too much. I can appreciate the attempt to tell a story but the series never relies on flashbacks to tell story again and the story of what happened in the sub is told by Revy very briefly. The entire flashback seems pointless and pads the story out rather than provide any sort of useful content. Some may have enjoyed this arc but I felt it was the weakest in the first season.
2) Opening-The opening sequence is bad. The music isn’t bad but the damn lyrics are so awful I had to skip the opening every time just to keep from laughing. The opening is supposed to be kind of serious and lead you into this hopeless world of killing and finding morality but it instead is broken Engrish with pointless cursing and questionable lyrics.
Black Lagoon is definitely one of the best adult anime out there. It combines all sorts of good stuff to create a compellingly watchable and entertaining feast. While the Nazi arc failed to deliver much, the rest of the series is a great piece of character development on the part of Revy and Rock while it’s also a beautiful and well written story about a ragtag group of pirates and all their crazy adventures. It’s sometimes off-the-wall, but balances that with ideas on morality and a certain sense of realism many anime lack. It’s fantastic stuff and a must watch.