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.
I agree with basically everything you've said here. The story truly would have benefited from adding a fourth meanful character rather than expanding the roster of side characters into the realm of ridiculousness specfically in the first half of the second season with the counterfeiters.