This is not a series for the faint-hearted. You have been warned.
Black Lagoon starts out appropriately with a bang, with the three-strong Lagoon Company team of mercenaries having already kidnapped a hapless young Japanese salary man named Rokuro “Rock” Okajima. While actually after an important CD he is carrying, one of the team, Revy, subsequently decides to retain Rock as a hostage. Now a captive of the Lagoon Company with no way of escaping from their boat, the Black Lagoon, Rock becomes somewhat philosophical about his situation and ultimately decides to stay with the mercenaries, leaving behind his mundane life as a junior business man.
The Black Lagoon team’s leader, Dutch, is a stoic yet good-natured and intelligent former solider who always manages to remain calm even in the most desperate of situations. Revy, the poster girl for the series, is extraordinarily adept at wielding firearms, has a sharp temper and occasional “berseker rage” to match, but also carries a hint of sadness from her past. Finally, there is Benny, the Lagoon Company’s most light-hearted crewmember, who serves as their resident tech expert. All these characters, and indeed the majority of characters in the series, are refreshingly older than the more prevalent teenage casts of other series. I like older casts, as they tend to eschew many of the overused clichÃ©s. The fact that virtually all the characters in the series have shades of grey with regard to their morals is also very interesting, and aids in depicting the events of the series through a more objective viewpoint.
While we get to see the Lagoon Company typically performing adeptly at various missions, this first season also devotes much time to character-building, particularly with regard to Rock, who is new to the worlds of smuggling and killing, and occasionally wonders whether joining the crew was a good decision. Rock is definitely the audience identification character, but that doesn’t make him any less compelling, and his starkly different background gives him a different way of looking at things that eventually brings him into direct conflict with Revy’s very cynical outlook. A standout episode in terms of their character interaction is episode 7, “Calm Down, Two Men”, in which Rock and Revy’s differing philosophies and backgrounds come to a violent head.
Later episodes tend play up the series’ already over-the-top Tarantino-esque nature, particularly a three-part story arc featuring Roberta, an almost unstoppable/indestructible killing machine, whom even Rock compares to the Terminator. But the show is not completely humorless, and frequently includes some amusing bits of characterization and dialogue.
Unlike a lot of other quasi-realistic series, Black Lagoon‘s lawless setting enhances its sense of authenticity. The show looks to be set around a decade ago (possibly to motivate the characters’ isolation by circumventing the mobile phone revolution) and its 1990s look is complemented by a series of strong female characters, all of whom, like Revy, are very adept with weapons.
The animation by the traditionally dependable Madhouse is of the top-of-the-television-tier standard. The direction is also of a high quality, with most individual scenes storyboarded and animated to reflect the mood of the characters. The actual depiction of violence isn’t quite as graphic as it could have been, but there are still copious amounts of blood and people being shot dead during the gunfights, but nothing overwhelmingly gorier than that. (At least, not in close up.)
The English-language track from Ocean Studio is astoundingly good and only enhances the series’ distinctly international flavor. Dean Redman (as Dutch) and Brian Drummond give excellent performances throughout the series. Maryke Hendrikse is absolutely pitch-perfect as Revy, and Brad Swaile in particular is perfectly cast as Rock in what may be one of his best roles. Also to be heard are such other Ocean talents such as Beast Wars‘ Scott McNeil, Richard Newman and Alec Willows. It’s probably worth pointing out the English script is liberal with the swear words. It’s not over the top by any means, and works very well within the context of the series, but since so few productions use this type of language anymore, it may come as a shock to some buyers out there. The series gets a nicely appropriate musical theme whose English lyrics are nihilistic and profane; the closing theme is moody and reflectively instrumental.
The video encoding is decent and without any jarring issues, with all the episodes being presented in their natural anamorphic widescreen format. The episodes on the first disc run with the original Japanese-language credits on each episode, with a translation for the whole volume afterward, while the rest of the discs included translated credits instead of the Japanese credits. The overall presentation is thus not as consistent as it could have been, but this is just minor nitpicking.
Black Lagoon was one of the final Geneon series released before the company was torpedoed. Funimation has repackaged the first season into a steelbook set. The discs themselves appear to be untouched, coming complete with Geneon’s front-loading company logo and previews for other Geneon releases. Also included in this set is an extras disc, although the only real extra of note is a short but illuminating piece featuring interviews from various staff members at Ocean, including primary voice actors Brad Swaile, Maryke Hendrikse and Dean Redman.
Black Lagoon‘s distinctly ‘objective’ viewpoint is an interesting one, as it’s not always clear whether or not anyone is acting in the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ manner, which makes the viewer actually think a little more deeply about the characters’ situation. But it is also a very action-packed and diverting ride, well worth the time. Just be sure you’ve got the stomach for all the violence and profanity before you too join up with the Lagoon Company. There, you have been warned again.