Title: Black Lagoon
Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime, Animation
Duration: 25mins (12 Episodes - The First Barrage, 12 Episodes - The Second Barrage)
Foul-Mouthed gunslingers, neo-nazi nutjobs, nuns with guns, and Columbian house maids you really don’t want to piss off, the twisted firestarter, ‘Miss Chinglesh’ and the creepiest vampires you’ll ever see: say hello to the ‘Cowboy Bebop’ for the adult crowd. This is the sort of action show with plenty of adrenaline fueled gun battles, dismembered limbs and witty one-liners that comfortably fits somewhere between ‘The A-Team’ and ‘The Terminator,’ with added Mafia and Yakuza gangsters for good measure, and yet at no point does it lose sight of what separates the good from the great; actually taking the time to develop the characters. Throw in some Tarantino-esque black comedy and you have a recipe for a bloody good time.
Set in the early 90s, the employees of the Black Lagoon company may describe themselves in public as a ‘delivery’ company, but the truth is that they are pirates – and not some outdated idea of patches and parrots – working freelance for whoever requires their services and can afford to pay. Opening with ‘Rock,’ a Japanese businessman en route to deliver an important package, he is quickly kidnapped by the Black Lagoon company, and given a death sentence by his employers. Choosing to join the rag-tag crew of the Black Lagoon company over those that wanted him dead, we see as he begins to explore the underbelly of society.
Everything remains unusually grounded, in particular the character of ‘Rock’ keeping the show tied into believability, given his background and manner as we slowly watch him transform from the sniveling coward into someone capable of standing up for himself. Even if the situation is more extreme than what is faced, the anti-heroes are still likeable and easy to empathise with. The foul-mouthed Chinese-American gunslinger Revy, garnering a little too much pleasure from her gunfights, still manages to display a fierce loyalty to the rest of the crew and is capable of drawing the viewer’s empathy with the frequent, brief little reminders of her unenviable past. Likewise, the at times insightful Benny (the only other non-combatant than Rock, a Jewish, American IT post-graduate) explaining his flexible morals, and the leader of the outfit, Dutch (An African-American Vietnam veteran) with a calm and collected view of things all with their roles to play.
Even the minor characters develop their own persona’s in a short space of time, not in the least the recurring roles of Ms. Balalaika (the Russian woman with some hefty ex-special forces backing her up) and Shunhua (the greedy blade-wielding bitch who hates when people mock her Chinese accent). And the town itself feels complete, passing the same whore houses on the way back from the local bar that’s just been restored for the third time that month after being shot at and blown to pieces. So many little details come so quickly that it manages to add a whole new level of realism to the surroundings, transforming the town of ‘Raonapur’ into a believable backstreet of the world.
It isn’t afraid of showing a little bloodshed (alright, if you make it to the second barrage you’ll see a lot of bloodshed), and everything is animated superbly, but what separates this from the ‘Cowboy Bebop’ and ‘Firefly’ influenced shows is that it removes the sci-fi aspect, and instead produces plots of fact-based fiction. From the Russian Mafia, Columbian Cartel and Chinese Triad, all hanging on a knife-edge with a sense of a delicate truce between thieves itching for an excuse to go to war to the plot backgrounds, and the Black Lagoon company often finding themselves caught in the middle, they utilize actual events as inspiration for the new plot developments.
They could happily leave it at that; believable characters, plenty of action, and comedy, all grounded to reality, but still they take it a step further by tossing us a few snippets of thought-provoking dialogue. Recurring themes such as societal alienation, desperation to find meaning in your existence, the true value of objects (is monetary value equivalent to the personal value we bestow upon them), the effects of communist ideals, citing the works of philosophers such as Sartre, as well as the inevitable question of morality all rears its ugly head during the course of this series. Never becoming the focus or detracting from the essence of what the show strives to attain, but proving capable of going above and beyond what is required of it.
Whilst I’m usually an advocate for the use of subtitles over dubbing, the dub is done so well here that I’m worried more is lost in translation without them! The result is something that doesn’t require you to be an animé fan to enjoy; this is about as far as you can get from that stereotyped ‘Dragonball Z’ notion of action as you could get. If you’ve yet to be introduced to the medium, you could do a whole lot worse than beginning with this. Still not convinced? Start watching for yourself.