Black Lagoon: The Complete Series (DVD)

“Never underestimate the power of a Japanese businessman!”

Rokuro “Rock” Okajima is an ordinary Japanese businessman, stuck working in a cubicle all day long, unnoticed and unappreciated. When his bosses get involved in some shady dealings, Rock ends up as an accidental hostage aboard a torpedo boat run by modern-day pirates. Rock’s bosses leave him for dead, so, with nowhere else to go, he becomes a member of the crew, committing crimes on the high seas. Rock’s reluctant new “co-workers” include world-weary boss Dutch, quirky computer tech guy Benny, and Revy “Two Hands,” the scantily-clad, extremely violent hot babe. As their ship, the Black Lagoon, travels from port to port, taking whatever jobs are available, the crew encounters everyone from renegade soldiers, to Russian mafia, to South American druglords, and even vampires. Is it all in a day’s work, or will this crew’s violent criminal ways eventually catch up to them?

It’s been a long time since I watched some anime. After going through a lot of it hoping to find another piece of super-awesomeness like Cowboy Bebop, I kept running into the headache-inducing combination of incredible visuals and incoherent storytelling. I finally threw in the big-eyed, hair-dyed towel. That curiosity never really left me, though. I heard good things about Black Lagoon (not to be confused with “Creature From The…”), in that it not only had sexiness and gunfights, but an accessible story and interesting characters.

It’s also taken me a long time to write this review. First because there’s eight discs’ worth of this stuff to go through on this box set, and second, because there’s a lot to absorb over the course of these 24 episodes. The show is something of a tug-of-war. It pulls viewers in one direction, with all kinds of over-the-top action and violence, and then pulls viewers in the other direction by getting darkly serious, as the characters fret over how negatively all this violence has affected their lives. It’s a mixed message, to say the least.

The action is obviously the big draw. It’s a real thrill to see Revy dive into action, usually with all kinds of guns at hand. Like a lot of anime babes, she’s highly skilled and can blow away a whole room of thugs without getting a scratch on her and looking hot the whole time. She tends to have a devilish grin on her face whenever the killing starts. Speaking of devilish, Revy is also the sex appeal of the show, with a tiny tank top, tinier shorts, and tattoos all over her. Yes, it’s great fun when she’s blasting holes in enemies, but then things slow down, and suddenly Revy’s devilish grin is a mask, hiding her inner torment.

The gritty seriousness often grinds the crazy action to a halt, but it’s not without its moments. At one point, Revy and Rock have an intense heart-to-heart, in which she confronts him about who he is, and he shows he’s more than just the crew’s wimpy tagalong. Just as she challenges him, he challenges her about her contradictory violent ways. It’s a great moment, a rare extended dialogue scene in animation. It’s almost unfortunate when all this fascinating character work is interrupted by more gunfire and explosions. When side characters, most notably a Terminator-like nanny, have similar tear-jerker moments, it’s less effective, as these characters are here to be adversaries to our heroes, and while I’m not against villains with depth, perhaps the Black Lagoon creators are trying to hard to humanize their unstoppable killing machines.

This set features both Black Lagoon and Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage, which is obviously a fancy way of saying “second season.” The picture quality is excellent, making the most of the bright colors of the tropical locales, as well as the dark hideaways the characters tend to end up in. This is a good-looking show with a lot of detailed animation, and the discs show it all off nicely. The audio assaults your ears with an absolutely explosive DTS track in English. There’s also the standard English and Japanese 2.0 tracks. For extras, we’ve got a behind-the-scenes documentary on the English production, an interview with director Sunao Katabuchi, promo videos, and the usual textless opening and closing. It’s a nice collection of extras, more than anime usually gets.

There’s a lot to like about Black Lagoon, such as huge action and interesting quotes, but the tone is all over the place, and that makes it frustrating to watch. If you’re a diehard anime fan who hasn’t checked it out yet, you’ll likely dig it. For the curious outsiders, make it a rental.

The Verdict

Not (ker-BLAM!) guilty.

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