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"Black Lagoon" Vol. 2: All Aboard the Blooooood Boat!

I knew little about Black Lagoon, an action title from Madhouse, when it was first licensed. Its high quality completely took me by surprise when I watched volume 1, and volume 2 is even better.

Black Lagoon is the story of a trio of pirate mercenaries—Revy, Dutch, and Benny—who on one of their missions kidnap an ordinary, recently laid-off young businessmen named Rock, who then reluctantly goes on to join their crew. The series succeeds by combining action with gradually unfolding insights into these characters.

The second volume picks up where the first left off, with Revy and Rock diving down to a sunken Nazi sub to retrieve some valuable Nazi paintings, while above water, Dutch and Benny hold a neo-Nazi boat at bay. While down in the sub, Rock has second thoughts about stealing the loot, which leads Revy to describe her philosophy concerning morality: screw morals, because the most important things at the end of the day are money and power. The direction during her speech was absolutely chilling; you get a clear look at a dark soul, and Revy’s command that Rock never bring the subject up again only means that she plans to keep all her issues bottled up.

However, the neo-Nazis break up their chat, snatch the valuables, and leave, so episode 6 consists of Dutch and Revy sneaking onto the neo-Nazi boat at night and taking back what’s rightfully “theirs.” There’s some badass gunplay in this episode, even though the vast majority of it is one-sided, as Revy essentially cleans house before the Nazis have a chance to defend themselves. Heck, she’s even about to wipe out some non-Nazis who only work for them, but Dutch stops her before she goes off the deep end. Revy’s an expert in the killing game, and has no hesitations in plugging several bullets into people she doesn’t even know just to get what she wants. Of course, you can tell from the cold, expressionless, almost robotic manner in the way she dishes out the executions that there’s something more going on, which Dutch hints at after the mission. Meanwhile, Benny and Rock find some refreshing common ground while waiting on the sub.

In what is the strongest episode on the disc, episode 7 takes a break from the watery setting, as Revy and Rock hit dry land to run some various errands. One of them involves visiting some nuns who aren’t exactly shining beacons of virtuous living. There’s a stand-off between Revy and one of the nuns, but Rock’s smart deductions and quick thinking get them out of a jam. As if that isn’t enough, we get a great scene in the second half when Rock finally snaps over the poor treatment Revy gives him and stands up to her. The two exchange some eyebrow-raising accusatory exclamations, and through their fight we learn even more about why Revy is the way she is. It’s a powerful scene and definitely a turning point in the series, as Rock makes it clear which side he’s on. In a twisted sense, Rock had to gain Revy’s trust.

Finally, the volume wraps up with a new mission. The four must transport some cargo. The catch is, the cargo happens to be a boy named Garcia. His family is in trouble with the Colombian Mafia, and Roberta, Garcia’s maid/bodyguard who is looking for him, is introduced. Volume 3 looks to begin with a massive gun fight as the Colombian Mafia, Revy and the gang, and Roberta all run into each other at a bar.

I know I’m repeating what I said in the first review, but Black Lagoon looks great. From dynamic direction and camera angles to some kickass action set pieces, the show had me glued to the screen. My personal favorite action scene on this volume occurs at the end of episode 5 when Revy and Rock surface right next to the neo-Nazi boat and are ruthlessly shot at by the soldiers. Revy submerges, briefly jumps out, and gets off a few shots before ducking underwater for cover again. The detailed splashes, bullets flying through the air and slicing through the water, and the speed of its execution make for a giddily awesome scene. It’s like something you’d see in a Hollywood movie, then gush over with friends afterwards.

In fact, the non-action scenes, which traditionally in anime have the most basic animation and little (if any) movement, are here directed so well that you completely forget that the crew is saving their energy for the higher-octane stuff. Revy and Rock’s tense conversation in the sub is just such a cost-cutting scene, but because Revy is bathed in creepy shadows and given such a menacing cold stare, and because the vocal performances are so convincing, it sucks you in so that you’re not paying attention to the lower frame rates. Even with those lower budget talking scenes, however, I’d easily rank Black Lagoon as one of the better quality anime TV series I’ve seen.

The dub is excellent. Every line is punctuated for pure emotion. While the show is mostly serious, there are quite a few sarcastic one-liners, especially from Revy and Dutch, and they’re delivered with fine comic delivery by the English cast. I like it when shows such as Black Lagoon, despite their dramatic overtones, don’t take every single second so deadly-seriously. In some ways, the dub reminds me of Cowboy Bebop; the acting is quite believable, natural, and accessible to a mainstream audience, and it is only helped by some better-than-usual writing. Bravo to all involved.

As with volume 1, the second volume comes in two flavors: a regular edition (which I was sent) and a limited edition. As far as I know, the only L.E. exclusive this time around are dog tags. Both come with the usual Geneon trailers as the sole DVD special feature. This is rather disappointing, but at least the video quality is top notch and even in big action scenes where the possibility of artifacts is greater, things are kept together and look fantastic.

Black Lagoon is easily one of the best anime shows I’ve watched in 2007. If it were just action alone, it would still be worth watching, but the conflict between Revy and Rock and the gradual reveals about what makes Revy tick make Black Lagoon more than just a brainless “blow ‘em up” piece. With high quality animation, great dub performances, and an engaging storyline, Black Lagoon comes highly recommended.

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