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Choppy Waters: The Highs and Lows of "Black Lagoon: Second Barrage" Vol. 1

When I think of pirates and smugglers, I conjure up visions of Han Solo types: slightly abrasive, silver-tongued men who lurk in cantinas trying to make an honest living quite dishonestly. I have no idea what real smugglers are like—probably a little less partial to waist-coats I guess. Pirates even less so. I somewhat doubt there are many pirates out there adopting impressions of Keith Richards or relying on extendable rubber limbs to make their trademark. Once again pop culture plumps its pudgy posterior on the despairing face of reality.

Well here’s another pound of fiction to hinder my factual knowledge database, though I imagine it’s a slither closer to real life than Mr Solo. Black Lagoon is a violent, vulgar and action-packed anime about a band of merry smugglers and pirates. As with so much of the Japanese animation that washes up on our Western shores, it’s based on a graphic manga series, this one by Rei Hiroe.

I had the chance to review season one for Cartoons Dammit! last year and I can’t pretend my initial reactions were particularly favorable, but here we have a chance to wipe the slate clean as we step even deeper into the deep dark undercurrents of Black Lagoon with the opening disk for season two.

The DVD contains of four tales, packaged identically to season one. With no features whatsoever, this is a bare bones release. The season starts with a three-part story that is largely Lagoon-free, choosing to focus on Hotel Moscow, a Russian mob who maintain a delicate status quo with its city rivals. This stability is threatened by a series of murders against Hotel Moscow’s men that in turn sends the city into a spiral of chaos. With a bounty on the instigators, Revy looks to catch a few pennies as the city factions duke it out.

Overall, the story is quite engrossing. I can’t pretend it offers anything you’ve not really seen in any other story of its ilk. The internal mob politics aren’t particularly complicated and the resolution is fairly predictable, but the narrative flows, the animation is strong and the voice actors deliver. The chief antagonists, Hansel and Gretal, are both a boon and a disappointment to the story. The story of vicious killer children is a well worn path for anime. Add a potential vampire twist and you’ve got virtually an anime staple formula. Though that being said, there are some unusually shocking elements to this pair.

The final story on the disk starts a new continuing story-line that centers around any annoying forger looking for protection. It’s a little too early in the tale to say how this arc will fare, though based on the first episode it doesn’t carry quite the atmosphere or tension of the previous story and for me. Despite their being an attempt at a lighter tale to contrast the Hotel Moscow storyline, the humor falls very flat, and the introduction of Greenback Jane proves a little too annoying to be either interesting or funny.

As with season one, Black Lagoon continues to explore its world at land and sea and in a variety of dramatic tones. This is certainly one of the show’s strengths. For me, its weakness continues to lie in Revy, the hot, hard and honestly horrid “muscle” of the Lagoon team. She’s selfish, uncouth and vicious. She is also incredibly annoying, particularly in the English dub.

For the most part she spends this DVD sparring with fellow mercenary Eda with the type of uninspiring wit you’d encounter outside the bars on a Friday night. What’s worse is the execution doesn’t even feel particularly effective. I’m far from prudish, but certainly in the English dub it doesn’t hit the right notes and ends up sounding artificial as well as crass. I would heartily advise watching Black Lagoon in its native tongue.

It’s a pity, for the show is rich with interesting characters. In this particular DVD, Hotel Moscow’s Balalaika proves once again to be a great character, as does the confident yet cautious Mr Chang. My initial reservations over Hansel and Gretal evaporated as their dark and terrible back story began to bring them to life. In the nasty and gritty world of Black Lagoon, Revy and Eda seem disconnected through their pushy sparring, their dialogue appearing somewhat childish in comparison.

Bizarrely for such a high violence product, the bottom line isn’t whether you can stomach the gore, but whether you can stomach the lead character. If you can cope with Revy’s growling, bickering and shouting, then I think you’ll find Black Lagoon to be a series of diverse high octane adventures that doesn’t look to pull its punches—even if it occasionally does miss its target.

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