"Black Lagoon" Vol. 1: On the Good Ship Blowitup!
If you want to introduce newbies to anime, Black Lagoon is the perfect kind of series to show them. (Cowboy Bebop is another one.) It bucks the stereotypes that the general public has of anime by offering high quality animation, a mature storyline, action in spades, and a whole lot of fun, all without relying on Japanese cultural references that only otaku would get. In short, it has mainstream appeal.
It starts with three pirate mercenaries: Revy, a gruff, trigger-happy woman who’s led a life of crime; Dutch, the easy-going boat driver; and Benny, the computer and electronics expert who often sets up the missions. They get a job: to steal a disc. In the course of that job they kidnap an ordinary young businessman, Okajima Rokuro (later named “Rock”), who starts off petrified beyond belief but later joins the crew after realizing that his job as a businessman wasn’t fulfilling.
I like how the show moves fast. It wastes no time setting up Rock’s kidnapping and then runs through a few action scenes—from a battle with enemy boats to a frenetic barroom shoot out—before the first episode ends. In these scenes, the animation by Madhouse really comes alive, with a lot of inbetweens and some slick, quick direction. One particular scene I loved had the gang’s boat ramping and shooting missiles in mid-air at a pursuing helicopter—great stuff, just like you’d see in any modern Hollywood action movie. The quantity of the action drops off a bit in episode 4, in which the gang has to retrieve a valuable painting from a sunken Nazi submarine. We get a flashback to the Nazi crew’s final hours (in other words, there’s a lot of talking), but I can forgive it because it ends with a cliffhanger and sets the stage for what should be some slam-bang material in Volume 2.
I also love the show’s unique setting. Most of the action takes place on the water, away from the schools, neighborhoods, and faceless skyscrapers of too many other anime series, and it gives us some well-done water animation. The few times when the crew hits dry land, we get some unique locales as well. It’s a testament to the show’s visual strengths that the boat, which could be a claustrophobic setting, doesn’t get boring or repetitive. The director manages to keep things from getting dull, whether by diverting our attention during action scenes or by putting the crew down below, where they usually relax.
The dub is great. I love Dean Redman’s calm, cool and collected performance as Dutch, and Brad Swaile nails the twentysomething, in-over-his-head Rock. Also especially good is Maryke Hendrikse as Revy, who provides all kinds of four-letter words to match her gritty, no-sugarcoat personality. Revy sounds like she’s been smoking ever since she was a little girl, which wouldn’t be a surprise given her past. In fact, the dub is full of swearing, although it’s not at all out-of-place in a show like this, and I would argue it actually adds to the tone. It’s like watching Die Hard; you wouldn’t expect John McClane to shout “Darn it!” while relentlessly pursuing a bad guy.
Sadly, the regular edition version of Volume 1 (which was shipped to me) contains no special features. Well, three trailers, but that doesn’t really count. We don’t even get any clean openings or closes. Obviously, this is really disappointing. But if nothing else, the video quality is excellent, though that’s to be expected with a Geneon release.
If you like kick-ass action sequences, Black Lagoon is the show for you. And Rock makes for a relatable “wrong place at the wrong time” protagonist; his conflict with the rough-talking Revy is fun to watch. I eagerly await Volume 2, just to see how the gang manages to get out of a very sticky situation.