There is nothing worse that having someone arrival late to a performance -- disturbing the regulars; asking a string of questions about the acts he failed to find the motivation to catch and, of course, commenting loudly about what he thinks of the show even though he failed to turn up for the introduction.
Could one imagine a worse scenario for the audience? How about if the person only stayed for a couple of acts then sauntered off to watch something else instead?
Well that irritant incarnate is me, and I’m about to give you some impressions of the Japanese anime series Black Lagoon - merely from the experience of the second volume of Genon Entertainment's DVD release.
They say it's more important to look
sexy than it is to protect one's vital areas.
Live on the edge, die in the name of fashion
Thankfully, I did do my duty and asked my string of questions about the first volume of the DVD that I’d failed to see, so be assured I’ve done my best to get a feel of the show’s early intentions and a little sneak reading into where the show was to go from here.
Black Lagoon is a continuing story about a small set of mercenaries who travel the seas in search of profit from whatever wind blows their way. Their boat is “The Black Lagoon” and their lifestyle slides them in and out of the sheets named morality.
Dutch is the leader, a logical business man who is a lethal force in battle. Revy is the very violent team muscle who comes from a bad background and as such, likes to remind people of it. Benny is the techie on the ship and finally, we have Rock, the audience’s protagonist, who is kidnapped into their life of amorality and becomes the negotiator of the group.
The stories are fairly diverse. Volume 2 starts in the middle of a serial story involving a race to the treasure with some Nazi adversaries. The DVD follows on with a rather less action-packed tale that focuses on the relationship of Rock and Revy as the former begins to find his niche within the group. The final offering is the first part of an unusual tale which proves the curiosity but unfortunately doesn’t resolve on this disk.
Despite the series selling over 3 million copies in Japan, on this slim taster, I’m not sure where the charm is to be found in Black Lagoon. I constantly get the feeling the story is trying to invoke a reaction from the audience, but I’m not sure what and thereby how successfully it manages it.
The show attempts to occasionally sound profound, but ends up sounding profoundly cheesy, the violence is certainly graphic but not half as shocking as it would perhaps like to be, and the characters are as cardboard, charmless and cliché as they come, far from being immediately likable.
Of course, I have only had four episodes to judge by, but from my experience of the DVD, there is very little in the characters that really warms me to the series. It simply tries too hard; it wants to be a hard-hitting, holding no punches drama and ends up feeling a little childish and desperate. Revy, the typical sexy, violent female lead has wafer thin believability, and the attempts to strengthen her respect for the timid Rock in “Calm Down Two Men” just feels like forced dynamic. Rock is typical anime protagonist material, ripped from his world and on this DVD we watch him go through the predictable motions from timid businessman to tough mercenary. Dutch is certainly the most interesting member of the team given that Benny the Techy does little but play foil for the plot, unfortunately Dutch doesn’t take that much center-stage beyond the finale of the Nazi arc, "Moonlit Hunting Ground". The majority of the screen time seems to be Revy eulogizing on how Rock - and the audience - should think using dull pseudo-intellectual waffle that neither feels natural nor profound. Her growing friendship with Rock feels labored and her constant grumbling doesn’t make her a rough diamond, more a charmless lump of coal.
Go on, laugh in his face,
I dare you -- I double dare you.
Is there anything to like here? Well, I would be lying if I said there wasn’t. Despite the rather cardboard and uninspiring character line-up, there are some well constructed stories here. Furthermore, the small nuances and textures to their pirate world does give Black Lagoon an effective ambiance that is enjoyable to experience. If you can get past the drama of the terrible main characters, you’ll find some decent plots, good direction and neat ideas. Despite the uncharismatic leads, I would probably stick with this a little longer to see how the story fairs. The outro music is very effective too even if again the visuals seem Revy obsessed.
Animation is no frills. On one hand this more basic approach is quite refreshing given the world of animation is so hooked on computer intensity, but on the other, it does lack sparkle. Again, some nice direction lifts the rather basic finish.
As for the DVD itself, its a lack lustre effort from Genon. Anamorphic Wide screen, 5.1 DTS Audio (English), 2.0 Dolby Digital (English/Japanese) and English subtitles are the best it can offer. The menus are basic and the overall design isn’t particularly inspiring.
I can’t honestly say this is a great series from the four episodes on disk. The concept is interesting, the world nurtures audience curiosity, but the characters just come across as either dramatically predictable or desperately performing. If you have patience, and the premise intrigues, dive into these black waters. Everyone else - unless you think sexy chick with a big gun is "cool" should consider a rent before they buy.