DVD/BluRay Review: BLACK LAGOON (First Two Seasons)

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In the Japanese animated series "Black Lagoon" a low-level Japanese office salary slave becomes a member of a South-East Asian band of modern-day pirates. It is almost the ultimate fish out of the water scenario: the meek and conscientious guy is hopelessly outclassed by his new "mates" in anything involving gunplay, physical strength, swearing and bullying, and the only reason he stays alive is because his skills are so easily abusable. Think of an accountant accidentally joining a non-noble version of the A-Team and you're close. Needless to say he immediately is in over his head.

And so a fun action series starts... or so it seems. For "Black Lagoon" slowly but surely develops and tightens its main characters until you suddenly realize that in spite of the flashy veneer, you're actually watching a pretty serious crime drama...

Manga UK just released the first two seasons of "Black Lagoon" on DVD and BluRay, hence this review. Did I like this series? It took some episodes to get me warming up but then I absolutely loved it. Read on...


The Plot:

Rokuro is a low-level office clerk in Tokyo who is sent to Thailand by his corporation to deliver some documents. Unfortunately, these contain some extremely dirty information on his employer so before you know it Rokuro has his documents stolen. He himself is taken along as hostage by the robbers, a "delivery service" (or gang of pirates, rather) called Black Lagoon.
When a killing crew is sent after Black Lagoon to erase all evidence of the documents, Rokuro ends up surviving the ordeal and, having tasted freedom and adrenaline, on a whim decides to join the pirates.

Black-lagoon-dvd-ext1.jpgNow naming himself "Rock" he starts to help out Black Lagoon Company as an accountant, as interpreter or just as an extra two hands on their base in Roanapur. But the outfit has a knack of getting into trouble, be it used as a scapegoat, double-crossed by business rivals or generally pissing off the authorities. Rock discovers his sense of morality is often challenged and that Revy, the beautiful Chinese-American girl who serves as the group's walking arsenal, is dangerously unhinged...


The Two Series:

Anyone being exposed to the marketing materials of "Black Lagoon" might be surprised to discover upon watching the series that it revolves around Rock and not Revy, because it is Revy who is plastered over everything as the series' mascot, wearing her signature Lara Croft-ish outfit of army boots, extremely high-cut jeans shorts, olive tank top and her pair of customized guns.
And indeed the series' three introductory episodes do little else but show how wimpy Rock is, how cool and tough Revy and Dutch (the giant black leader of the crew) are, and how over-the-top lucky their constant escapes are. Add to that some hypocrisy concerning violence where it's shown to be cool but immediately denounced as terrible by Rock. So by this time I was about to abandon ship (haha) and dismiss the entire series as slightly better than average but probably not good enough to follow through to the end.
But then we get to the storyline with the wreck of a Nazi submarine, and everything changes.

I do not want to spoil what happens but all characters suddenly gain depth, the earlier perceived hypocrisy turns into an important plot point, and the thriller element kicks in with a very impressive attention to detail. Hiroe Rei, the creator of the original manga, is known for doing some research on both weaponry and history and the series thankfully has copied this attitude. The effect is that "Black Lagoon" in one fell swoop eliminates most of its weaker points, and gains some strong ones. For the remainder of the series it manages to keep this high level of quality, even stepping up its game for the second half of the second series.

As the story moves temporarily to Japan in wintertime, Revy even loses the sluttish looks and dons some more regular clothing. The way "Black Lagoon" willingly sacrifices fanservice on behalf of believability and tension whenever necessary is commendable and makes the stories far more adult than mere skin and violence would ever do.
The Black Lagoon Company seems like a bunch of good friends and lovable rogues, but as they get deeper and deeper in cahoots with the Russian maffia it becomes painfully obvious that these people are neither good nor friends. Rock does some growing up during both seasons but he is not the only one.

Season two ends on a dark but high note, making you seriously wonder what the group will do with their added insight and their entanglements.
The good news is also that the stories haven't finished yet. Instead of a third season, MadHouse released a series of five OVAs direct to BluRay in Japan and hopefully Western distributors will follow suit soon...


Conclusion:

"Black Lagoon" may just be one the best contemporary action series available. It starts as exaggerated adolescent wish-fulfillment, sexy girls with guns and all, but the characterization and attention to detail elevate these stories onto a higher level. The cast comes alive and that very fact ups the stakes whenever things get dicey. Hell, it even gets dark and moody in places. Not bad for a series whose main aim is to keep on being very entertaining.

Highly recommended, and I cannot wait for the five sequel OVAs on BluRay!


Black-lagoon-dvd-ext2.jpgAbout the Discs:

Manga UK / Kaze has released "Black Lagoon" as two separate region B coded BluRay-sets (one for each season) or as one big DVD-boxset (coded PAL, region 2) for both seasons together. Each season consists of twelve 23-minute episodes.

Now the third season of five OVAs called "Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail" was made for HD and will hopefully be released on BluRay as well, but the first two seasons were made with SD televisions in mind. This review is therefore about the DVD-set which is barebones but VERY good on audio and video. Images are colorful and sharp.

Both the Japanese and English soundtracks are fine, as are the English subs. As always I like the Japanese one slightly better (that's just how I generally roll with anime) but as everyone is supposedly speaking English according to the story, the English track seems strangely appropriate for once.

And that's basically it. The barebones part is a bit of a shame as the Japanese editions had some interesting content like extra short films, fleshing out several of the characters. But these haven't made it onto any foreign editions, undoubtedly to protect the Japanese market. Ah well...
But the series itself is very good, and very much worth checking out.

You can order this title through our affiliate.
Here is the DVD set for both seasons together (link)...
... here is the BluRay for season 1 (link)...
... and here is the BluRay for season 2 (link).


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Around the Internet:
  • VyceVictus

    Nice review Ard!

    I'd also like to add that one of the things that makes this show special and elevates it above standard adult contemporary anime is the love for big Hollywood 80's-90's style action and the art of the Action Movie as a whole throughout cinema it wears on it's sleeve. There are some notable in-jokes and send-ups of 80's action tropes that add to the fun, such as a hardened killer in the first season being likened to a "a killer robot from the future" and the over the top car chase scene that ensues. Every action cinema lover should add this to their collection, regardless of whether or not they even watch anime.

  • Ard Vijn

    Your comment is very true.

    One sequence I loved in particular is (slight spoiler) when Revvy and the yakuza guy together attack an enemy stronghold, and Rock points out to Revvy: "But you don't speak Japanese and he doesn't speak Chinese!". Revvy just says something like "We'll manage" and for the rest of the episode the two communicate entirely through action movie cliche sentences in English:



    "Watch out, 2 o' clock!"

    "Are you OK"?

    "I'll take it from here."



    If you watch this sequence in the Japanese dub it's absolutely hilarious (accents and all), and totally believable in the given context. These two people would have watched zillions of 80's-90's style action films and known the jargon, so why not use it as signals during a fight?

  • hiroaki.j

    It's been a while but I think there's even a character that is basically Chow Yun Fat who might even be named Mark and wears the trench coat from ABT.



    I really enjoyed the show, in some respects I felt like it hit that Cowboy Bebop itch.

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