It's not often that the UK gets one over on our US cousins, but it looks like we have with Black Lagoon. The series was a fan favourite in the US, but the sad demise of the distributor Geneon saw the second series disappear into licensing hell. However, MVM have had no such problem and have announced that both series will be released here in the UK.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves! Every series has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is here.
Rokuro Okajima is an average Japanese office
worker who is given the task of couriering a disc of business data to an office
in South East Asia. However, his job is cut short when a trio of pirates
attack the ship he is on and take the disc, as well as take him hostage!
The pirates - hulking Vietnam veteran Dutch, gun-toting killer Revy and laid
back computer expert Benny - have been hired by the Russian mafia to steal the
disc, which contains sensitive information that the company wants to keep
secret. They kidnap Rokuro in order to make a bit of ransom
money on the side, but Rokuro's sheltered life is about to be busted even
further open. It seems that the company don't really care about his
wellbeing as long as the disc is recovered or destroyed, and they hire
mercenaries to take out the pirates' speedboat with him in it. In the
ensuing struggle he proves himself to be useful and disillusioned with his old
life he takes the plunge and throws his lot in with the pirates. Now known
as Rock, Rokuro tries to settle into his new world and prove himself, but he has
to work fast. The life of a modern pirate is not easy, and with dangers
ranging from traitorous underworld bosses to rival pirates and even the Nazis
(yes, you read that right), he has to learn fast if he wants to stay alive...
Many of the anime action series that are released in the West are aimed at teens, but occasionally you get ones like Black Lagoon that are aimed at an older audience. Whereas teen shows focus on friendship and overcoming the odds, action shows aimed at older viewers generally focus on wish fulfilment and escapism. Black Lagoon is no exception. The story is told from the point of view of Rokuro, an everyday office worker like many of its intended viewers, who seizes the opportunity to break out of his humdrum life
and live on the edge. The idea is that yes, you may be a meek white collar worker, but that's only until you get the opportunity to break the mould and be recognised and respected as the hard-livin' hellraiser you really are. It oddly posits the life of a South Seas pirate as some kind of whimsical dream full of adventure and excitement, despite the fact that the crew he ends up with are dangerous mercenaries with little respect for human life.
I will say that Black Lagoon has got a lot going for it though.
The animation and design is great, whilst the suitably rocking
soundtrack provides the perfect foil for the visuals. The action
is frequent and frenetic, with a huge amount of death and destruction
being dealt by the sexy but borderline psychotic Revy, and there's
plenty of underworld backstabbing and dangerous missions to keep the
story thundering along. The characters are cool and pretty
enigmatic, especially Dutch, who pretty much steals the show from the
short-tempered but seemingly troubled Revy. There's going to be
plenty to find out about Dutch and Revy in future I'm sure, but it's a
shame that Benny isn't quite as interesting at the moment and Rokuro is
pretty much a non-entity. Despite all the shady goings on a long
lost treasures in this first volume, the biggest mystery is why a
particularly effective and talented trio of pirates would ask an
ex-office worker to join their crew. Ok, he has an idea that
manages to save them from a seemingly inescapable situation, but unlike
the others he doesn't seem to have any skills that would make him a
worthwhile crew member.
Rokuro's inexplicable desirability aside, I did find Black Lagoon pretty enjoyable. It reminded me a lot of Golgo 13 in tone and style, except it's good, and doesn't contain the gratuitous sex and misogynism. It's extremely violent, and I did find the huge amounts of swearing in the English dub a bit grating, but there's plenty of action and excitement and some interesting questions are being left open about the characters' pasts and motives. Revy in particular seems to have some dark demons to exorcise, and no doubt these will come to
the fore in future volumes. I also liked the fact that the series seems to be set in the modern day. There doesn't seem to be any futuristic technology or supernatural elements, just an - admittedly OTT - action story featuring human characters. The high point of the volume for me was when the action jumped back in time to retrace the fateful last days of a WW2 German U-Boat that the pirates are hired to explore the wreck of. It's a superb story within a story that provides an emotional hook for the current plot, and also gives a reason for the arrival of that most evil of all standard action film villains - the Nazis. What was brilliant was that it didn't vilify the crew of the U-Boat and depicted the captain as a noble man, which made a refreshing change.
All in all, Black Lagoon is a violent actioner littered with swearing and merciless killing. Which, to be honest, makes it surprisingly refreshing. Rokuro is a bit crap at the moment, but Dutch and Revy more than make up for him and the story really started to get interesting towards the end (if a little silly, I doubt Neo-Nazi's dress in the military uniforms of the Third Reich...). It is a more adult action series than most and its aims are different. There's no big speeches about friendship, just solid action and murky underground deals and assassinations. It's an action series for grown-ups, and it's a damn exciting one too.
A much better selection than normal, as well as the standard trailers there's a making of featurette and a music video. The featurette gives an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the English dubbing and production of the series, and includes interviews with the English staff and cast. The best thing though is the original music video for the the theme song Red Fraction performed by Mell (I've Sound). It's rare to see J-Rock music videos included on DVDs, and the song's pretty good too. Great stuff!