With a genre that deals with a lot of action set-pieces, a show of this specific genre is usually bogged down into mindless entertainment territory with absolutely no substance to it at all. There have been in the past many action films and TV shows that have shown to become competent in the history of film-making, examples in mind are the works of John Woo, Michael Mann, and Quentin Tarantino. But what if I told you that there is an anime show that encompasses everything that is great about those three directors and succeeds on every possible level? The show in question is Black Lagoon, a show that showcases a blend of mindless Hollywood action and juvenile humor in the best possible sense of the word juvenile.
Black Lagoon’s story is mainly focused on our four main characters and their adventures together through plot arcs that tie in together through the chemistry that help make them grow with each other. There isn’t much of a deep complex plot to behold in the show, it’s about as cliché as any kind of Seinen action show in the past decade. That may seem like a negative when you put it that way, but sometimes clichés are used to good effect when you have competent writing to flesh out your characters and set-pieces. Black Lagoon is a definite exception to this rule, it manages to pull off even the most ridiculous plot arcs that could easily be looked at with eye rolls and as a laughable premise. One glorious example is just how dark and witty the dialogue writing is that hits the mark perfectly on every scene it creates within the framework of the show. It gives Black Lagoon a spark of creativity in its witty black humor that creates its own unique personality to deviate itself from other shows like it, in terms of writing. The humor never gets old because it’s not repetitive in how it’s delivered by the characters sparingly and not done on almost every scene in each episode, it makes the jokes work more effectively with clarity and sensibility.
Now when you talk about the characters in Black Lagoon, the one character you must acknowledge the most is the one and only Revy. She’s the prototypical “girl with guns” character that spouts off adolescent language and a dark past that shadows over the overall tone of the show to not only to become a dark comedy but a dark one altogether. So how is Revy different from any other female character in a “girls with guns” show? She does have similar characteristics that could be pointed out as being standard or generic from other characters like her. But it’s because Revy is Black Lagoon. Her presence in the world of the show is very charismatic and alluring that demands your attention by not only her design, which is by far one of the sexiest I’ve seen in a long time, but by her character background and her hilarious dialogue. As I said before about the writing, the writers give Revy a ton of material for her to shine on-screen when she is either going into these well put together action scenes and her funny snarky remarks at any of the characters. There is even a Tarantino kind of quality to her where she is obviously this sick woman who only cares for money and violence but she’s also portrayed in a sympathetic light when she explains why her mentality is the way it is from her troubled past. They don’t necessarily go in too much further in this season, but regardless it is a great starting point to a fantastic character.
With Revy out-of-the-way, the other characters may not have as much depth or even characterization as our larger than life heroine but that certainly does not mean that they are bad in any way shape or form. Our main hero, nicknamed Rock, does have some of the same level of charisma as Revy and how he doesn’t come across as a weak-willed character as most characters of his archetype typically are. It isn’t as if Revy’s presence overshadows his own because he doesn’t have much of a personality, Rock actually carries the show by himself quite well and even together with Revy. The chemistry between the two is pretty unique in how they constantly are at odds with each other because of how different they follow life but in the end they still view each as part of a team whether they want to or not. There is no scene that involves them immediately becoming friends overnight, the show takes it’s time to build them up as a team that has to trust each other or they might end up in a bad situation and it’s actually written intelligently by this very fact. The two other people in the group named Dutch and Benny aren’t given much to go around as complex characters but this does not automatically make them bad characters, what little background they bring on the table for them is still much appreciated in how they still offer some great scenes with each other.
The antagonists are really hit and miss in how little depth some of them have when they seem. One in particular involves an army of Aryan neo-nazis that seem more like just fodder characters that don’t get a lot of profound characterization that, while I can forgive it, given how it’s portrayed in an action show, it would’ve been more than what it already was. For the one that does hit the mark is oddly enough a Roberta maid who is given some context for her intentions on being who she is and the show handles it very well despite her strange terminator-like persona that wasn’t given much explanation, but then again the show is nutty enough to let it pass as just another Black Lagoon style of logic put in for good measure.
For the style of animation that Madhouse put together back their swell days, it still definitely holds up as a great visual treat. The action scenes are done with absolutely great visual flair and technicality that are definitely inspired by the works of John Woo, as I’ve mentioned in the beginning. Although not perfectly seamless in how slick the characters move, it is nonetheless spectacular to see how the animators put their heart and souls to not cut any corners whatsoever in detailing every aspect of Revy and the rest of the environment on the sights of her gun. The violence and carnage in Black Lagoon is not necessarily as gory or blood-splattering as many would argue; there is no question that it celebrates its own carnage but it’s not done in a way that is so blatant or in-your-face where it gets tedious or loses its momentum in how effective each shot counts. There are some that do fit in that class but for the most part it handles it’s violence with great precision and intelligence that make every scene brimming with fascinating acts of carnage that is more exciting to watch than just rolling your eyes in boredom. There are even some elements of neo-noir in the case of how it handles the violence how it cuts immediately away from Revy shooting a man in the head at close range; not to mention the show has some really great camera angles that make the scenes have some deep impact to them.
The music is about what you would expect out of an action show like Black Lagoon. Standard rock and metal music that isn’t very memorable to even try to buy an album for since it’s just there to fill up the show’s audio production and nothing more, not to mention the shooting and the characters shouting over the music doesn’t help either. For what it’s worth, it does it’s job well to create a fun dark humorous vibe to the action scenes. The voice acting, however, is what makes the dialogue really spice up to new heights. I’ve only listened to the Japanese voice actors in Black Lagoon and they all own their roles. Of course the one to mention out the rest is Megumi Toyoguchi who does a helluva performance as Revy by giving her a great sarcastic essence to her voice that makes her so alluring and almost sexual. It fits the design of Revy so perfectly, that Megumi almost becomes Revy just through her own voice alone. Daisuke Namikawa, as usual, does a nice job voicing Rock and doesn’t seem like a novice compared to Megumi’s performance, as do the rest of the cast members with some that aren’t really noteworthy to discuss.
For what its worth, Black Lagoon is about as silly and stupid as one could get out of an action show that would even make Steven Seagal blush, not that Black Lagoon quality-wise is comparable to his films, just from a contextual point-of-view. Stupid is normally used to describe something without context or substance when describing a story or character in any medium, but if the show is self-aware of the fact that it is and takes advantage of this aspect. It is clear that there are some genuinely serious moments found in Black Lagoon, even though they are actually effective in achieving the dark tone that it is known for. Even with that said, it doesn’t seem out-of-place or distracting from the humor of the show because of how greatly paced the narrative of all the arcs. All of these are what make Black Lagoon easily one of the most entertaining and hard-hitting action shows that treats its audience as grown adults and creates some of the most well choreographed action courtesy of Madhouse, one terrible aiming bad guy at a time.