Black Lagoon and Action Done Right

In Jacob Horn by Ryan Rosenbaum0 Comments

Let me be clear before I get into this discussion. Unless it involves Woo or Tarantino, I’m not a fan of almost any modern era action movies. Too many of them try to be dark and gritty, yet visually impressive at the same time. In the end this leaves me wondering whether I’m supposed to be taken aback by how flashy the effects are or if I should feel tension over whether or not the protagonist(s) will overcome the dangers they face. Well if the film isn’t made by one of the directors above, the odds are I won’t be able to do both. Why is that you may ask? Well it’s because these are the directors who go so over the top in their direction of action sequences that I’m left captivated by the action itself, but at the same time I’m willing to accept how outrageous the scenarios are to the point that I can take them seriously to an extent since it’s just impossible to get hung up on how unrealistic they are. This suspension of disbelief, then, is critical to enjoying a film or series while also taking it seriously to an extent. But what does this have to do with Black Lagoon, a show I still haven’t mentioned in this review?

Absolutely everything, but first it’s important to understand the premise of the show/ This series takes the things which define some of the best action movies ever produced and brings it to a new level. Black Lagoon is a running manga and anime written by Rei Hiroe and produced by MADHOUSE Inc. The story focuses on a Japanese salary man and corporate whipping boy, Rokuro Okajima, (from now on known as Rock) who is kidnapped by a group of modern pirates known as the Lagoon Company in the South China Sea while delivering a mysterious disk drive for his company in hopes of collecting ransom. After uncovering the company’s corruption, Rock is left for dead by his former employers and joins the crew of the Lagoon. This crew consists of the following; a former Vietnam veteran turned pirate captain, Dutch, a hacker and mechanic on the run from the FBI, Benny, and last but certainly not least a mysterious and foul-mouthed femme-fatale, Revy. Together these four go about their business, whether that’s smuggling arms, people, or plundering Nazi U-Boats and coming into conflict with the criminal organizations also settled in the fictional city of Roanapur.

This seems a lot like something Quentin Tarantino might have made right? That’s because Black Lagoon is almost a love letter to Tarantino films. It takes that stylized violence and over-the-top character concepts to make something truly entertaining, eye-catching, and gripping all at the same time, but it does that even better than Tarantino at times. It’s all thanks to the fact that Black Lagoon is an animated series and not a live-action film. Just look at some of these clips

Let me be clear before I get into this discussion. Unless it involves Woo or Tarantino, I’m not a fan of almost any modern era action movies. Too many of them try to be dark and gritty, yet visually impressive at the same time. In the end, this leaves me wondering whether I’m supposed to be taken aback by how flashy the effects are or if I should feel tension over whether or not the protagonist(s) will overcome the dangers they face. Well if the film isn’t made by one of the directors above, the odds are I won’t be able to do both. Why is that you may ask? Well it’s because these are the directors who go so over the top in their direction of action sequences that I’m left captivated by the action itself, but at the same time I’m willing to accept how outrageous the scenarios are to the point that I can take them seriously to an extent since it’s just impossible to get hung up on how unrealistic they are. This suspension of disbelief, then, is critical to enjoying a film or series while also taking it seriously to an extent. But what does this have to do with Black Lagoon, a show I still haven’t mentioned in this review?
Absolutely everything, but first it’s important to understand the premise of the show/ This series takes the things which define some of the best action movies ever produced and brings it to a new level. Black Lagoon is a running manga and anime written by Rei Hiroe and produced by MADHOUSE Inc. The story focuses on a Japanese salaryman and corporate whipping boy, Rokuro Okajima, (from now on known as Rock) who is kidnapped by a group of modern pirates known as the Lagoon Company in the South China Sea while delivering a mysterious disk drive for his company in hopes of collecting ransom. After uncovering the company’s corruption, Rock is left for dead by his former employers and joins the crew of the Lagoon. This crew consists of the following; a former Vietnam veteran turned pirate captain, Dutch, a hacker and mechanic on the run from the FBI, Benny, and last but certainly not least a mysterious and foul-mouthed femme-fatale, Revy. Together these four go about their business, whether that’s smuggling arms, people, or plundering Nazi U-Boats and coming into conflict with the criminal organizations also settled in the fictional city of Roanapur.
This seems a lot like something Quentin Tarantino might have made right? That’s because Black Lagoon is almost a love letter to Tarantino films. It takes that stylized violence and over-the-top character concepts to make something truly entertaining, eye-catching, and gripping all at the same time, but it does that even better than Tarantino at times. It’s all thanks to the fact that Black Lagoon is an animated series and not a live-action film. Just look at some of these clips

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Every movement is deliberate and concise Even the explosions have weight behind them. Characters can do mid-air cartwheels while dual wielding pistols and even then you can’t help but get caught up in the scene because it’s animated in such a satisfying way that also captures a character’s personality and power. And that’s the crux of it all. The characters themselves feel strong, not just the guns they wield or the explosions they inevitably cause. This is something that’s almost impossible to capture in live action because no matter how wonderful it looks there are limitations to what humans can do and still look natural while doing it. In animation there is no such limitation, the creators are in complete control of every movement and action taken by the characters or even the environment itself and this show uses that to its advantage. Through its animation style Black Lagoon is able to be stylized as well as visceral and sometimes even dark in its delivery of violence that will make you reevaluate whether being a badass is enough to make forget just how sadistic the characters are. At the same time, the shots are so well done that everything looks natural as if anyone could do what these people do.

Of course action isn’t the only thing that makes Black Lagoon shine as a series. The interactions between characters and the evolution of the relationship between the two protagonists, Rock and Revy, are what really drive the themes of the series forward. Rock is the viewer’s eyes into a world they have never seen before. To go from a sheltered if boring and uneventful life to joining a group of pirates should leave anybody confused and a little bit judgmental of those around them. These are morally corrupt people who murder, kidnap, and traffic people to make a living, so it can be difficult to like the characters at first beyond how entertaining it is to watch them in battle. Rock even calls Revy out for looting corpses and valuing money over her morality, to which she responds by nearly blowing his head off because he really has no idea who she is or what circumstances made he that way. It’s easy to take a moral high ground when you’ve never grown up in abject poverty or surrounded by crime and abuse. So even though these characters aren’t good people, they are certainly nuanced. This is something learned through time, reading into the ways different characters interact with each other and in the way they carry themselves. Little to no backstory is directly stated and so it’s up to the viewer to try and understand how characters came to be who they are. This is yet another refreshing aspect of the series when so many movies and shows treat unloading a heavy backstory all at once an effective means of characterization. And if you thought only the action scenes were well animated, well you’re in for a treat because there are some very well framed shots throughout the show outside of the action that help to further develop the characters and their relationships.
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For those who haven’t watched much if any anime and are hesitant to watch this show, know that it is an extremely mature series not intended for children under any circumstances. The only thing cruder than the violence in this show is the dialog, which is beautifully written I might add. Black Lagoon has a fantastic English dub loaded with profanity like no other show, which reflects the upbringing of many of the characters. In the first two seasons alone the word “fuck” is used well over 200 times if that says anything about who the intended audience is, and more importantly, who it is not.

The combination of these entire elements makes Black Lagoon a wonderful series in its own right and especially as an introduction to what animation has to offer as a medium. The only real fault to the series is that the author is just now leaving a 5-year hiatus and so it is unknown when more of the series will be adapted into anime, but the lack of an overarching plot and focus on separate character driven arcs makes up for that. Black Lagoon is series with a simple premise, stunning execution, and a surprisingly complex cast of characters, making it a must watch series for anybody and everybody.

 

 

Black Lagoon is available for free and legal streaming on both funimation.com as well as hulu.com. The most recent arc of the series, Roberta’s Blood Trail, is available with a Hulu subscription.

Ryan Rosenbaum
Founder In Chief at The Establishing Shot
Won more Oscars than Leo, less than Three Six Mafia. Frequent eater at Big Kahuna burger.
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