No, you’re not suffering from deja va. After having been released by MVM a few years back, Black Lagoon is back for another trip around this block, this time courtesy of Kaze UK. And it’s just as much fun as it was the first time around…
What They Say:
Rokuro Okajlma is meek, mundane and metropolitan. His business trip to South East Asia turns from pleasure cruise to festival of pain when modern day pirates board the ship and take him hostage. Revy, Dutch and Benny are merciless, maniacal and mean. Together, they make up the crew of the Black Lagoon. Making a living in a city where the most villainous of villains make themselves at home isn’t without its risks, but they take on any job available to them. Smuggling guns, drugs, kidnapped children and stolen goods is all part if a hard days work.
Audio is provided in Japanese, English, French, Italian and Spanish 2.0 stereo, although you can only select the languages relevant to whichever language menus you’re using – so if you’re on the English menus, you get Japanese and English options. The player Audio button is locked out during playback, so you can’t switch languages on the fly. I listened to the Japanese track for this review, and it captures the action scenes of the movie very well, within the limits of only having 2 channels to work with. Dialogue also comes across as clean and clear, with no obvious issues. Not bad at all.
Video is presented in its original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect, enhanced for anamorphic playback. Tge series may be a few years old now, but it still very much looks the part, with some nice attention to detail and a vibrant colour palette that really does make everything look good. There were no apparent encoding issues.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
This being a Kaze release, you’re presented with a choice of available menu languages as the disc loads – French, Italian, Spanish and English this time around. Revy and Dutch point some firepower at you while you make your choice. I stuck to the English menus and haven’t checked the other languages. The main menu of each disc has a montage of clips from that particular disc running along the top of the screen, with options below for language selection, direct episode access, and Play All. There are no transition animations, so it’s all quick and easy to use.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Rokuro Okajima’s trip to the ocean’s just turned sour – the ship he’s on has been attacked by mercenaries, and while they’ve agreed to let the passengers go, there’s one exception: him. It seems he’s carrying some important information (his company forgot to point that out to him, naturally), and one of their business rivals has decided it wants that information. But the mercenary group, the crew of the torpedo boat Black Lagoon, soon find out they may have taken on more than they can chew, while Rokuro’s about to discover that he finds the mercenary life appealing…
Right. The Black Lagoon of the title isn’t a place – it’s the name of the torpedo boat that our anti-heroes use in their operations. At the start of the series, it has a crew of three – Revy, a rather cute woman who is very much into ultraviolence and really isn’t someone you want to mess with (although there is some charm hidden under the hard surface. Very deeply hidden.), tech genius Benny, and leader of the pack Dutch, who brings a large dose of common sense to the group. The first episode also introduces Japanese salaryman Rokuro, who through a series of unfortunate happenings finds himself joining the boat’s crew – they affectionately call him Rock, which he’s clearly not as hard as. Truly. Together they take on any mission that pays well enough to make it worthwhile, with legality being entirely a fringe concern.
Putting the story to one side for a moment, it’s worth talking about the show’s presentation a bit. Visually, it’s up there with the best of them – between a South Sea setting that gives opportunity for a number of diverse locations (and lets the animators cheat a little by using a plain seascape when the budget’s tight, I suspect), and production studio Madhouse‘s usual gloss, it really looks the part. Weapons fans will love this, too, as there’s an attention to detail put into the weaponry on show that borders on the obsessive – it’s firearm fanservice, and no mistake.
That will have a lot of people drooling all over the show already, regardless of how good the plots actually are – and to be honest, in the early episodes story is Black Lagoon‘s Achilles heel. The opening three episodes are really nothing special – a two-part story to introduce Rock and work him into the crew, and one that revolves around an open-sea boat chase that shows off Revy’s skills but otherwise is pure filler. The fourth episode, which jumps back and forward between the present day and the final days of World War II, has much more to it, though, and is an indicator that the series can do good stories – and it only gets better as the series goes on.
Even when it’s just filler, Black Lagoon is far more fun than it has any right to be. The PR blurb for a previous release of the series talked about it being…
“..a refreshingly intense blast of explosive action, graphic violence, snappy dialogue and weapon fetishism that would put John Woo to shame. And it’s all backed by a louder than hell musical score to keep things rolling along.”
…and you know, that description is just about right. At times, it’s as shallow as hell, but it knows that, and positively revels in it – it’s out to entertain simply by being something that you know that, in these politically-correct times, you really shouldn’t enjoy. There are some scenes in there that in other shows would have me rolling my eyes and muttering “Yeah, right..” – but in this series, they fit right in. At other times, it’s far more serious and gives the main characters an opportunity for self-examination, to explore what they’ve become through their misadventures – real opportunities for character development that aren’t wasted.
The series is split into multi-part arc, two of which are particularly worth mention: the introduction of Roberta, the ex-mercenary maid who almost comes across as the evil twin of Mahoro in some ways (just without the flashes of fanservice), whose episodes feature all the action you could wish for, with both heavy firepower and more physical violence featuring heavily as she goes head-to-head with Revy. It’s great fun to watch – mindless, sure, but that’s the point. She’s meant to be protecting Garcia, the heir of a wealthy South American family whose growing disdain at what his maid’s turned into (he knew nothing of her mercenary past) adds a slight human element to the story, but that’s just on the fringes of what’s really a no-holds-barred slugfest. It’s what Black Lagoon does best – and with Roberta being the star of the yet-to-be-released OCA episodes, she clearly struck a chord with the audience.
On the other side of the scale is Rock’s return to Tokyo, which plays out over the final six episodes of the series. After more than a year in Roanapur, Rock heads back to Japan – although it’s not for pleasure. It’s business, and he’s got Revy with him to help out. Crime syndicate Hotel Moscow is looking to expand a little, and with Rock knowing the country he’s been called in to help grease the wheels a little bit. With their visit coinciding with Christmas and New Year, though, Revy takes mind to have a little harmless fun along the way – and Rock gets to see a whole new side of her personality. Not that trouble is ever far away – in this case, in the form of a chance meeting with a young girl, Yukio, and her bodyguard Gin – a pair who are similar to Rock and Revy in some ways, and about to be drawn into the firestorm that Hotel Moscow’s new Japanese operation is about to cause.
This is the storyline in which Rock finally seems to come to terms with the unforgiving nature of the world around him – and learns to work with that, too. Thanks to the circumstances of their first meeting, Rock always sees Yukio as the helpless schoolgirl – left purely to her own devices, that would be the case, but she’s been landed with the role of Yakuza clan leader – a clan that the ruthless Balalaika and her Hotel Moscow syndicate have decided to bring down. With the “might” of her clan behind her she’s actually quite intimidating, as Rock finds out after having rescued her. She’s spectacularly unthankful for that, considering the situation she’d been in before Rock, Revy and Gin turned up, and that’s the point where you have to think that Rock should have walked away.
But Rock seems to have something to prove, to show to the world that living in Roanapur and working for the Lagoon Company hasn’t robbed him of humanity or compassion, and he insists on fighting his corner and trying to help the girl who really doesn’t want his help – to the point where he challenges Balalaika, in what has to have been the most unwise move of his life. It’s great stuff, the sort of story where you just don’t want it to stop.
I have to admit, back when I first heard about Black Lagoon the thought of it didn’t exactly set me alight – the way the show was described didn’t give me any visions of something that I’d enjoy or rush out to buy. By the end of my first viewing of the series, though, I’d been properly converted – it’s not all about the violence, there’s actually some good character work in there as Rock and those around him – Revy in particular – develop through the series into characters that you can connect to and care about, despite their morally iffy backgrounds. The action scenes are just icing on the cake, and work extremely well in that role. A repeat viewing for this release has only enhanced my opinion of it. Overall, Black Lagoon is well worth getting. Highly recommended.
Japanese, English, Italian, French and Spanish language 2.0 stereo audio; English, Italian, French and Spanish subtitles.
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK / Kaze UK
Release Date: 9 July 2012
Running Time: 600 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37″ widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.