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Black Lagoon: Complete Season 1 & 2 Blu-ray/DVD Anime Review

18 min read
Black Lagoon
Black Lagoon

Thrown into a world of violence that he never really understood, one young salaryman finds himself fitting in far better than he ever thought.

What They Say:
Rokuro’s mundane trip to South East Asia turns from pleasure cruise to festival of pain when modern-day pirates take him hostage. Revy, Dutch, and Benny are the ruthless crew of the Black Lagoon. For them, getting shot at while smuggling drugs, guns, and stolen goods is part of a typical day at work – and Rokuro is joining the team.

Contains episodes 1-12 of Black Lagoon and episodes 1-12 of Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is a little weird, but it owes it to what happened during the Geneon release years ago. The original Japanese language track is pretty standard as we get the stereo mix presented using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec and it carries itself off well, both in dialogue and action with some solid sounds, placement and depth to it overall. Where things diverge a bit is that the English language track is done in 5.1 using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The old Geneon release had a DTS track, not encoded at full, but it was a strong mix and it definitely carries over here as it gets a full presentation. The impact of the music and the action is really strong here with what it does and it just hits all the right notes, especially with the dub and the way it comes across. I loved the English track back when I first heard it and through this format it’s even better. We didn’t have any trouble with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-four episodes are spread across three discs with eight episodes per disc. The show is one that is definitely a product of its times which means there’s a fair bit of background banding going on since it wasn’t something that was being fixed in the source in Japan to correct that – very, very few series ever do that – but it avoids problems such as a lot of breakup or additional noise coming from it. Black Lagoon is pretty dark in a lot of ways ut it handles it well and even more so during the brighter sequences. The animation itself is also quite good throughout with a lot of very fluid movements and colors all over the map because of the various locales, characters and situations. This is one of those series that has a particular look and isn’t high definition showcase material, but it’s a very good looking presentation overall.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release is pretty good as we get a double sized Blu-ray case with a slipcover that mirrors the artwork and design of the insert itself. The front of the package has a good image of Revy with a cigarette in her mouth, a languid look and her gun hanging out with plenty of shells behind her. It’s a darker looking piece overall but with the right splashes of color, especially with the dual logos along the bottom. The back cover works a simple approach as it just has a good range of images laong the right and a brief but solid premise summary along the left with some fun quotes to it. The features of the release is listed pretty clearly and the technical specs breaks down everything for the two formats in a very clean way. Though there aren’t any inserts, we do get artwork on the reverse side that pairs full length shots of Revy and Rock together on one side that’s very appealing while the other breaks down the episodes by number and title as well as what extras are on the set.

Menu:
The menu for this release is very, very simple as it basically gives us a static screen with a black background while the logos for the two seasons are side by side in red and blue. It’s not exactly the most engaging of menus and it’s used across all three volumes. With some very good character pieces and even great clips that could have been used, this kind of fizzles. The navigation is simple with large sections along the bottom that do load quickly and easily and are smooth in navigating. But the menus overall are just simple and not all that mood enhancing for the series itself.

Extras:
There’s a good selection of extras here though they’ll appeal to different people. The first is a fifteen minute behind the scenes piece that brings us the English side of the production with the ADR director and several of the actors. They mix it up between talking about the show and showing them in the booth at work. The next is the music video for the opening sequence which is a live action piece that’s pretty good. The song itself is interesting enough that seeing it performed live is different than a lot of other music videos. Unfortunately, even though it’s subtitled in the main show it’s not subtitled here. It’s different from the usual pop tunes we get and the video shows that. A brief Japanese commercial for the CD is also included and we also get the original Japanese opening as well as the clean ending sequence. There are also two promotional videos included and between the two of them they run just over three minutes.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Broken into two twelve episode seasons, Black Lagoon is based on the original manga by Rei Hiroe which kicked off in 2002. With animation by Madhouse and having Geneon Entertainment USA involved in the creation of it, was a high profile release when it was first coming out and even all these years later, it’s still a strong show that I don’t think many others have come close to matching in terms of what it does. And especially so when it comes to the dub for it, which is one of the few that really works perfectly for it.

The show revolves around a company called Lagoon that operates out of Thailand. Owned and operated by an imposing black man named Dutch, they perform all sorts of jobs for whoever is willing to pay them. Be it kidnappings, item retrieval or simple deliveries, if there’s money to be made they don’t really seem to mind who is paying them. Dutch’s crew is made up of two other people at first. We’re introduced to Benny, a young man from Florida who had to leave after some issues. He supplies the technological side of the company while being the happy go lucky type wearing his Hawaiian shirts. The polar opposite of him and more in line with Dutch’s style is Revy. Revy is a young woman who has hinted at a rather hard life early on as she seems to be carefree and terribly violent. When she’s engaging in the violence it brings a smile to her face and she gets very into it. To offset that however she’s also quite the drinker and can seemingly drink most other people under the table. Her personality is over the top and quick to react and anger which is why she gets along with Dutch’s quiet yet strong personality.

Their lives take an odd turn when they go to retrieve a computer disc from a Japanese businessman named Rokuro. He’s on a small passenger ship heading across the Sea of China to make the delivery but that goes badly when Revy comes to swipe the disc. Rokuro ends up as a hostage so they can make a bit of extra money from that. Rokuro’s life quickly becomes a mess from this as his bosses, who are hiding the secret of what’s on the disc due to its potential issues, decide that it’s best to just declare him dead and move on. Setting another group of mercenaries who have a grudge against Dutch after them, Rokuro ends up in a far bigger mess than before. The amusing part is that he sees the kind of adrenaline rush that Revy has in the violent moments and finds it appealing and begins to get into the same mode ” but only during those moments.

Taking on the nickname of Rock, Rokuro starts his new life as a member of the Lagoon Company. The show provides a good two episode introduction to the concept and then shifts into a pair of standalone stories that help to build up the relationships of the characters and the setting where it’s a rough and tumble world of bad guys. Rock’s time with Dutch and the others begins to unearth some of their quirks but it tends to be Rock who is the most interesting as he adapts to it. Still keeping his white shirt and tie on he takes on a real business role within the small company and plays it straight while you have Revy getting all psychotic and ready to kill. The dynamic of the group is positively hilarious and works to great effect.

One of the arcs revolves around the pairing of Revy and Rock as they’ve dived to the bottom of the ocean to where an old Nazi submarine crashed during the war. The goal of retrieving a valuable painting from there that they’ve been contracted to get is the main focus but Revy is also intent on grabbing as much other stuff as she can get down there that may be valuable. Lots of mint Nazi paraphernalia can sell easily on the black market of which they partake in. At the time that they’re down there, a modern day variant of the Nazi cause has come by in order to retrieve the painting themselves since it will allow their leader access to people in places of power. That will gain them what they need in order to move into power themselves some day.

Naturally there’s plenty of confrontations going on once Revy realizes they’re there, including a fun scene in the submarine itself, but like the previous volume the best thing about the show comes from its interactions. The underwater segment has some great moments as Rock really questions taking things from the submarine other than the painting since it strikes him as something wrong to do. The discussion that he and Revy have about it, or rather the talking that Revy does that explains her views on things, does a lot to really flesh out and illustrate what makes her tick so well.

Black Lagoon is filled with lots of violence and action as well as a good mix of comedy when appropriate. Having Revy and Dutch strolling through the Nazi ship topside with their guns blazing is fun to watch as it’s done with some great style and a real sense of impact. But even with all the big guns and fast action moments, it has a lot of real character to it as well. The tension between Revy and Rock that starts to gain more traction here leads to a beautiful blowup between the two in a marketplace while they’re out doing various jobs for the company. In a short amount of time the two characters have such an intense argument about each other and themselves that it feels like more went into this than most other series do in total.

Black Lagoon has been about a real rawness since the start in different areas. The raw brutality of Revy provides a great visual. The dialogue itself across all of them is filled with vulgarities that fit perfectly with the situation and the characters. The opening song itself is a rough piece of accented English that primes you beautifully for what’s to follow. But the real rawness that’s delved into here is that of the souls of these characters and both Revy and Rock come out great here. The visual presentation of it is simple enough but it’s given just as much attention as the real fluid action sequences. More series need to have this kind of raw intensity when it comes to discussions like these.

There is simply something to be said for a show that doesn’t really try to deal with a moral compass with its characters and instead just lets them exist and live in a very complicated world. The things that the Black Lagoon company has to do certainly puts them down at the lower rungs of humanity but even then they tend to not judge but rather just go with a by the book approach in order to get the job done. When you’re dealing mostly with the underbelly of humanity to begin with, any moral compass can put you in a world of hurt.

The story involving Roberta is just pure fun as it takes on a very Terminator-like tone. The arrival of the Rock and company into the bar where Robert is about to cause havoc with the men who are giving her trouble just turns an explosive situation into a nuclear one. Roberta’s past as a highly capable terrorist is something that she’s tried to put in her past but the need to rescue the young master has her pulling out all her old methods to accomplish it. Where her problem lies is in the simple fact that Revy is basically her equivalent in both ability and spirit. When they’re thrown against each other it turns into a hilariously violent battle that just defies expectations.

The visual design of this particular arc is one that is fun simply because it pits a maid against a bitch. Not that Roberta is a good looking maid mind you, but she’s all dressed up as she should be in a very non-sexual fanservice way and even her glasses don’t give her much in that area. When she and Revy finally go head to head against each other at the docks it takes on a really intense nature since they’re just out to win at all costs. There have been numerous shows where we’ve seen women beat each other to within an inch of their lives, but Black Lagoon just seems to have far more intensity to it. Even with all the guys watching it and alternating between being afraid of what’s going to happen and amused by how far they’re willing to go.

There are a number of things that made the first season so much fun which returns for the second season as well, which is not always a given. The first is the characters. The crew of the Black Lagoon company aren’t characters that are terribly deep or anything, but they manage to evoke plenty of fascinating material all things considered. There was a scene in the first season that still resonates with Revy talking down Rock about his views on the world with what she’s seen in her life. That doesn’t crop up here, but the characters have such personality to them, much of which does come through the English language voice actors, that watching them in action is far more exciting than most series are in total. A single action scene here outdoes a regular action series by a mile. But without a great cast of characters to carry it off, the action wouldn’t resonate or be all that memorable.

The second thing that works so well is that this is very much a Western oriented show with the Japanese sense of action as influenced by Hong Kong movies. It has a much stronger international flavor because of it and the hodge podge design of the city in which it all takes place adds wonderfully to it. There is a certain freedom in the designs and the motion of it all that feels unlike a lot of other shows. You can see it not holding up to some higher production value series but there’s a fluidity to the animation and a warmth to the flow of it all that connects beautifully. When any of the characters dig into the action, or simply walk or drive down a street, it feels pretty alive and lived in without feeling forced.

For the second season of the show, the first part really sticks to one particular storyline and it does it pretty well. Introduced into the show with little fanfare and left mostly for chaos, we meet a pair of Romanian twins known as Hansel and Gretel, though they’re not referred to this much but rather just by reputation of violence. The two of them are curiously interchangeable as they trade the hair piece and gender roles when doing so, which gives them a very unbalanced and chaotic feel. The series has had plenty of violence before, but the twins give it a very different flavor as they’re violent and random about it without any remorse or concern. In fact, they don’t even play it as a childlike game at times but rather something they simple enjoy and revel in. Something that feels right at home in this series, but is unnerving because of the age and the way they seemingly trade genders.

After getting reacquainted with Black Lagoon in the previous volume, we get the second volume less than a month later and all is good with the world. Black Lagoon: Second Barrage really manages to do just about everything right when it comes to the stories, the action and the dialogue. This set of episodes has some nice carryover from the previous volume which concludes with two episodes while the next storyline begins and will conclude in the next and final volume of the series. All of this just makes you want more of it to come quickly and hope that the third season will rock just as hard.

With all the slam bang action going on during a lot of this season, the quieter and more subtle episodes that follow it are most welcome. Echoing parts of the first season when Revy and Rock have their very important discussion about life, this storyline takes the events that happen often in Roanapur and places them in Japan. Returning to his home country as an interpreter for Balalaika with Revy as his bodyguard, Rock is finding that even places that are completely familiar to him now feel alien and different. When he meets a young woman who he does feel connected to, he starts to feel a little different about things, but Rock’s luck is certainly not the best as it turns out she’s part of the group that Balalaika has come in to destroy completely.

The back story for this storyline is one that is pretty decent as the Russian connection is exploited well. Balalaika is brought in to Japan to save the bacon of another Russian, one who bought his way into the mafia rather than earned it through violence and reputation. The Japanese group is intent on making their enemies submit to them and dominating them, but they aren’t prepared for the kind of plans that Balalaika has. She’s spot on perfect during all of this and she comes across as such a vicious and cold wolf that you can’t help but shiver and be delighted by how she acts and talks. The small revelations she provides throughout here about her personality only make her a far more engaging character. And seeing Revy having to deal with the Japanese people and the way they live only adds more flavor to all of it.

With the Washimine group all but ruined at this point, Balalaika has gone whole hog with it by intending to wipe them out entirely. Her own back story gets a little play here as we see her during the collapse of Russia which ended up casting them to the side. The way she pulled her group together isn’t exactly given a whole lot of time, but not a lot is needed as simply the force of her personality as well as the way she commands makes it easy to understand. That they continue to follow her so loyally to this day and work with her with such ease in Roanapur says even more. As a very high level member of Hotel Moscow, seeing her truly in action in a place that’s not considered her “home” is really fascinating to watch. Even more so when you consider that she’s dealing with a culture that’s very different from her own and almost amuses her.

With the way events have played out so far, it’s little surprise that Yukio has decided to follow the path she’s chosen and to take over the group. Gin is determined to do whatever she wants and protect her, as well as exacting his own revenge in a cold manner, but their relationship is still fun to watch. That she’s enamored of him in a near romantic way isn’t a surprise but that she’s taken to the role so well of being the leader is. Well, not that being the leader is a surprise but the zeal and feeling of being alive that she discovers when she and Gin rob a bank to get some quick funds for their plans after sending everyone else away. She’s feeling more alive than ever before and intends to do whatever it takes to keep that feeling while also taking down Balalaika.

The intellectual side of the series during these episodes is great to watch. There are a couple of key verbal confrontations that have the characters really expounding their views and going head to head with each other. Though it is a bit more talky than one might get in real life, it’s a real change from so many shows that say so little or try to say it with no words at all. The first one is between Yukio and Rock as she tries to tell him that he’s the weak one for standing between two worlds, looking but never committing while she takes the plunge into the world of darkness. It causes him to really look at the way his life is led now that he’s escaped Japan. This also comes into play during the second confrontation where he again tries to save Yukio by trying to talk Balalaika out of what she has planned.

Of course, a great deal of the show revolves around the action. This is where Revy really gets to shine, especially when she teams up with Gin for awhile and only becomes more entranced with the idea of facing off against him. The two are masters of their art and even if they haven’t worked together before, they both know that they’ll figure out a rhythm with ease and deal with whatever comes their way. Both are professionals of the highest order, but contrasting in style as Revy is more out there and playful while Gin is cool and restrained in his expressiveness. The entire sequence that takes place in the bowling alley and the pool is simply beautiful because of how the two play alongside each other. But equally beautiful was when they finally face off against each other as well.

In Summary:
It’s been a few years since I last saw Black Lagoon, but coming into it again here just reminds me why it’s such a fun and standout show. The two seasons work well when taken together and this is particularly true in the second season where the final arc, which runs for a good number of episodes, feels like it flows and connects better than it did when it was released as singles. At its core, we have a good series of character stories and a look at a world that’s not like what Rock had ever experienced before. It does have its over the top moments and flash at times, but it’s a pretty solid work and one that I still think is an easily adaptable work for Western audiences. Black Lagoon looks great here, sounds great here and is definitely in a solid little package. This remains one of those few shows that I really do share with others that aren’t anime fans and it almost always works. Definitely a series that I’m glad to have in this format and done as well as it is here.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, “The Crew” Behind the Scenes Documentary on the English Production, Clean Opening and Closing Songs, CD Commercial, Promo Videos.

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: December 4th, 2012
MSRP: $54.98
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Apple TV via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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