Saturday, September 28, 2013

Black Lagoon

Black Lagoon; animated crime series, Japan, 2006; D: Sunao Katabuchi, S: Daisuke Namikawa, Megumi Toyoguchi, Mami Koyama

Rokuro is a Japanese businessman who lives with his "head low", humbly and insignificantly, because he is afraid of his strict bosses. When he is sent to Borneo to deliver a disc for his company, he is taken hostage by the pirate ship Black Lagoon consisting of African Dutch, blonde Benny and wild girl Revy. Upon realizing how quickly his company abandons Rokuro because they do not care about their employees, Dutch takes pity on him and decides that he should join their team as Rock. Now living in Thai city Roanapur, Rock and Black Lagoon encounter numerous adventures, ranging from hijacking, smuggling, deliveries and involvement with the mafia Hotel Moscow, led by Balalaika.

"Black Lagoon" is a 'down-to-earth' version of "Cowboy Bebop", flickering on the same frequency ranging from the stylish mood, cynical-pessimistic view on harsh life and 'tough girl' Revy who reminds a lot of Faye Valentine, except that the main hero here, Rock, is indeed an exception and an untypical protagonist who is the complete opposite to Spike. The first episode works and engages precisely because he turns from an obedient businessman wimp in his company into a rebel who had it up to here with such kind of fear and decides to live with his "head up", whereas the story gives a sly-cynical comment: when the pirate boss Dutch "adopts" him in his team, it shows that even gangsters have more dignity and honor than corporations. This leads to a fascinating example of courageous integrity in episode 7 when he stops Revy's gun from shooting him and gives a remarkable rant about how she has become almost like his former bosses.

"Lagoon" works the best when it steps into the territory of comedy: for instance, episode 17 is almost hilarious when showing how Jane is running away from gangsters through the hotel from one side to another, following drawn arrows on the walls, which lead her to smuggler girl Eda - disguised as a nun! - who can "save" her, for money, of course. The following battle is very good, too: since their hideout is under siege from gangsters, Revy goes to other side to shoot, but says to Eda before leaving: "Survive this." The submarine episode, though uneven, also has a strong moment when Rock asks Revy is she has any ideals, and she just replies how "money and guns are so much better than God, and a lot more useful, too". Unfortunately, due to its episodic tone, the storyline's level goes up and down. Episodes 13-15, involving underage (!) assassin twins are so deliberately offensive beyond measure (the twins are incestuous, star in paedophilia movies, kill and enjoy torture) that it is almost a joke, whereas the other half of the 'Black Lagoon' team, Dutch and Benny, get less and less screen time until they are almost made to "go away" in the second half of this anime. The uneven tone is further deteriorated when one has in mind that the last five episodes are not even about Rock and Revy anymore, but about supporting characters who are introduced as late as episode 19 (!): teenage girl Yukio in love with yakuza Gin. That way, you almost get the impression that another team of authors "pushed out" the original team and made the finale about something else than originally planned. And some ideas really are silly (the cliche that Gin and Revy can kill a dozen gangsters without even getting a scratch; Gin slicing a shot bullet in half). It is no wonder that the anime left an impression of unfinished business, which is why a sequel OVA series was made four years later.


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