Black Lagoon is shaping up to be both a gritty and satisfying action show and also a fascinating character-driven piece that’s placing plenty of emphasis on the contrasting personalities of tough-gal Revy and new recruit Rock. While there’s enough gunplay and double crosses to keep adrenaline junkies entertained the importance of the characters’ motives and actions aren’t lost on the show either: merely listing the adversaries as neo-Nazis with a penchant for objets d’art, arms-dealing nuns and a hardcore housemaid with hidden talents would be selling Black Lagoon short because it’s proving to be far more than flying bullets and amusing gimmicks.
I’d be lying if I didn’t find these things entertaining of course; it’s interesting to see Revy’s disregard for human life challenged by an increasingly more self-assured Rock, and following the change in their attitudes to one another that results. I won’t be too hasty is predicting some sort of romantic entanglement between the two – I doubt Black Lagoon is sentimental enough for that sort of business – but the way in which mutual respect and a professional-type relationship develops was rewarding enough and heart-warming in a brash gar kind of way.
Every time I encounter a show that has a character such as Rock’s I breathe a sigh of relief that it doesn’t follow that hackneyed Wimpy Anime Male template: he’s finding his place in their organisation and gives Revy cause to justify her feelings and actions for a change. It seems that shrewd observations and cool-headed bargaining, traits that Rock turns out to have in abundance, are always an advantage whether the business is legitimate or otherwise.
Some of my favourite scenes were in the stand-alone seventh episode, in which the atmosphere between Rock and Revy had become strained ever since their encounter with the neo-Nazis in the wrecked submarine, and a heated exchange of views that accompanied it. Rock’s calm attitude and everyman ‘white collar’ persona, attributes that receive so much ridicule from Revy, prove to be an asset when his non-violent negotiations ease them out of a sticky situation that Revy’s hard-nosed approach cannot solve. Unable to admit Rock was in the right, Revy refuses accept him but when he stands by his decision he earns her grudging respect; it feels like a breakthrough for her and even provides the closest to a romantic moment that this show is willing to give us.
As ‘cool’ as all this Nazi slaughter and sharp-scripted dialogue is, I’m still drawn into the dynamics between the crew of the Black Lagoon. Benny and his Hawaiian shirt don’t get much of a look-in for this volume (for shame!) but Dutch comes across as a strong leader and his faith in Rock doesn’t appear to be misplaced after all. These episodes are still focused on Rock and Revy though: the atmosphere between them is tense and hostile at the beginning but we feel that we’ve learned more about them by the end.
Even if you want to give your brain a rest and just enjoy the wry humour, there’s still much to enjoy here; this is one aspect that makes Black Lagoon a cut above its rivals. Watching the crew get the better of a boatful of Nazis in bloodthirsty style, seeing Rock’s and Revy’s contrasting reactions to Balalaika’s ‘film editing’ job or the South American maid with a score to settle with the mafia are all one step away from realism but are still an immense amount of fun all the same. For me at least, it’s refreshing to see grown-up characters in a hard-boiled setting that chooses the right moments to be light and comedic.
Whether you’re after visceral action, an engaging cast or an especially tough take on the bounty hunter genre, Black Lagoon delivers on all fronts. It still feels like something of a guilty pleasure: it’s morally ambivalent and unashamedly violent but as much as I feel that I shouldn’t be enjoying it, I’m enjoying it a lot. Take that, Nazi scum!