Black Lagoon rounds off the First Barrage with rip-roaring conclusion to the Unstoppable Housemaid arc before following the crew as they embark on a mission set by the Triads that pits them against a group of international terrorists. Needless to say it involves some more blistering action and an outrageous supporting cast but the dynamic between ‘Two Hands’ Revy and Rokuro ‘Rock’ Okajima is the emotional focus of a fast-paced story that has a surprising amount of character depth at its core.
I don’t know where to begin in describing the larger-than-life incidental characters the crew of the Black Lagoon meet during these four episodes: from Roberta’s Terminator-like tenacity through Mr Chang’s uber-cool gun-toting gangster to a stoned Irish getaway driver and a Taiwanese girl with an array of throwing knives they may only appear for an episode or two but it makes them no less memorable or entertaining. That is not to say that their criminal natures are completely glossed over though: we’re still seeing brutal killers, kidnappers and thieves but they are merely being portrayed as people winding up on a certain path and getting by as best they can…in considerable style too of course.
The thing that I was most surprised at here was how they really are larger than life…and memorable. Even Dutch comments on the absurdity of a killer housemaid with superhuman strength! This is one moment in which, like the earlier series of Cowboy Bebop, Black Lagoon makes shameless and invariably fun allusions and references to well-known Western feature films and TV shows. The similarities between Mr Chang and various characters from John Woo movies are deliberate I think, as are the organisations and locations mentioned by Mr Takanaka when talking about his fellow far-left guerrilla companions.
The little details are a significant part of Black Lagoon’s appeal and ensure it rises head and shoulders above much of the competition. The sharp script and dark, dry humour offer insights into the characters and their motives (Takanaka is a case in point), which takes me pleasantly by surprise every time. Then there are moments such as the gun (and fist) fight between Revy and Roberta, which sees two merciless female killers pulling out all the stops in one-on-one combat: the firing of their respective weapons of choice used in this episode sound slightly different from one another, adding to the authenticity of the events playing out on-screen. These little touches aren’t particularly important but the fact that the studio staff have gone to the trouble in the first place shows how much attention has been paid to the production overall.
The clincher is of course the no-nonsense yet meaningful exchanges of dialogue between the crew of the Lagoon, and the edge-of-your-seat action that occurs in between (or during!) these scenes. Black Lagoon may be a no-brainer on occasion but it’s still sharp enough to know what it is trying to accomplish: this balance between depicting how the bond of comrades-in-arms between Rock and Revy is developing, and the guilty pleasure of the gun-fuelled violence is crucial in its success. It makes you care about the characters and whether they get along, but doesn’t pause for excessive sentiment when it can be getting on with the business of over-the-top bad-ass entertainment.
That is to say, I don’t have a problem at all with bloody violence in film and TV as long as it’s in context. In Black Lagoon’s case every incident of flying bullets, bombs and knives is part of a storyline which is simple enough to follow but complex and mature enough to keep adult viewers interested. In an age where the genre is getting clichéd to the point of self-parody, the nature of the humour and knowing winks to a series’ obvious influences actually make it more fun to watch. Although the characterisation still leaves Dutch and Benny out of the spotlight in favour of Rock and Revy, this volume was so full of entertainment value that I was having too much fun to care. Besides, we still have the Second Barrage on the horizon…
The third volume of Black Lagoon offers more of the same: action, action and more action…with more refreshing doses of character interaction and a colourful supporting cast to keep things interesting. While it doesn’t stray from its simple-but-effective formula, the solid quality of this formula makes it no less enjoyable: it’s brutal, bloody and thoroughly politically incorrect…all the more reason for me to declare it one of the best action thriller series of recent months and feel no shame in doing so.