Black Lagoon: the Second Barrage Volume 1

After treating us to neo-nazis, nuns with guns and an unstoppable chambermaid in the first season I was looking forward to see how Black Lagoon would up the ante in its much-anticipated Second Barrage. It certainly makes an explosive return by introducing two new antagonists: a pair of juvenile assassins who start to take down members of Roanapur’s local criminal gangs. In the face of such a startling threat the respective leaders of Hotel Moscow, the Triads and the other cartels form a united front to put a stop to the carnage but eliminating the child killers proves to be something of a challenge.

The first thing that made me feel right at home is the appearance of not only the members of Black Lagoon themselves but some of the supporting cast who we met the first time around. The ex-Russian military commander Balalaika and her long-standing rival Mr Chang of the local Triads both get plenty of screen time, as does Eda, a heavy-drinking and ironically un-Christian sister of the Rip-off Church.

What makes this series so enjoyable is that it never does anything by halves: when a character is tough and merciless for instance they are portrayed as *really* tough and merciless. The final episode in this volume sees Revy and Eda open fire on a bunch of good-for-nothing gangsters with the old cinema cliché of firing from the hip with handgun clips that never seem to run out of bullets and the hard-boiled dialogue is filled with witticisms and profanities.

The two assassins in the first three episodes of this volume are also up there with the rest of Black Lagoon’s gleefully entertaining excess. Not only are they young and deadly, they are a pair of androgynous twins in gothic outfits who arm themselves with an outsize axe and a machine gun and are clearly mentally unstable. The violence in this volume is also some of the most bloody and graphic that I’ve seen in a made-for-TV anime too, which the more squeamish among you may not find to your liking (in which case you probably shouldn’t watch the first season either).

The first half of the arc is a real guilty pleasure: the nameless and extremely dangerous twins pose such a threat to the locals that a high price is put on their heads and both sides of the law are out to take them down, which results in some heated discussions behind closed doors (along with some more brilliant scripting) and a wild chase through the city. While disposing of a dead henchman, the boy asks his sister to lend a hand, to which she replies that girls shouldn’t be expected to carry heavy objects; just as she unveils her Browning semi-automatic with a plushie dangling from the barrel. Moments like this are so over-the-top and darkly hilarious I can’t help but love them.

It’s certainly refreshing to see two children getting the better of Roanapur’s criminal elite but as Balalaika starts to dig deeper and researches where these kids came from, a darker and more disturbing picture emerges. I’ve seen children brainwashed into becoming diligent killing machines in Gunslinger Girl and Naoki Urasawa’s Monster deals with similar themes of how innocence can be tarnished by the evil that dwells in human nature, but the backstory to these two was still shocking to me, and really tragic too.

I’ll admit that there’s a lot of entertainment value in juxtaposing playful childlike innocence alongside mindless brutality; the twins are killing people left, right and centre because it’s just a game to them. Eventually we find out why they became so twisted and remorseless, and personally it chilled me to the marrow. After watching them dispatch victim after victim I found the rationale behind their bizarre behaviour to be shocking and really quite sad. The end theme and animation sequence for the final episode of the arc is poignant and wholly appropriate for the episode that precedes it.

The pitiable origins of the twins is a symptom of the criminal underworld that created them, which is also reflected in the complete lack of remorse shown by those who oppose them. One of my favourite scenes is between Balaika and Chang, as they lament on the chain of events that turned the twins into cold-blooded lunatics. Both agree that life as gangsters has made them jaded to the point where removing the threat takes priority over feeling sorry for the kids who are as much victims of this world as the people they kill. Rock is later shown to be still immune from being desensitised in this way, but this arc is a timely reminder that we are dealing with people who are ruthless, world-weary and quite often messed up in the head too.

After such a hard-hitting story arc the last episode of this volume is a cheerful return to the series’ own brand of dry, almost slapstick humour that brightens the mood. A bespectacled money counterfeiter is on the run after her impatient employers shot one of her cohorts and as a result seeks sanctuary in a house of God. Unfortunately for her the sanctuary in question is the Rip-off Church so after being supposedly saved by Revy and Eda, her skills in manufacturing fraudulent banknotes make her a prime target for kidnapping; this volume ends on a wonderful cliff-hanger that incorporates some familiar faces and a colourful array of oddballs and low-lifes setting out in force to bring her in.

Revy gets a fair amount of screen time in this volume but surprisingly the rest of the crew have little involvement at all. As much as I enjoy the chemistry and dialogue exchanges between them the strength of the first story arc prevents this from being an issue at all, although I’m hoping we see a bit more of the character development and the uneasy Rock/Revy relationship that made the first season such a blast. As always the animation quality is of a high standard and the soundtrack, from gunshots and explosions to the hard-edge background music, is excellent too.

In summary
If you enjoyed the first season of Black Lagoon I cannot recommend this disc enough: it has the characters we all know and love (or love to hate), more fast-paced action and wry humour. Thematically it contains the darkest story arc yet; delivering plenty of slick gunplay, explosions and merciless brutality at first, it uses these very aspects that make it entertaining to make a serious point about the cruelty of the worldview later on. The last episode brings the proceedings out of the dark and into more jovial territory that will hopefully put the crew of the Lagoon back into the spotlight too, so I’m hoping to see a return to the character study that makes such a great foil for the gritty violence.

9 / 10