Black Lagoon – Review

Yep, I reviewed Black Lagoon. The whole damn thing, too – the first season, the Second Barrage, and even Roberta’s Blood Trail. No half measures here, I watched twenty-nine goddamn episodes of gunslinging and explosions. And how was it?

Eh, it was pretty okay. My initial feelings on the show weren’t substantially shifted by finishing it – the show’s attempts at seriousness were still both overwrought and deeply undercut by its absurd villains, and ultraviolence for its own sake remains Not My Thing. But the storytelling actually improved a fair bit in the show’s final third, which was a nice reward for my time. It certainly doesn’t mean I’d recommend the show, but I always appreciate how having to watch something I wouldn’t normally watch for review ends up establishing these interesting, unexpected media relationships.

Anyway. You can check out my megasized review over at ANN, or my many, many notes below!

Black Lagoon

Episode 1

I remember this OP being a lot better than it is. I guess I’d just watched many fewer OPs when I saw it the first time. There’s really just that one interesting shot with the newspaper

Really nice speedy opening scene. Gets to the point in a show that needs it

The dub seems pretty appropriate. Revy’s certainly suitably crazy

Nice scene of the director forgetting Rock’s name within two minutes

Yeah, this is a great first episode so far. Introducing characters and conflicts very gracefully, moves very fast. Of course, first episodes usually aren’t the hard part

“Don’t you know you gotta enjoy life or it’ll slip away”

“Take this, you war junkies!” in the sub is “Take this, cocksuckers!” in the dub, which is pretty representative

The show grounds its conflicts in theoretical mercenary global politics, but it’s all exploitation stuff in truth. Basically a light dusting of reality over wacky ultraviolence

oh right, and that really nice transition ED

Animation is solid but unremarkable. Aesthetic is a mix of thick lines and alternately bright/subdued colors. The faces are fairly expressive without moving into caricature. Execution in general feels relatively high-quality, but workmanly in its style – not too much personality to it

Episode 2

Yeah, I like the character designs

Really nice colors for the tropics

The show masks its CG relatively well

This bad guy’s plan is really silly. It relies on a love of violence that isn’t even coherent as far as those things go

I like Evil Mr. Business the corporate guy

I like that Rock’s plan relies on figuring out the enemy psychology

I also like Dutch as the intelligent but also occasionally crazy captain

“You got fucked!” aw man, that is definitely a satisfying arc ending. great stuff

Welp, lucky that Dutch’s group are actually interested in hiring Rock, or that would have been pretty embarrassing

“It’s times like this that bring out the savage in me.” I’m guessing that’ll be a theme – Rock’s character journey into freedom/depravity

Man, that ED song fade really is the most emotionally interesting thing in the series. This solemn, mournful conclusion to all their wacky adventures

Episode 3

These settings are really great. Love the cities, love the islands

The direction and music aren’t that interesting

The whole framing of the crime world seems awkwardly naive. “We’re real rough-and-tough guys” etc. Self-aware about being “villainous,” instead of just being people who do this work because this is the world they’re in

Music is mostly synths and percussion so far. Not really much personality

“What happened to that hawaiian shirt I got you?” is a pretty endearing running joke

Revy’s voice actress isn’t exactly intimidating. It doesn’t quite match up with her expressions sometimes

“Start praying, cause you’re gonna need directions for how to get to heaven, Dutch” yeah, that’s pretty typical

Revy turns up the jams to blow up some ships

Revy’s just a superhuman badass, leaping between boats

These lines are so silly. But I guess the whole show is silly

“I can’t even imagine how her life was shattered to make her this way, but I must be pretty broken myself to praise her this way.” Noooope. Nice try Black Lagoon, but no. You are 100% “seinen for big boys”

The show laying a swear in every line is very nicely reflective of what this show’s up to

Really nice, unusual sunset colors on these wildly painted mediterranean buildings

The most real thing so far are the nice conversations between the main characters – Dutch in particular feels like a person

Episode 4

These shots of the sea are great. These are the best moments

o no nazis

Rock ends up doing their accounting work

Aw, Dutch got Rock a present

These scenes on the old german sub are pretty great. Like, really great – these characters are compelling in just a few scenes

And now it’s salvage time. Really nice lead-in to this mission

“Our client’s hobby is collecting Nazi art” “That’s a pretty fucked-up hobby”

“As an employer, I worry about human relations” lol Dutch

“I never would have hired Revy if using those guns was her only skill” and yet you hired Rock

the little bits of semi-official negotiations are nice. gives some weight to the world


Episode 5

Revy and Rock arguing. They don’t work well together yet

“This is a gravesite that those who live on the surface have forgotten. A rotten catacomb without any saints” THESE LINES

Rock trying to get philosophical about dying, but he’s not very good at it

The shots of the sub in the dark are pretty nice

Revy goes to scavenge anything else

This show is very watchable. It moves quickly, and keeps introducing new ideas

The nazis intentionally come off as a joke, racists playing pretend. The show draws a sharp contrast between these war-happy idiots and the brave, dedicated soldiers of the old german sub. And the captain emphasized how the war had to be worthwhile, not for its own sake. So we’re getting towards “why do you fight” in a pretty nice way, and remarkably using nazis to make a pretty solid point

“That kind of machismo doesn’t really work with me”

“I could have shown those idiots what their fuhrer went through. Take a little romance out of it”

“If anyone has the right to these medals, it’s these people right here”

“These are things. When you strip away their meanings, that’s all they are”

Japanese Revy feels a lot less smug in her lines – she feels like the dead-eyed character we actually see

Rock gets a lesson in what’s worth caring about. His romantic notions of the value of objects don’t mean much to Revy

“Nothing’s worse than being treated like some whore by your companions”

Episode 6

Yeah, “extremely watchable” remains this show’s biggest strength

So I guess we’re not supposed to already realize Hitler painted the thing

Revy does come across as consistently dangerous

I’m guessing Revy’s supposed to come across as super badass. Kinda funny how this show talks about “empty machismo” while basically idolizing that incarnate

She sure is pouting a lot

Oh hey, they’re playing Wagner. What a surprise

Oh my god these stupid lines. “And just like that the first little piggy met his end. Oink oink oink”

This isn’t really “badass.” It’s just Revy walking slowly through a hall killing dudes. Are we supposed to find it tragic?

Now there’s some bleepy action-techno. The music still kinda sucks

Wow, these nazis suck

“What a joke. They’ve got the uniforms, but that’s about it”

Dutch stops Revy from killing the hired crew

The right-hand nazi has a golden gun

Alright, yeah, Revy’s a much shittier employee than Rock

“You get Whitman fever whenever we get a newcomer onboard”

Big extended gag with the nazi talking about his gun. Eh

Ah, it wasn’t the painting, it was in the painting

Dutch negotiating with a nazi. The opposite of Revy – even when discussing matters with a racist bastard, he’s a professional

Haha, all these dramatic cigarettes. They’re almost undoing all the good Cowboy Bebop did for cigarettes’ reputation

Revy can’t handle Rock being someone from the legit side of society

Episode 7

From the first shot, this looks like a ghost ship episode

Revy and Rock still not being the best of friends

Dutch is clearly setting them up to try to get through their nonsense

Doing client errands

The russian lady is stuck editing pornos, and bored as hell. Fine gag

The lighting still looks very nice. The show doesn’t have a particularly unique aesthetic, but the backgrounds and tone are pretty solid

Badass nuns. What a surprise

Rock destroys in this negotiation. Just a well-constructed little speech – we had no knowledge of his knowledge, but he sells it well

“You can’t succeed just waving your gun around” Rock could even represent New Crime

God, so many teeeerrible lines

Great fight between the two of them

This is the best scene in the show so far

“If there’s no Robin Hood, then why don’t you become Robin Hood. It’s gotta be better than feeling sorry for yourself”

“I was an afterthought. To protect their dirty money” So it’s no surprise Rock is disgusted by people who are motivated by money

Also like this scene with the cops

Hahaha, they make up with a cigarette-lighting kiss. Adorable

ahahaha, the show sells it so hard

Episode 8

Welp, looks like they’re engaging in a little human trafficking

“The truth is I’m really just a crook in training”

It’s a kidnapping. The son of a powerful South American family

Rock continues to be very well-informed

“Even if there is no justice, the world’s gonna keep on turning.” damnit Revy

Revy’s lines are soooo bad sometimes

Balalaika, that’s the russian’s name

“an ordinary house maid” uh oh, here it comes

This show is so Hellsing

Nice slow-build leadup to this confrontation

I wonder if Revy’s badassitude is supposed to make up for the fact that she’s entirely unlikable

Roberta’s the maid

Reaaally nice execution of this Roberta scene. I just wish she weren’t a goddamn maid. It’s so ridiculous

Revy’s lines stoooop. The worst friggin’ writing

This episode is much better-directed than the rest. They’re really going wild on selling Roberta

Episode 9

Nice Spanish guitar track for Roberta going crazy

The show just drops random references to shooters and shootouts, which only really reflects the writer’s hobbies

I can definitely see why I first dropped the show at this point. The show thinks Roberta is awesome, and the direction of her segments is certainly better, but she’s so silly that it becomes tedious

ono, trouble in paradise between Roberta and Garcia

“Do you think that killed her?” lol

They actually make the Terminator reference

Balalaika’s whole squad moves into gear to, uh, kill the maid

Episode 10

They crash in the docks

“It’s time to go teach this fucking cunt the meaning of pain”

Lol, big showdown between Revy and Roberta on the docks

The running while shooting thing

I like staging this largely from the car’s perspective. Like they’ve slipped into another world

Granted, that also means we don’t see the badass fight that they’ve been baiting

Revy asks what created Roberta, and sees she’s like herself

Man, they are not very good shots

Balalaika’s cleared out the cartel, so now it’s just Roberta and Revy being bloodthirsty

“There are some things in this world that it’s better not to know”

“I’ve lived my whole life being a dog, and this is the only way I knew to repay you”

Roberta wants to move past her old identity, whereas Revy wears it as armor

Balalaika commands a bunch of Russian afghan vets

“Everyone’s feet are covered with mud from the gutter”

Episode 11

A job with the Triads. Mr. Chang

They’ve got a briefcase to run to an island

Looks like he’s another superhuman

The show varies up its conflicts pretty well

Takenaka is the guy hunting them

Their destination is an island ghost town

Welp, Rock gets captured

And Revy runs into an… Irish man and a Taiwanese woman who’re the actual contacts?

Episode 12

“Guerillas in the Jungle” yep, that’s the theme of this arc

Takenaka buttering up Rock in his interrogation

“Why would a guy like you want to cross this dangerous bridge?”

So Rock’s being interrogated by someone who’s followed his own path

“We’re different”

“I gambled my life on this. If I stop now, it was all a lie.” Different ways to find meaning in what they do

Revy and the Taiwanese lady fighting over who gets to kill their pursuers

Revy lamenting that they don’t get to use a nuke

Uh oh, Rock smoked while feeling down, so now he’s stuck in his head

“Don’t be blinded by our ideals!” lol

Takenaka kills Ibraha, since his conviction will get the soldiers killed

And it turns out Revy actually saved Rock for his own sake

Episode 13

Vampire twins. Oh boy

Creepy killer kids. This show

And now they’re making out. Yep, the whole deal

Hotel Moscow is being targeted and murdered

Chang and Balalaika are meeting, along with an italian and hispanic boss, to discuss the killings

There’s a bounty on the killer, so a bunch of assassins have shown up

Once again, the bad guy is supposed to be intimidating, but they’re too ridiculous

Ugh, the voice acting for these kids is so bad

Episode 14

“Bloodsport Fairytale” I think I prefer Symphogear’s episode titles

When the show tries to be intimidating, it leans into these horror ideas, but they’re so silly it doesn’t work

The kids are Romanian

Balalaika finds the kids searching through Romanian snuff porn

So it’s the Italians who are causing trouble

Nice shot transition from the axe to Chang’s car

They avoid stretching their abilities in this action scene by focusing the motion on a CG car

More synth songs. Just electronic drums, really

Balalaika gives the order that it’s fine to kill Revy. She has her own priorities

Episode 15

Eda and Revy fighting. Pretty tiresome

Eda gets held up by the girl twin, who asks her to arrange a getaway

Balalaika breaking down one of the kids. They feel they’ll live forever, because they keep killing

Nice western guitar here, too

So now the sister is employing the Lagoon company as her escape

Seems like a bad job idea, regardless of the money. Hotel Moscow isn’t a great enemy

“The dictator was killed, but the orphans remained, born of his policies.”

“The world would keep turning, as long as people were being killed”

“Rock. You can’t look directly at those things”

And she ends up getting killed by the long arm of Hotel Moscow. By an escape specialist who’s also been eaten by the system

Episode 16

Counterfeiting money this time

The counterfeiting girl escapes

The first decent rock song

Revy and her nun friend are hanging out. It’s too damn hot

It’s been almost a year since Rock joined

Laying on the fanservice with this new girl

More guitar tracks for the fight

Hahahahahaha, the old nun has a golden handgun

The new girl’s geeking out about counterfeiting

Eda sells her out, because why wouldn’t she

“Groovy Guy” Russell. And yes, the show includes the quotation marks

A really funny scene with the mercenaries all introducing themselves to each other. If the show had a sense of humor like this more often, it’d be better off

Episode 17

So there’s like thirty crazy mercenaries chasing the counterfeiter

Strong opening sequence here, with Eda laying out her plan as it plays out

Whoops, the boat isn’t there

“These guys must have no idea the kind of demonic energy they’re about to unleash”

The crazies storm their base. Pretty nice shootout sequence

Episode 18

Chainsaw girl is monologuing

This arc’s slowing the pacing down a bit

ono she lost her speech thing, got mad, and threw her chainsaw away

Pretty nice comedy sequence as the building comes down

Hah, the surviving assassins all just sort of buddying up and wandering off

Dutch starts dumping the lasting bad guys by swerving the boat

God, these lines are so friggin overwritten

The construction of this arc is once again very nice, though. The show knows how to tell an engaging story

Jane kisses Benny. “Watching you break code really turns me on”

Eda’s actually CIA. Welp

Episode 19

Rock’s headed to Japan

Revy and Rock together in snowy Japan

Nice Japanese for the sequence where Rock is translating for Balalaika

The whole negotiation sequence is solid

Revy playing a fair gun game, lol

Revy actually engaging with Rock, asking him what he’s thinking about

Revy telling him to visit his parents while he still has a chance. Makes sense for both of them

Rock runs into a nice Japanese girl

“Man-slayer Genji,” the yakuza supersoldier

“I’ll be waiting here for you, but not forever”

Revy playing with kids with toy guns, teaching them what death looks like. Lol

And then Rock stumbles in. Revy Moe

Revy still wants him to go where she thinks he belongs

Episode 20

Balalaika wants to abduct the rival group’s leader. The Japanese disagree, but Balalaika insists

Yukio’s the Japanese girl

One of the punks from the yakuza gang is trying to prove himself, beating up Rock

Dialogue arghhhh

“Your life is the result of the choices you make. Do you agree?” “That’s kind of hard to take”

Rock realizes Yukio is the daughter of the head family

Yukio’s the only the other clans would accept as a legitimate successor

Balalaika’s perfectly willing to use Yukio as leverage if the clan leaders lose their nerve

It’s nice to have a subdued, reasonable arc after the ridiculous last one

It’s also nice that Balalaika might as well be the villain of this arc

“This is the first time I’ve ever found the night beautiful”

“People are just like dice. We throw ourselves in the direction of our choosing.” Yeah, this is a good arc. It’s using Yukio as a very nice contrast to Rock

Episode 21

Scenes from Balalaika’s past

Balalaika once hoped to fire her rifle in the olympics

“The country we gave our lives for no longer exists in this world”

Nice scene of Balalaika pulling her troops back together

Yukio’s clan comes to pick her up at school

Being able to understand both sides makes this much stronger than the usual arcs. Less of a joke villain than nazis or killer maids

The yakuza group is old fashioned, but they have motivations you could compare to Balalaika’s. Family responsibility

“This is not Roanapur. It’s different here.” “How is it different?”

Rock wants to make a clean distinction between the worlds. Revy’s saying he’s losing that privilege

“Police who don’t accept bribes are always competent”

Chaka, the idiot yakuza, has gathered a gang at Yukio’s place

The old loyal yakuza is killed by the young man loyal only to money

Rock and Revy team up with Ginji, the samurai

“Once the fighting begins, our instincts will take over”

Episode 22

Revy and Gin just destroying punks at the bowling alley

Hah, Rock wacks the dude with the bowling pin

Just a bunch of ultraviolence

Pretty dynamic direction to amp up the killers

Gun versus sword duel

And of course he cuts the bullet in half

“I’m the person at the center of all this. And you are now my enemy”

“I was not dragged into this”

“You’re being forced to carry a burden that you shouldn’t have to”

“You can only say those things because you’ve never been forced to choose”

“If I don’t believe that I chose this, I can’t have resolve. Their future depends on me”

Really strong lines

“Nothing’s really changed for you, because you still haven’t decided”

“The truth is you don’t actually want to save me. I remind you of the normal life you threw away. That’s all this is. If you sat back and watched me die, you’d be giving up on your old life in Japan”

“If life was fair, I’d be in your shoes instead of mine. I wouldn’t have to live a life of pain”

And Balalaika begins her overall assault on the clan. One last shot to the childhood where she was forced to jump lives

This arc is treating a life of crime with much more respect than the prior ones

Episode 23

Balalaika’s begun her attack on Yukio’s whole clan

Revy can’t wait to duel Ginji

“Why don’t you just kill yourself if that’s what you want?” “We already are the walking dead. We’re free of death”

Rock’s feeling disdainful of Roanapur in the wake of Yukio’s speech

Yukio and Ginji trying to plan a counterattack

Yukio is starting to enjoy her work

They stage a robbery in the markings of the Russians to get the cops to find them for them

Yukio wants to head to Roanapur

“If Rock shoots the way he talks, his bullets will ricochet back at us”

Rock attempts to defend the remnants of the Washimine clan to Balalaika, and of course it ends in a standout

“Justice. I can’t think of another word more loved by the people”

“It’s just not possible to protect a guy who’s trying to get himself killed all the time.”

“It’s not about justice. It’s my hobby”

Revy felt tempted by Rock’s potential life, as well

“I think I died the day I met you.” how romantic

“I stopped regretting a year ago, I just didn’t have the resolve to follow through. But now I think I’ve got that too”

Episode 24

Balalaika’s finishing her negotiations

Rock asks her to destroy the Washimine clan so completely that Yukio will be forced to return to a normal life

Balalaika betrays the other opposing clan as well

The Washimine have already dispersed with plans for Roanapur

“Now he’s been kidnapped by a high school girl!”

“I want you to see how this ends”

Revy and Ginji square off

Yukio’s doubts shake Ginji, and Revy wins. Yukio kills herself

“Don’t look, Rock. It’ll scar you”

Balalaika sends Rock the crossed out picture of Yukio. Ouch

Episode 25

Time for Roberta’s Blood Trail

Same OP song, new animation

A flashback to Vietnam

Roberta’s employer is assassinated

Flashbacks to Roberta’s early days with the family

Roberta doing some gunkata with the family rifle

Lol, shots of Roberta as a wolf

Cut to the CIA, who are apparently involved in this operation

Nice conversations between Rock and Revy about Rock’s actions

The whole city’s searching for Roberta

Now there’s another tiny maid

And of course she’s some crazy ninja too

Much better animation for this fight than in the series proper

The Columbians get crushed

Chang beats them to Garcia’s hotel

Garcia lays out the situation

Roberta hunted down each of the men responsible for the plan in turn

Dutch declines the job. Fighting the USA directly is madness

Garcia wants to hire Rock specifically

Episode 26

Title: “An Office Man’s Tactics”

Fabiola is the other maid

Chang raises the point that Roberta picking a fight with the US is bad for Roanapur in general

Chang plays to Rock’s desires to save people from the dark side

Dutch gives him the okay

There are some very nice backgrounds in these episodes

“You want me to save those kids in a place like this?”

Rock asking about Balalaika’s debts to Dutch

“You always bet without thinking when Rock’s done something”

Eda’s interested in the US’s involvement, unsurprisingly

Rock plots out the whole city’s politics

“I approached it like a puzzle. And once I did, it got more interesting”

Roberta keeps chugging pills

And she inquired about getting guns

Benny looks away from the deaths. It’s how he maintains his position

“A silly turf war between the CIA and the NSA”

“It’s tough to be top dog. You compete with yourselves”

The mob bosses are meeting

Rock’s predicting the whole meeting

“Is this about your master, or about you?”

Roberta’s losing it. Being chastised by her dead master

“Some kind of fucking hobby. What does that make me if I tag along with you?”

Revy and Rock’s relationship has definitely become pretty interesting over time

This arc is much more of a slow burn than the series proper. And lots of nice shots

Eda’s actually feeding info to Chang

Episode 27

Revy calls the Taiwanese assassin, who’s now living in a house with the chainsaw girl and chuunibyou guy. It’s as adorable as it sounds

The Americans crush some local opposition, and then run into Roberta

There’s an American team and a Venezuelan team both hunting Roberta

Fabiola can’t handle Revy’s methods

“Stay true to your beliefs. And then, when this is over, we can go back home.” Garcia and Fabiola are staying on the clean side

Rock’s managing factions against each other to try and stop the bloodshed

Chang: “You know what I hate most in this world? Hypocrisy.” Everyone tells Rock the same thing

Chang used to be a dedicated Honk Kong cop

The Venezuelans and locals end up in a shootout

And then they run into Revy’s group. Whoops

Chuunibyou distracts them with a dumb speech while Sawyer just cuts ‘em in half

Garcia and Roberta pass right by each other

Good melee fight between Roberta and her old companion

Roberta’s seducing her old companion, but Garcia’s right there

And she gets him. The old bullets-in-the-belt-buckle trick

Her delusion is an old man she killed. Navigating the line

“What’s the point if I’m going to be haunted for all eternity? If I can never be forgiven?”

Uh oh, Roberta thinks Garcia’s an illusion too

But the Americans grab Garcia. Oh boy

Episode 28

There’s a much stronger use of multiplanar scene-setting in this arc

Roberta’s lost it

Rock adjusts the purpose of Garcia in his chess game given the new information

Humanizing the Americans

The American gives him the chance to take his revenge

“If you want to see the way things really are, you have to look at them from every possible perspective.” Garcia’s father taught him the perspective and forgiveness that may save his father’s killer. Pretty nice work

Balalaika’s using this situation to get even with Chang

“Chang’s not alone. Who backs him?” Rock’s actually challenging Eda on her benefactors

Rock wants to hire Dutch to evacuate the Americans

Rock actually sets the situation up for profit, motives aside – he knows the Americans won’t win, and he knows they can pay up to get themselves out

Revy and her friends get struck out by Balalaika’s group

Rock got Chang to commission the job

And so they head upriver into the golden triangle

“What do you want from Rock?” Fabiola to Revy

Fabiola diagnoses Revy as seeing Rock as a pristine figure, someone she can protect and someone who might eventually absolve her

This arc is pushing Rock in a great way

Episode 29

“What happens is just what happens”

Framing these two conversations with Garcia and Fabiola acting as the consciences of Rock and Revy

Beautiful scene in the water

“I’ll become her strength. And I’ll make sure that she never falls again”

Nice shots in the jungles of the triangle

Roberta waits at their destination

Roberta hunting with the old rifle, using pre-planted poles as flechette rounds

Really nice animation here

Roberta takes a hit

Jeeezus, she lost two fingers

Wonderful blacks and blues for this sequence

Now she kills the soldiers we met

Nice shots of Revy and Rock fighting

“There are no winners here. Our sins are all that are left. But I’ll help you bear that burden”

“Somewhere out there, someone else won the bet. I didn’t save anyone”

4 thoughts on “Black Lagoon – Review

  1. Sweet review! If you’ve read any of the manga, would you say there are notable differences in how it came across tonally (or even stylistically due to the medium)?

    And on a somewhat random note, I find it amusing and absolutely fitting that the chuuni guy is the only one who ever seems to wear body armor as a usual thing.

    • Also, you mention John Woo, and I think Tarantino is another apt comparison with the whole “hyper-violence, fan-service, and quips but finding a moment now and then to legitimately question the morality of the thing” style.

  2. I’m kinda surprised to see you take this on, since I remember you being pretty down on the first few episodes. I have always been a little curious as to what you’d think of the later arcs, though. You ended up mostly neutral-to-positive about the whole thing, so I guess I’m mildly vindicated? I can totally understand the show not being Your Thing, though.

    Anyways, good review. Thanks for the hard work as always.

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