Black Lagoon review – Anime Xchange

  • Titles: BLACK LAGOON
  • Genre: Action, crime, drama, adventure
  • Episodes: 12
  • Studio: MADHOUSE

Rokuro needs a change of pace. Sure his life is comfortable enough but he’s clearly being taken for granted at his jobs and his superiors consider him dispensable. Every day is just sort of the same without any excitement or surprises. Still, I bet Rokuro wasn’t actually wishing to get kidnapped by a bunch of pirates calling themselves a delivery company. It’s one thing to one a bit of a break in your routine, it’s another to suddenly be directly shot at by attack helicopters. And the weirdest part of all, Rokuro might actually be starting to enjoy this new lifestyle!

This year I decided to take part in this little anime xchange (not the con!). Basically, just before Christmas, I and another blogger exchanged a 12 episode anime to watch and review. I got Jack of Animated Observations and quickly found out he had never watched Natsume’s Book of Friends. You can probably imagine how the rest went. He liked it ok. For his part, Jack recommended specifically the English dub of Black Lagoon. Those who have been around for a while might remember my feelings on dubs! But there are exceptions. And as Black Lagoon was on my To Watch list, I was happy to give it a try.

get ready for exciting times ahead!

The Dub

The following is heavily influenced by my personal bias but I did watch an episode subbed for the sake of comparison. First, Black Lagoon has a mixed cast of mostly Americans and Europeans, as such, it makes sense that the characters speak English. Not that I really care about that myself. I found some of the localization in the dub jarring at first but I got used to it.

I tend to be much pickier with English performances as I understand the language and can pick up on a lot more of the subtleties. I understand at most 1 out of 4 words in Japanese so I might just be pouring my own optimistic interpretations into Japanese performances. Also, I just like the sound of Japanese.

I was listening to that!

Nevertheless, the dub was decent. Certainly not the worst I have heard. I would say I enjoyed most of the performances except for Revy and Rokuro. These two really sounded like Actors Voicing a character to me. Maybe it was just in the one episode I saw but Revy for instance was considerably more subdued in Japanese, injecting bitterness and wistful nostalgia through tone and subtle modulation emphasizing r sounds and speaking from the throat. The English language Revy goes for much more bluster in her performance, adding uniform anger through volume.

These are different choices that will appeal differently to individual audiences, I happen to prefer subdued and more casual over deliberate and theatrical.

An unexpected funny side effect of the dub is that a lot of characters have accents. And pretty much all those accents are hilariously bad. Around episode 9 some characters started having their accents come in and out which added to the fun. I genuinely enjoyed this even though I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to. I might even recommend the dub just for the accents.

a Balalaika is a funny looking stringed instrument.

The Production

Now even for an older series, the production was solid. More than solid, this is a really good looking show with strong classical designs, thorough animation and high art consistency.

The only even remotely negative thing I could possibly say about the production it’s that it’s really straightforward. As in it took no chances, there are no unusual or creative production tricks, no exaggerated animation and no deep integration of the animation into the narrative. It’s a very realistic production. And frankly, that suits the tone of the anime very well!

just putting this cap here

The Characters

My summary may have given you the impression that Black Lagoon is about Rokuro and his adjustment but his new life, but it isn’t really. The first season is separated into a number of arcs, each 2 to 3 episodes and the stories revolve around varying characters. Like most more episodic formats, it’s a very plot-driven narrative. However, if I were to pick an actual protagonist, it would probably be Revy. She gets the most backstory, which is appropriately tragic, and has the most screentime.

I would say aside from Rokuro who has an arc in the first two episodes, the remaining characters are fairly static. Essentially, the people they are in the first episode are pretty much who they are in the last as well. They are very true to themselves which makes sense for hardened criminals. I only saw season 1 so that may change in season 2. For the record, a lot of my favourite characters are static characters. I find that well written and developed characters don’t need to change throughout the course of a series to be compelling.

The supporting and episodic characters are often sort of bizarre cultural stereotypes. I don’t think any of them were mean spirited in any way but it occasionally makes the characterization come off as really old fashioned. It’s always very interesting to see biases from a different cultural perspective than one’s own.

Mafia transcends culture – which is also pretty interesting…

The Anime

And so we get to the anime as a whole. Now you may wonder why this was on my watch list, to begin with. And well, that’s cause I thought it was a comedy… It’s not.

For me, Black Lagoon ended up being an entirely neutral experience. As in every positive was balanced out by a negative and vice versa. For instance, the action was fast-paced and the adventures were ever-changing because of the episodic format. Exciting! But that also means the antagonists were for the most part really underdeveloped and in my opinion rather boring (except for Roberta!) so I never really got deeply invested in said action. I did have a bit of trouble finishing the season. Part of the reason has nothing to do with the anime itself.

relax, it’s a me thing

You see, what I was hoping for and in the mood to watch was a Cowboy Bebop or Firefly sort of series. I was simply not prepared for the serious tone and emphasis on action. This is more like a Bourne Identity, I guess. I’m sure that if I had gone into it wanting to watch an action drama, I would have enjoyed it more.

Nevertheless, I realized quickly that it was a bad guy of the week drama and adjusted. It’s proficient in its genre. If you want to watch that type of show then you should choose Black Lagoon. It’s also not too dramatic or tragic. So no worries about getting too bummed out. I think I might have enjoyed a bit more bite, a few more consequences or a little more sarcasm poured in, but again, that’s a personal preference.

this episode was pretty great

Once you’ve gotten to know who’s who, the arcs are pretty stand-alone and aside from the first one, I think they can be watched in any order. I don’t think there’s any major bleed-through from one story to the other.

Anilist compares the series to a bunch of anime I have not seen and to Hellsing. I can kind of understand why Hellsing would be there but I think that Black Lagoon has much broader appeal and would be likely to be enjoyed by a much wider audience. Hellsing is a pretty eccentric series.

TLDR:

Black Lagoon is a well-made anime that’s very likely to be enjoyed by both fans of action and drama. It just wasn’t quite my thing. I might watch season 2 when I am looking for a crime drama.

Favourite character : Yolanda (there’s so much potential for this character)

Suggested drink: Blue Lagoon

  • Every time Rok and Revy bicker  – take a small sip
  • Every time  anyone is drinking – join them
  • Every time Revy insults someone  – clutch your pearls
  • Every time anyone has a bad accent – take a sip
  • Every time you hear the f-bomb – cover your ears
  • Every time lights up a smoke – take a sip
  • Every time anyone gets knocked out – take a sip
    • take another if it’s not Rok
  • Every time Revy has her hair down – take a sip
  • Every time we see the noose – be intimidated
  • Every time the rough hardened pirates have feeeeeeeeelings – take a sip
  • Every time Roberta enters the scene – cheer and be a bit afraid
  • Every time Revy threatened (or tries) to murder one of her own allies  – take a sip

In case you’re new here, I have a Pinterest with all my screencaps (there are a lot!). If you can’t find a show you are looking for in my main boards, just go to Anime Screenshots. I move the shows I have reviewed there. Of course, I’m still going to add a few images here!

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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21 Responses

  1. I can definitely understand being pickier with dubbed anime because of knowing the language. I feel the same a lot of the time. I think once my knowledge of Japanese becomes a little more proficient I might start feeling the same way with subbed. Personally, I think the more obnoxious, outspoken style of the English VA is more in line with her personality, as someone who wants to lash out at the world for all the terrible things she had to go through. Still, the subbed is good as well. Thanks for checking it out, Irina! Still wish I had some shows that I liked more that were shorter, lol.

  2. ManInBlack says:

    One of my fave series! Revy is a legend!

  3. David Boone (moonhawk81) says:

    I’ve never seen the dub, but own and love the sub.

  4. OnyChaos says:

    Ah, this anime. I remember watching this when it aired on Toonami a few years ago. I like the anime, it had a great art style, and I liked the characters. I was never able to finish watching the series since I missed most of it because it came on late, and it got taken out to have another anime take its place. I might have to find time to re-watch Black lagoon again. And great review. Very in-depth and rad to read. :3

  5. ashleycapes says:

    Keen to check out the dub now, as I love to compare the choices between actors – the only hold up is time, I guess 😀

  6. Scott says:

    I seem to me one that will drop a show based on dialogue alone and Black Lagoon is another famous show that I’ve dropped for today reason. I didn’t like the English dub from day 1 and never returned to it because of that reason. I am not sure I want to go back by trying it subbed either.

  7. Black Lagoon is one of my favourite franchises, though a lot of that is because I really like the darker tone of the story. The arcs are a bit longer in the seocnd season, but they’re also darker at times. They deal with child abuse in one arc, for example. Rock gets more reckless at times too.
    If you liked Roberta though, then the Roberta’s Blood Trail OVAs may work for you. It’s much the same but with some more Roberta and the Black Lagoon crew clashing with all the factions from the previous two seasons, plus some others.

  8. You know I never thought of a drinking game for Black Lagoon but yours fits rather well. I do have to have to wonder if I would even make it 1 episode before passing out though. I only ever watched the english dub so I can’t really comment on that. I just liked it for the action sequences and didn’t read to much into it as almost everyone is a terrible person in some way.

  9. Yasumo says:

    Maybe you might like the OVAs more, there’s one called Roberta’s Blood Trail that’s pretty good. A lot of action and of course Roberta!

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