Sex. Guns. Revy. Did I mention Revy? While I watched the opening and ending (every episode, very unusual for me) and I kept noting that Revy was so prominently featured–indeed, she’s the only character in the ending sequence–I began to wonder if there was some great secret surrounding her that would be revealed. If you haven’t seen it and plan to, well, you’ll see. If you have seen it, then you basically know why she’s the only person there. She is Black Lagoon, plain and simple.
This one is not for the faint of heart, nor for little boys and girls. This anime is definitely aimed at more mature audiences.
Did I mention Revy yet?
Rebecca Lee, a.k.a. Revy, is the badass of all badass girls in anime. She is the top of the list. I’m not sure she could ever be topped without it being cliched. Dual pistol wielding, sadistic, depressed, foul-mouthed (and tempered), deviant, broken, nihilistic, unhappy, and f*****g gorgeous. Gorgeous. The fan-service is rampant in this one, and most of it centers on her, and if you’re really in for that sort of thing and you’re not on the extreme moe end of the spectrum, this is exactly what you want. She is one of a kind, and you can’t get enough of her.
Several things I really like about Revy. She’s gorgeous. Okay I already said that. Her dead eyes, her handful of perfect outfits, her listless attitude, her reddish-brown hair color, and those amazing silver pistols. Okay I mentioned she’s gorgeous. I kind of mentioned this above, but primarily, this is a one of the kind character. Yeah she’s essentially the stereotypical sadistic badass, but of those I’ve seen across many animes, it can be argued that she defines this type of character now. General Esdeath (Akame ga Kill) comes close, but she’s on the fantasy side, so it’s less believable. And that’s one of the biggest reason I claim Revy defines this type of character, her realness. The interaction between reality and anime is a fantastic duality that ebbs and flows between different shows, and helps make anime the great art it is. In Revy’s case, while surely “anime” and beyond doubt a fantastical character (how many cute badass pirate girls do you know?), she is very real in a sense. Her weapons are a good example of this. In one of the last episodes of the series, it is revealed that Revy’s twin pistols are a Beretta 92 model. She has them custom-made (named “Cutlass,” fun for a modern-day pirate), but that is a very real model that’s widely popular around the world. Guns are not a big thing in Japan obviously, so you usually don’t see anything written around the firearms that characters use, so this is pretty unusual, and adds to her “realness.”
Her voice is amazing (voiced by Megumi Toyaguchi). She’s right up there with Senjougahara Hitagi from the Monogatari series. Senjougahara’s voice is so surreal though, and while Revy’s voice is unusual, it’s not unreally so, and it adds greatly to her character. It’s quite an experience to hear. Very deep, mostly monotone, a quality of emptiness about it, rough and unkind. Behind it you know a human still lives, and that’s the best real part about her I think. She’s not a monster, as we get to see comparatively later in the series. She’s just a drop-dead (literally) gorgeous, badass beast. She’s very alive.
The rest of the crew of the Black Lagoon (their dilapidated but fast seaboat–think Millennium Falcon) are heavily overshadowed by her. My 9 rating is due almost entirely to Revy and a few of the ancillary supporting characters. Dutch is a solid and dependable character, and reminds me a lot of Jet Black from Cowboy Bebop. I like him, but there’s nothing particularly spectacular about him. It’s kind of fun hearing Revy call out their names all the time, in the way Japanese accents struggle with the endings of some English words, and in his case she’s almost always saying “Dutchy.” Rock has potential, but with Revy hanging over the series, he has little chance of developing beyond his current state. Benny is Benny, dependable and there.
Roberta and Balalaika are high quality characters, but primarily in context…to Revy. More on that in a moment. Roberta seems to be the stereotypical fighting maid type, nicely designed, a little poorly executed in my opinion though. This series suffers from several poor attempts to incorporate other cultures into its story, and Roberta is one of these attempts. She is supposed to be South American, perhaps with Spanish and/or even German lineage, but she neither looks nor sounds anything like it. I realize that’s hard to do in any country’s motion picture industry, but she definitely has this issue. On the other hand, Balalaika is Russian, proud and martial. She has some of the similar cultural misses as Roberta, but given the history and proximity of Russia to Japan, Russian characters tend to feel a little more Russian usually. But enough of their shortcomings. What’s effective about these two in context is how they give humanity to Revy. Yeah Revy is pretty much willing to kill anything that walks or talks at the drop of a hat, but she’s not these two.
Roberta is a killing machine, and Balalaika is a pseudo-undead. They are both the monsters that Revy is not. The writers of Black Lagoon almost make their monstrosity overtly obvious. The above appellation “killing machine” is very apt for Roberta. Indeed, in the short series featuring Roberta, she’s regularly referred to as a machine. Indeed, between this and the impossible survivability she seems to have, one begins to wonder while watching if she’s actually some kind of enhanced human, or a Terminator type thing (I think someone makes a reference to that series of films at some point, but I might be misremembering that). The show avoids the surreal, so this would have been a shock if she was that way, and so far that hasn’t been shown. But regardless, this definitely assigns her monster status. Balalaika is strong and able for sure, but it’s not her abilities that make her a monster. Her near death experiences in the past and her rebellion from her state, as well as the scarring clearly visible on her body, all speak of a kind of undead state. This strays into the Frankenstein and Darth Vader area, even if lightly. Nonetheless, this makes are much less human and much more monster.
The contrast between these two and Revy is quite profound in that regard. Revy is nihilistic and seems to court death with the same impassivity of attitude she shows about everything else (that isn’t battle), but compared to those two she’s alive and well. She’s quite human comparatively.
Revy is gorgeous. Wait I already said that. The dead, narrow eyes, the hair messily arranged, her angry brow. And tattoos! How many anime girls have tattoos that aren’t a member of the Fairy Tail Guild (ooh, is Revy the anti-heroic Erza Scarlet?)?. The twining tribal tattoos covering her upper right arm and shoulder are a unique aspect of her design. She obviously got the most design attention, and the result is amazing.
Everything else is kind of meh. Yes it’s nicely detailed, and yes it’s well drawn, but it’s not super remarkable beyond that. Two minor things I’ll note. One is that this art feels more Western, more like American styles (imagine Archer). While I don’t dislike that, it kind of bugs you as you watch it, and makes you want to watch the English version, making you doubt it’s Japanese. And if I may stray from artwork for a moment, Revy in Japanese and Revy in English are NOT the same thing, and I don’t recommend you pollute the one with the other. Nothing against the English actress, but I already am biased against dubs, and it totally ruins Revy for me. But that aside. Second, the artists do a really good job with shadows. The anime is generally very dark in color at all times, and is done exceptionally. It pretty well redeems any failings in the artwork. Along with Revy of course. She in particular makes great use of shadowing. See the various images scattered on this page.
As mentioned above, one big failing of this anime is the poor introduction of other cultures into the story. More on the story aspect of this below, but it impacts the art as well. Before I launch into this, I realize that anime characters rarely reflect the physiques of any earthly ethnic group, and that’s one of the interesting parts about anime. Hence the predominantly Japanese characters don’t really look Japanese. However, they are modeled thereon in some measure, and that gives you the basis for the stereotypical anime visage. Thus, if a character is of a very different ethnic group, you’d expect some sort of attempt to design the characters as such. I already noted that Roberta doesn’t look at all South American, in any way. Balalaika doesn’t really look very Russian. The Americans in the show have the big gorilla physiques usually associated with American anime characters. And while ultimately none of this matters, it does add some confusion about the characters, and disrupts the mental image of them, making them a little less memorable for that. Revy of course is the exception. Or, memorability-wise at least. She’s supposed to be Chinese-American. Nothing about her appearance tells you that in the slightest. She’s still gorgeous.
There isn’t much to the story. It’s mostly episodic, with sporadic references to Revy’s past and the ongoing theme of Rock leaving his ordinary life behind. Nevertheless, it serves its purpose and carries the series forward, allowing the characters to mostly play their parts. Mostly that’s serving as extras so that Revy isn’t the only person in a scene all the time, but still. Did I mention Black Lagoon is basically all Revy?
The biggest reason I don’t recommend this anime is because of some vile irreverence it utilizes a few times throughout the show. I can only advise to watch judiciously given that. But, the one single reason I would recommend you watch is…yeah. Revy is everything. I stopped watching this show after one episode initially, but I had to resume it again and finish it solely because of Revy. She’s fantastic. Her cutest moments, I kid you not, are her short bits of English dialogue where she says “f**k.”
As I mentioned above, I watched the opening (most of it, avoiding the irreverent part) and the ending every episode. They glorify Revy even further. Without a doubt these are top 5 OP and ED, all around, no questions. They’re so good, I will venture to say they’re some of the best all around art in this series. The first thirty seconds or so of the opening and the eerie, suspenseful, and raging ending are jaw-dropping epic.
Without these and Revy though, this series would be nonexistent. That being as it is, with her, you have this thing called Black Lagoon that’s a fixture among anime, and deservedly so. I absolutely couldn’t put it down once I started, and had to restrain myself so that I could string it out over a few extra days just so I could see Revy for more days.
Did I mention Revy?