What They Say Rokuro Okajima is meek, mundane, and metropolitan. His business trip to South East Asia turns from pleasure cruise to festival of pain when modern-day pirates board the ship and take him hostage. Revy, Dutch and Benny are merciless, maniacal, and mean. Together, they make up the crew of the Black Lagoon. Making a living in a city where the most villainous of villains make themselves at home isn't without its risks, but they take on any job available to them. Smuggling guns, drugs, kidnapped children, and stolen goods is all part of a hard days work.
Contains episodes 1-24 (Black Lagoon 1-12 and Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage 1-12).
For this viewing, I listened to the English 5.1 track, which is encoded in DTS. The DTS track is really well put together, with good directionality, clear effects, and no dropout in any of the channels. The gunfights sound particularly explosive. The only drawback is that you need a DTS capable player and/or receiver to be able to listen to it. Otherwise, you are stuck with the inferior 2.0 track as there is no non-DTS 5.1 option. The Japanese track is also available in only 2.0; in comparison, they do not match up with the clarity of the DTS track, but are more than serviceable in their own right.
The animation is this is also gorgeous. The colors are bold, it handles the spectrum well, and the lining is clear and distinct. All of the action scenes were beautifully rendered in their own right. There were some minor moments of aliasing, especially in some of the fast paced scenes, but I had to really look hard for them, so they do not stand out. They probably are not even noticeable on lesser setups. Otherwise, the transfer is flawless.
Once again, we have a Funimation double thinpak, though my copy of the set came with sturdy cases for once. So, no automatic knockdown there. Plus, Funimation came through once again with a decent design. The front of the box just has the series logo, while the back has plenty of screen shots along with a summary and the technical details. The thinpak covers are designed to be reversible, with the outside of the sleeves adorned with some original art of some of the characters, and the reverse side with a full episode/chapter breakdown of the disc in that part. There is a bit of misleading information on the front of the box however; it claims 24 episodes on 8 discs when in reality the episodes are all on the first 6 discs. The last two discs are extras only. Not too important, but worth noting. Otherwise, very nicely put together.
As nice as the previous three areas are, the menu is not. It is not that it necessarily has a bad design, but rather that it feels like they put no thought into it. I am usually not one to get all up in arms about menu design, but I do not mind a little flash. For this release, the main menu just has the series logo filling the screen with the selections along the bottom. Oddly enough, there is an extras menu on each disc despite the fact that all the extras are given their own two discs at the end of the set. I guess they needed trailers on each disc for some reason. A gunshot rings out as the menu pops up, and some decent music then begins to play, but it is only on about a 30 second loop, so it does get repetitive. The menu is easy to follow, so that is something. I just would have liked some character pictures or something.
As mentioned above, the last two discs in the set are given over solely to extras (apart from trailers, which there are some on each main disc), one disc for each season. This might lead you to believe that there are a ton of extras to be had, but you would be wrong. There is a decent amount, certainly more than what comes in many set these days; but they could have easily gotten them all onto one disc, or even filtered them throughout the six discs of the main feature. On the first season extras disc, there is a Behind-the-Scenes documentary with the crew in charge of localization for the American release, a music video for “Red Fraction” by MELL (the OP theme), and a commercial for the CD single for the song. For the second season, we have a promo for the second season (subtitled “The Second Barrage”), a textless version of the OP for season two, and textless versions of the EDs from episodes 15 and 24. I might have liked a textless version of the ED from the first season (a closeup of Revi’s feet walking slowly on the beach as dramatic music plays, which then occasionally contradicts the soulful atmosphere it creates as bullet shells go flying and she occasionally sheds herself of a large gun or two. Great stuff), but it is not a big deal.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Black Lagoon has been a series I have been interested in seeing for some time now, but it was never really high enough on my list for me to ever get around to watching it. Well, I am officially here to say that I am an idiot. I sat down today to just watch the first disc and ended up blowing off the rest of my day to watch the whole thing in one sitting. While it may have dragged a little at the end, this was a fantastic series.
Rokuro Okajima is a typical Japanese businessman: unassuming, timid, and completely compliant to his boss’s every whim and demand. When his company sends him on an important trip to deliver a disc of confidential files, he of course jumps at the chance. But his life takes a turn when his ship is attacked by pirates looking for the disc in his possession. And if that was not enough, they decide it might be a good idea to take him as a hostage just in case they can get a bit more ransom money out of his company.
The pirates are a ruthless trio. The leader, Dutch, refuses to let anything get in the way of a profit. Benny is the mechanical, computer, and intelligence member who generally does not get his hands dirty, but is not put off by Dutch’s tactics either. And then there’s Revy, the bloodthirsty muscle of the group with a body that will not quit. With her two trusty Cutlass semi-automatics by her side, she has yet to find a situation she cannot shoot her way out of. In fact, she often puts herself in those situations just so that she has an excuse to draw.
At first, Okajima is scared. A do-gooder, low-on-the-totem-pole businessman like him has no business getting caught up with a crew of pirates, but when his boss coldly informs him that he has hired a group of mercenaries to destroy the disc and any evidence along with it, Okajima quickly finds himself afloat with nowhere to turn. His survival instinct kicks in and he is able to devise a plan that allows the pirates to defeat the mercenaries and escape.
With nowhere to go, he asks to join Dutch’s crew, who surprisingly welcome him onboard. Under his new given name, Rock, he becomes the intelligence of the group. He abhors violence, and is generally too scared to actually get involved. But it is often his planning that allows them to carry out their missions. Whether working for Hotel Moscow (a section of the Russian Mafia), the Hong Kong Triad, or the Yakuza, no mission is too dangerous for Dutch’s gang. Now Rock just has to figure out a way to keep himself alive while finding his new place in life.
As intimated above, Black Lagoon was a bit of a surprise for me. The premise sounded interesting, but nothing truly special. What I expected to get good action mixed with some girls-with-guns, violent sexiness from Revy, and I got plenty of that in spades. Barely five minutes ever goes by without her pulling her guns in a crowded room and opening fire. Her penchant for mass murder is one of the more entertaining aspects of the show, which is probably why one of my favorite episodes has her and Dutch taking on an entire ship of Neo Nazi’s after a blown salvage mission. That whole scene was just gloriously violent.
What I was not expecting was some really fantastic dark humor mixed with fairly deep morality issues. The biggest source of humor comes directly from Revy’s almost psychopathic tendency towards violence. She will only listen to people for so long before she opens fire, and she has a tendency to lead her enemies along just far enough to the point where they think they have won before pulling the rug out from under them. And of course, she is completely belligerent about the whole thing. In particular, she loves to torment Rock and threatens to shoot him every time he does something stupid, cowardly, or all-of-the-above. It is a series that hits on just about every cylinder.
It is the developing relationship between the mild-mannered Rock and the sadistic Revy that is the main crux of the storyline. On the surface, these two have virtually nothing in common, a fact that Revy points out every chance she gets since she cannot stand what she considers to be is wishy-washiness. Rock has a hard time completely buying into the line of work of Dutch’s crew and clings to his ideals as tightly as he can. Revy, on the other hand, has been murdering for as long as she can remember and seemingly has no use for petty morals.
In reality, however, the two are very similar. Both are in a situation that fate has placed them in rather than one they chose to be in. Revy grew up on the streets and has known nothing but a life of crime. Rock has nowhere to go once his own company decides he is more useful to them dead. He struggles to understand this new world he now inhabits, while still trying to find the tranquility that marked his previous life. She is fully versed in this world but quietly also yearns to find the same peace that Rock once knew. She may not show it on the surface, but his beliefs draw her closer to him.
And that is one of the things I liked the best in this series. Though it is more action than comedy, this series has plenty of humor, but they were able to build the relationship between Rock and Revy without resorting to the standard misunderstandings and awkward situations. Rather, they do it through action and interaction. It is subtle, which makes for a nice change. It is obvious from early on that Revy has a thing for Rock, though she always hides it behind her brash exterior. However, she will always go out of her way to rescue him when he gets in trouble (which is often). And as the series goes on, her denunciations of his ideals get softer until it becomes obvious that she does not really believe in what she says and rather wishes she could believe him. It is all very well done, and not exactly what I was expecting.
As I said, it is their relationship that really drives the series, which makes it a bit perplexing to me that the focus of the series moves away from them over the last five or six episodes. Rock is hired to be an interpreter for Balalaika, the leader of Hotel Moscow, as she negotiated to help with one of the Yakuza families in a conflict with another. Revy accompanies him as his body guard, and they get drawn into an all-out turf war as Hotel Moscow attempts to completely wipe out the Tokyo mobs. And in these episodes, the focus is mainly on the conflict, moving away from Rock and Revy (and to a lesser extent, Dutch’s crew and their random missions). While Rock and Revy still get plenty of screen time, it is almost as if they are no longer the main characters through this last part, which bugged me, especially since it is in these episodes where the two finally seem to find themselves on somewhat common ground. It is the one time in the entire series where I was not completely invested in what was going on. It was still good in its own right, just not as good.
Black Lagoon was a series I wanted to see and one that I expected I would like. The fact that I liked it far more than I expected just speaks volumes of how good it really it. Its nonstop violence and dark comedy mixed with deep moral dilemmas all mix well together to make a series that is just a joy to watch. With its content, it is obviously not a series for everybody, as it is unapologetic about its gore and confrontations, but if none of that bothers you, then this is a must-see. Highly recommended.
Features Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 DTS Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, "Red Fraction" Music Video, Behind-the-Scenes Documentary on the English Production, Interview with Director Sunao Katabuchi, Clean Opening and Closing Credits, Promo Videos
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony BDP-S360 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection upconverted to 1080p, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System
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