The extended storyline in Japan comes to a close as Balalaika unleashes a bloodbath in Tokyo.
What They Say:
Rock makes his decision to help a young Yakuza boss named Yukio and Revy uncharacteristically decides to help him. They team up with Yukio's right-hand man for a bloodbath to end all bloodbaths, but that's just the beginning of the battle. In the heat of the moment, they almost forgot that Balalaika and Hotel Moscow wants in on the game and the results are deadly.
Geneon has gone the extra mile with this release by providing three language tracks. There's the standard Japanese and English stereo mixes, both of which are encoded at a surprisingly low 192 kbps. There is also an English DTS 5.1 mix which is done at full bit rate of 1,5 mbps. Having enjoyed many DTS mixes in the past and having become accustomed to 6.5 mbps PCM tracks on Blu-ray, a quick check of the opening sequence confirmed that this show must be watched in English. The mix is quite simply very strong across the forward soundstage with plenty of very appropriate bass. The rear channels didn't get to see too much activity and may have been a bit low to hear with the spacing we use but the overall quality of the DTS track is just solid. It literally changes the impact of many scenes. We did listen to the stereo tracks in different sections throughout but they didn't leave anywhere near the same impression. During regular playback we had no issues with dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With the DVD production being handled by Nightjar there is a certain amount of expectation I have as I am usually quite pleased by their care and attention to quality. Black Lagoon succeeds in this very well with only a few very minor uses that come up. One of them is something that's just inherent in the NTSC format in that during some panning sequences and the occasional zoom in or out there is a bit of aliasing going on. This isn't terribly distracting even on our large display and is less so on smaller setups. Colors look great and maintain a solid feel for most of the presentation though some of the color gradients are visible.
Only the first volume of the series comes with a steelcase (much like the first season), so this one is done in a standard black keepcase. Like the first season, the covers here are really striking with so much black space and the logo being done with large text and blue shading. The central focus of this volume gives us Rock holding onto a bloodied and tired Revy as the pair walk forward. It’s a really solid visual as the two couldn’t be more different, even when Revy goes to wearing a “traditional” outfit. The back cover is a bit more traditional with a dark background over which we have a strip of shots from the show and other standard pieces. The summary covers the basics and the discs episode numbers and titles are clearly listed. The features are strictly technical here as there aren't any extras and the remainder of the cover has some basic production information and a very limited set of technical information. The reverse cover is nicely done as it features the very different pairing of Balalaika and Yukio together. An insert is included which has a chapter list breakdown on one side while the back is chock full of production information.
When it comes to menus, Nightjar can make even a simple one seem exciting. With this release they kick it up into a 5.1 mix again while providing a static menu that has the logo in large scale while the background has some bullets and other visuals to tie it all together. The navigation is simple but they tie to some nice animated moments as you make each selection. This is one of the weaker ones that Nightjar has done but even as weak as it is there is a good sense of theme and atmosphere to it. The disc correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The second season of Black Lagoon draws to a close with these last four episodes that continue on the storyline from the previous volume. I’m admittedly surprised that this storyline ran as long as it did simply because it seemed like it could be wrapped up a bit earlier with no real loss. That said, it turned out to be a really solid ride all told as we get some great emotional conversations between disparate characters as well as a good action sequence that gives it a very Western feel. As we all know, Hollywood must have a car chase otherwise it’s not really an action movie, so we get one here as well.
With the Washimine group all but ruined at this point, Balalaika has gone whole hog with it by intending to wipe them out entirely. Her own back story gets a little play here as we see her during the collapse of Russia which ended up casting them to the side. The way she pulled her group together isn’t exactly given a whole lot of time, but not a lot is needed as simply the force of her personality as well as the way she commands makes it easy to understand. That they continue to follow her so loyally to this day and work with her with such ease in Roanapur says even more. As a very high level member of Hotel Moscow, seeing her truly in action in a place that’s not considered her “home” is really fascinating to watch. Even more so when you consider that she’s dealing with a culture that’s very different from her own and almost amuses her.
With the way events have played out so far, it’s little surprise that Yukio has decided to follow the path she’s chosen and to take over the group. Gin is determined to do whatever she wants and protect her, as well as exacting his own revenge in a cold manner, but their relationship is still fun to watch. That she’s enamored of him in a near romantic way isn’t a surprise but that she’s taken to the role so well of being the leader is. Well, not that being the leader is a surprise but the zeal and feeling of being alive that she discovers when she and Gin rob a bank to get some quick funds for their plans after sending everyone else away. She’s feeling more alive than ever before and intends to do whatever it takes to keep that feeling while also taking down Balalaika.
The intellectual side of the series during these episodes is great to watch. There are a couple of key verbal confrontations that have the characters really expounding their views and going head to head with each other. Though it is a bit more talky than one might get in real life, it’s a real change from so many shows that say so little or try to say it with no words at all. The first one is between Yukio and Rock as she tries to tell him that he’s the weak one for standing between two worlds, looking but never committing while she takes the plunge into the world of darkness. It causes him to really look at the way his life is led now that he’s escaped Japan. This also comes into play during the second confrontation where he again tries to save Yukio by trying to talk Balalaika out of what she has planned.
Of course, a great deal of the show revolves around the action. This is where Revy really gets to shine, especially when she teams up with Gin for awhile and only becomes more entranced with the idea of facing off against him. The two are masters of their art and even if they haven’t worked together before, they both know that they’ll figure out a rhythm with ease and deal with whatever comes their way. Both are professionals of the highest order, but contrasting in style as Revy is more out there and playful while Gin is cool and restrained in his expressiveness. The entire sequence that takes place in the bowling alley and the pool is simply beautiful because of how the two play alongside each other. But equally beautiful was when they finally face off against each other as well.
Black Lagoon’s strength has been its over the top nature with the violence – and the profanity in both languages – but it also has a very strong sense of character and introspection. The action is definitely a draw, but I keep coming back to these character moments long after the show is over. The original discussion between Revy and Rock in the first season is still powerful and this volume adds another pair of discussions that really make these characters feel even more real and complicated. While I was surprised this story arc went on as long as it did, it really does bring a sense of closure to certain things and really enhances other. Rock continues to be a fascinating character and Balalaika is even more incredible to watch now. More of this cannot come soon enough and thankfully Geneon found a way to get this series back out there.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English DTS 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.