Black Lagoon Vol. #1 (also w/limited edition) (of 3) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, August 19, 2008
What They Say
"Filled with scenes of heroic bloodshed, Black Lagoon is Action Incarnate!
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. They are the exact opposite of Rokuro in every way but one? A mercenary group out has targeted them to steal the data disc that Rokuro had, and with it, classified information that threatens the peace and security of the entire world! Amen. Hallelujah. Peanut Butter."
Black Lagoon simply kicks all kinds of ass.
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 a 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 but 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. That at least is source related. The only area that stood out significantly is during the fourth episode where there is a quick look at an underwater scene which is quite dark. There's some visible blocking going on there with the different shades of black that are being used but it's over within a couple of seconds at most.
Black Lagoon is being released in both a regular edition and a special edition. The special edition contains the regular edition release plus a steel metal case which is the special edition part. For the regular edition, the artwork is quite Japanese looking as it features Revy and Rock standing side by side with plenty of smoke and darkness surrounding them. The background is black and the logo is large but is behind the characters. A brief rundown is included as well here that is surprising to see on a US release but I think works nicely in giving the show a different feel. 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 cover is reversible and has a similar looking style to the front cover but with just Revy on it in a different pose. The reverse side back cover is laid out different as well as it has more shots from the show and omits the summary and production information. An insert is also included which has a chapter list breakdown on one side while the back is chock full of production information. The two panel spread inside has a somewhat awkward shot of Revy but it's one that simply looks slick.
The special edition is done in one of the metal cases that Geneon has used for several releases to great effect. The "Steelcase" is quite appropriate for Black Lagoon and serves the purpose of also being minimal on space requirements. If you're the type that can give up keepcase artwork then this will work out nicely for you. The case is done in a gunmetal grey which comes across well with the front and back covers basically being no more than illustrations of guns and ammo. The logo is across the center of the front done in red which draws plenty of attention. On the inside, the front panel contains the artwork from the insert two panel spread of Revy while the other side is just the logo in black with a red hue set against black. My only problem with the release is that the sticker used to provide the talking points was not on the plastic wrap but on the case itself. It's all removed but there remains a good deal of sticky glue residue to deal with.
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.
For the regular edition release, there are no extras.
For the special edition release, an entire disc of extras is included. There's a good selection of extras here though they'll appeal to different people. The first is a fifteen minute behind the scenes piece that brings us the English side of the production with the ADR director and several of the actors. They mix it up between talking about the show and showing them in the booth at work. The next is the music video for the opening sequence which is a live action piece that's pretty good. The song itself is interesting enough that seeing it performed live is different than a lot of other music videos. Unfortunately, even though it's subtitled in the main show it's not subtitled here. It's different from the usual pop tunes we get and the video shows that. A brief Japanese commercial for the CD is also on the first page of extras.
The second page of extras has some good albeit short material as well. The original Japanese opening is provided here as well as the clean ending sequence. There are also two promotional videos included and between the two of them they run just over three minutes.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Broken into two twelve episode seasons, Black Lagoon is based on the original manga by Rei Hiroe which kicked off in 2002. With animation by Madhouse and having Geneon Entertainment USA involved in the creation of it, it's certainly a high profile release for the company that has received some extra love. Between the special edition packaging and a bump up in DTS 5.1 audio it stands out against a number of other releases that are coming from them.
To my surprise, knowing practically nothing about the show beyond a two minute clip at a convention, Black Lagoon manages to kick all kinds of ass. In English no less. The draw of a full bitrate 5.1 mix got me to watch it in English only to find that with most of the characters being western and in settings outside of Japan it works very well. The show revolves around a company called Lagoon that operates out of Thailand. Owned and operated by an imposing black man named Dutch, they perform all sorts of jobs for whoever is willing to pay them. Be it kidnappings, item retrieval or simple deliveries, if there's money to be made they don't really seem to mind who is paying them.
Dutch's crew is made up of two other people at first. We're introduced to Benny, a young man from Florida who had to leave after some issues. He supplies the technological side of the company while being the happy go lucky type wearing his Hawaiian shirts. The polar opposite of him and more in line with Dutch's style is Revy. Revy is a young woman who has hinted at a rather hard life early on as she seems to be carefree and terribly violent. When she's engaging in the violence it brings a smile to her face and she gets very into it. To offset that however she's also quite the drinker and can seemingly drink most other people under the table. Her personality is over the top and quick to react and anger which is why she gets along with Dutch's quiet yet strong personality.
Their lives take an odd turn when they go to retrieve a computer disc from a Japanese businessman named Rokuro. He's on a small passenger ship heading across the Sea of China to make the delivery but that goes badly when Revy comes to swipe the disc. Rokuro ends up as a hostage so they can make a bit of extra money from that. Rokuro's life quickly becomes a mess from this as his bosses, who are hiding the secret of what's on the disc due to its potential issues, decide that it's best to just declare him dead and move on. Setting another group of mercenaries who have a grudge against Dutch after them, Rokuro ends up in a far bigger mess than before. The amusing part is that he sees the kind of adrenaline rush that Revy has in the violent moments and finds it appealing and begins to get into the same mode " but only during those moments.
Taking on the nickname of Rock, Rokuro starts his new life as a member of the Lagoon Company. The show provides a good two episode introduction to the concept and then shifts into a pair of standalone stories that help to build up the relationships of the characters and the setting where it's a rough and tumble world of bad guys. Rock's time with Dutch and the others begins to unearth some of their quirks but it tends to be Rock who is the most interesting as he adapts to it. Still keeping his white shirt and tie on he takes on a real business role within the small company and plays it straight while you have Revy getting all psychotic and ready to kill. The dynamic of the group is positively hilarious and works to great effect.
As a whole package there is a lot to like about this series. Madhouse has done an outstanding job with the animation and adapting the character designs. With lots of open sea vistas that shift to rundown sections of the town they live in, everything has a sense of realness to it and plenty of detail. Scenes of the Lagoon racing across the open waters on our 70" set look stunning, particularly when combined with the DTS 5.1 mix and its great use of the bass. The audio side of the show really makes this work even more and once again shames the Japanese for not giving the audio more attention. This continues to be the weakest area of many Japanese TV series that still hasn't seen much work over the last five or six years.
Much to my surprise I found the English dub by Ocean Productions to be quite solid. While the dub is definitely rawer than the Japanese side, there is plenty of cussing going on there as well according to the subtitles. The dub kicks it up a few notches which works quite well as the series really feels like a Hollywood movie done in TV form. Revy's the worst when it come to her insults and vitriol but the combination of her colorful phrases and the intensity on her face makes it work. Hell, just from the fantastic opening song you could tell we were in for something different. The song by Mell has to be one of the most in your face ones I've heard for an anime opening ever. And it's sung in English no less. Just listening to and reading the lyrics as you get into the first episode will tell you exactly what kind of raw show this will really be. Even better, after all the frantic action, high adrenaline and rough dialogue the show ends with one of the best ending sequences out there for a show like this. A somber instrumental piece with the right kind of animation for it really lets you settle down after the rush that the show is. Surprisingly, it's even left in Japanese with the individual episode credits in English to follow after all four episodes.
While I find that Black Lagoon kicks all manner of ass over these first four episodes, I also have to admit that overall it's nothing terribly original yet. It is however fun to watch, quite exciting at times and different enough from other shows that it does stand out nicely. It doesn't cringe from violence and has enough hooks to it that lets it work. Rock in particular is a great character as he avoids the trap of being wishy washy about the entire ordeal and instead just dives right into his new life. Geneon has produced a fantastic release across the board that I have hardly any issue with. Going into this series knowing nothing about it I now find myself eager for the next volume to arrive as quickly as possible. Though I've said a few times it merits being repeated, Black Lagoon simply kicks ass. Very recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English DTS 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,LE: Making Of Feature,LE: Music Video,LE: Japanese CD Commercial,LE: Japanese Opening,LE: Clean Closing,LE: 2 Promotional Videos
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Black Lagoon