Black Lagoon is Studio Madhouse’s 2006 high-octane crime and action release, written and directed by Sunao Katabuchi. The 33-episode run, split into two seasons, the latter subtitled “Second Barrage” — centers on the misadventures of a rag-tag pirate organization, “The Lagoon Company.”
The Lagoon Company is comprised of; reformed white-collar worker Rock, who is at first the group’s hostage, the real muscle of the series Revy “Two Hands,” a hacker named Benny, and their composed leader Dutch. The unlikely family dynamic and chemistry between these characters are where the series shines, and seeing Rock slowly toughen-up, and struggle to cling on to moral-absolutism is entertaining.
Most of the company operations take place in Roanapur, a seedy fictional city in Thailand. Roanapur’s world of organized crime and stupid aggression is fully realized, with an assortment of side characters and factions from Mr. Chang’s Sun Yee On Triad to Balalaika’s Hotel Moscow. Each of whom have distinct brands of smart-assery. All the characters have a strong rapport or familiarity with one another, achieved through writing very conversational and loose dialogue — made up of self-aware banter, poking fun at campy action flick one-liners. Also, the occasional monologuing of pseudo-deep observations about the nature of organized crime and society.
Back-and-forths maintain an impressive variety of shots instead of the typical shot-reverse-shot and over-the-shoulder drab — this conveys an urgency effectively and aids the pacing. Diverse conversation shots are something anime does particularly well.
The action in the series explodes like a Molotov cocktail that’s been mixed using a hint of Fast & Furious, a dash of Dhoom (or Bollywood Fast & Furious), and a light sprinkle of Sicario. It is obscenely over-the-top, bordering on exploitation cinema. The choreography is chaotic, but fluid featuring ramping boats into helicopters, katanas slicing through bullets, and a Terminator-nun. Black Lagoon uses subtle camera rotations, and camera-shake to communicate speed, also impressively, there are not a ton of quick-cuts. Instead, Black Lagoon opts for immensely satisfying lingering shots that really show off the animation, and give the audience time to fully process the ridiculousness of each scene.
Black Lagoon’s cast features several perspicacious, powerful women who are either the most proficient combatants in the world like Revy and Roberta or are straight-up running sh*t on a business level, like Balalaika or Sister Yolanda and her “Rip-Off Church.” I love this — unfortunately, these characters are subject to fan-service shot-compositions somewhat regularly. Narratively, none of these characters’ stories are shaped by their sexuality in any way — so those shot choices serve only to objectify. Listen, I’m not here to shame you for appreciating the booty, but it’s worth being aware of how these things shape our ideas.
Some other moments where the show falters; characters drop the term “shemales” when insulting each other for being dominant women. The character Shenhua has a prominent accent/delivery some might object to — and on that note, Revy refers to her as “Chinglish” a few times. Insensitive for sure, but consistent in the world. The Lagoon Company leader, Dutch, is perhaps one of the better-written Black anime characters out of the few present in the early 2000s. He is ex-US Navy, displays the most level-headed attitude in the series, and is never played for humor or comic relief, though capable of sharp comedic-wit. Dutch is a prominent, respected figure in the story, and in the city of Roanapur, he deals with racism from a neo-nazi group.
Black Lagoon is aware of race. However, it’s handling, and depiction of racism doesn’t draw a clear enough line between “racism = bad” and “racism = funny.” The intention isn’t always there.
The show’s “Second Barrage” episodes feature an arc dealing with severe child abuse — it’s notably uncomfortable, as it should be, but it’s not handled with exceeding care.
Apart from a lack of tact when dealing with the heavier subject matter, and some poorly aged moments — the vast majority of the show provides great dumb-cheesy dialogue and tremendously captivating action sequences. Black Lagoon has a ton of attitude and chaotic energy, and seeing that deranged look in Revy’s eyes as she lights up her enemies is a thrill.