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DVD Review

Black Lagoon
Barrage 1 - Volume 1


Starring (voice): Daisuke Namikawa, Megumi Toyoguchi, Hiroaki Hirata, Mami Koyama and Tsutomu Isobe
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 15
Available 10 March 2008

The seas of Southeast Asia can be a perilous place, especially with the likes of the mercenary PT boat The Black Lagoon - with its crew of Dutch, Revy and Benny - roaming the high seas. The Lagoon Company are not the sort of people that you would want to mess with and certainly not the sort of people that meek and mild company man, Rokuro Okajima thought he would end up joining...

Black Lagoon (2006) is an action adventure anime, directed by Sunao Katabuchi from the Madhouse studio (Trigan, Perfect Blue, Tenjo Tenge amongst many others), from an original manga by Rei Hiroe. The setting initially appears similar to Cowboy Bebop in its premise. The first season ran in Japan between April and June 2006 and ran for twelve episodes. A second, twelve episode, season followed in October 2006. Volume One of Black Lagoon contains the first four episodes.

Unlike many recent anime releases, this one has a contemporary setting, albeit with a few fictional elements thrown in. From the very first hard hitting beats of the title music the show aims to set itself aside from the teen anime’s, which abound on television with provocative and sexually violent lyrics, “you make me violate you”...

This then sets the tone for a show which revels in graphic depictions of violence, however although prominent, this does not appear to be the show's reason for existence as there is a strong philosophical thread which permeates the whole thing.  Like most anime shows the first couple of stories are there predominantly to introduce and flesh out the characters and their relationships.

The first couple are used to introduce Dutch, the captain of the boat, an African - American who leads the team and is built a bit like a man mountain, Benny their technical wizard who runs all the electronic gizmos and keeps the boat afloat, Revy a rootin tootin, bad assed, stone cold killer female, who actually appear to enjoy killing in cold blood and Rokuro the poor hapless businessman whose fate intersects that of Lagoon Company.

Episode one: The Black Lagoon is the first of a two-parter introduction story. Rokuro Okajima, a low level drone in his company, is sent on a courier mission when The Lagoon Company of mercenaries, looking for the data disc that he is carrying, attacks his boat and takes him hostage. There is some discussion on what to do with him, Revy who captured him wants to hold him to ransom, but the others are unconvinced, but at the same time are not thrilled with the idea of just killing him out of hand, so they take him with them and ironically rename him ‘Rock’. Things take a decidedly downturn when his employers send a helicopter to kill everybody on board the boat.

Episode two: Mangrove Heaven. A protracted chase ensues with the helicopter forcing the Black Lagoon into a dead end river, with no other option the crew turn to fight. When the fighting is done the Lagoon Company are finally able to fulfil their contract and pass the disc on. Disgusted and disillusioned at his treatment by his own employers Rokuro accepts his new found name and companions.

It’s a good opening shot from the series, by the end of which the character motivations and relationships have started to be mapped out. That said it’s difficult to know at this stage where the show will take itself. Normally, the usual anime sets out a quest in the first two shows, something that is noticeable by its absence. That is not a bad thing as the quest motif along with the ‘poor kid has a big destiny’ motif can get a little samey after a while.

Episode three: Ring-Ding Ship Chase. Rock tries to settle into life as a pirate and finds that this is not as easy as he thought. His whole corporate training had conditioned him to become one of many, whereas Dutch, Revy and Benny are very much individuals and Revy, especially, is unconvinced about Rock's future with them. The newly formed team take a new job, but the job turns out to be a trap.

Episode four, Die Ruckkehr des Adlers, and this time the crew are after treasure from a sunken submarine, but before they can retrieve anything Neo-Nazis turn up forcing the Black Lagoon to flee leaving Rock and Revy stranded underwater. Much of this last episode is taken up with flashbacks to what happened during the war and how the painting, which everyone is after, ended up at the bottom of the sea.

Like I mentioned before, for what could be seen as a testosterone poisoned guns and violence show, the series is a lot more thoughtful about morality, taking a more ‘things are what they are’ approach. Each of the characters, because of their own worldview and their past experiences, is able to justify their actions, even if they seem incomprehensible even to their shipmates. This is most clearly demonstrated in the relationship between Rock and Revy.

Madhouse looks to have another successful show on their hands. The animation shows an extraordinary level of detail in the picture, with good character design, which really differentiates the protagonists. The English 5.1 dub on the show is surprisingly good and a match for the Japanese stereo original.

On the extras front you get some trailers, a music video of the title track ‘Red Fraction’ sung by Mell and a Making of featurette (15 min 36 sec), which introduces the show from the perspective of the English dub team.

Of course only time will tell if the show can be developed passed the ’mission of the week’ format which would make the show a sort of anti A-Team, which may be amusing but won't distinguish it from similar shows out there.


Charles Packer

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