Black Lagoon

A missed opportunity: Jormungand

I really wanted to like Jormungand. It’s a series about illegal arms dealers and child soldiers, which is not exactly typical fare for anime and sounds interesting. Comparisons to 2006’s fantastic Black Lagoon abound, then, but after 3 episodes, I’m giving up.

I realised I had to stop half-way through episode 3, when child soldier Jonah runs straight at a couple of renowned assassins without cover. Both sides fire at each other from point-blank range, yet manage to miss. Seconds later, the same assassins hit some generic snipers perched on the roof of a building. That’s the kind of thing I expect to see in a Bee Train anime; I could even take it in Black Lagoon, but for Jormungand, it was the final straw.

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Black Lagoon II: Judgment Day

Black Lagoon’s original run impressed me. The  show was beautifully animated, included an interesting cast, and had enough violent gun battles to give a child nightmares.  I also think it had the best crew of any recent show.  What it lacked was length.  Its 24 original episodes, stretched over two seasons, were fun to watch but the ending of the series did not provide enough closure.  It felt more like a season finale than an episode meant to wrap up an entire series.  Luckily a new OVA (a straight to DVD released) named Roberta’s Blood Trail was released in 2010.  The OVA starts slow but if you liked Black Lagoon’s first run and can forgive the OVA’s lack of an interesting story you get a treat.

Observations of Everything: Bye-Bye November

Still hopelessly hooked on…

Black Lagoon (2nd Barrage)
Episode 19 and counting

The bog-standard Naruto fillers would be a lot more interesting if they managed to nab the creative bastards working on Black Lagoon. With that said the 2nd season has often flattered to deceive and appears to be more content to up the ante in terms of fire-power and “phat explosions” than provide any real character development. The end result is a darkly fun but superficial couple of action-packed story arcs. And something needs to be done about the painful Engrish – sorry Balalaika; you can’t be a bad-ass and talk like an idiot.

Code Geass
Episode 7 and counting

It feels wrong writing this but for what it’s worth I’m thoroughly enjoying Code Geass. I’m a sucker for colourful animation and this, mad haircuts and Victorian costumes abound, is so hideously over the top, melodramatic and knowingly fun that it’s become a ridiculous parody of everything that’s cliche within anime, from cloak wearing mecha to ditzy college days romance.

Death Note
Episode 9 and counting

Death Note isn’t an especially clever show but the suspenseful battle of wits and jaw-dropping brinkmanship between an increasingly unhinged Light and the quirky L has had me edging off my seat from the very first episode. I’m totally addicted to this show, and episode 8 contains the most dramatic opening of a packet of crisps e-v-e-r. What with all the Pizza Hut pimping in Code Geass, surely Walkers could have stumped up for some Shinigami flavoured chips?

One Piece
Episode 172 and counting

Well into the Skypiea arc now, but following on from the grandiose adventures of Alabasta, I must admit I’m finding it (“Save the country!”) all fairly predictable, same old music and same brand of narcissistic super villains’ ala Crocodile. Still though you can’t beat the smiling enthusiasm of Luffy and if I’m looking for something purely entertaining to stick on, One Piece has it all. That and Wiper is hella cool.

Welcome to the N.H.K
Episode 21 and counting

No Yamazaki, don’t gooooo! After the lull of the unengaging MMORPG arc, the last two episodes have shown Welcome to the N.H.K is back to its melancholy and border-line suicidal best. Yamazaki’s sad departure and Satou’s subsequently lonely realisation that he’s just lost his best mate rivalled Honey & Clover in its atmospheric reflection on the vital importance friendship. I can’t believe the end is so close now.

Stuck in backlog hell is…

  • 009-1 – Old school sci-fi anime revamped and I’ve read a lot of praise for this show.
  • Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto – Traditional Japanese dialogue is extremely confusing
  • Bartender – Sounds massively boring but because of that, I’m desperate to give it a shot!
  • Red Garden – Stop crying god dammit! No, don’t sing about it either!
  • Tokyo Tribe 2 – The animation looks odd and creativity deserves attention. Also going in its favour is that it isn’t harem.

Black Lagoon – 13 – People call it spinal reflex

Madhouse Studios have an exceptional talent for adapting manga – BECK, Monster and now Black Lagoon, they clearly devote a lot of careful thought to developing a specific style for their works; almost inevitably, they craft absolutely unique anime. I feel safe in saying that Black Lagoon’s flair for attention grabbing will never fade, such is it’s commitment to ass kicking, it is a series willing to twist the boundaries of bad taste, adding layer after layer of extreme and unbelievable material, naturally showing a complete disregard of human life.

Consider incestuous, cannibalising, underage twins from Europe. They carry axes and have sweet little dolls tied to their massive machine guns. They are clearly insane. Cute, but insane. They commit depraved acts, but what is truly chilling is that they are simply kids – innocent by nature, they are none the less completely lost in and exploited by the darkness that surrounds them.

Balalaika and even Revy (as cool as they look) are obviously killers themselves, but would one consider them evil? They show an emotional restraint in their bloody and brutal work, but if they took on the same job as “the Twins”, of course they would eventually rub out their targets all the same. But because we have seen them with their feet up, drinking beer and joking with friends, we recognise a glint of their humanity, instinctively we know that deep down, they have feelings just like you and me. The twins offer no such empathy; show no emotion in context with their disgusting acts, so it’s them that are the monsters. Apparently. Body count is irrelevant.

Black Lagoon is still just as fun as ever – there is a loveable black humour and corny kitsch value to be found in such an over-top bunch of episodic villains, and despite the animation (particularly character designs) looking strangely inconsistent, you just can’t beat this show for a good ol’ fashioned shoot out.

Black Lagoon – 12 – BOOOOOM! HEAD SHOT!

So that’s it then, no more Black Lagoon for (at a guess) a couple of years. I really loved watching this series; after a hard day at work, when it’s a tough ask to even keep your eyes open let alone watch and read anime, Black Lagoon shone like a bloodied beacon of hope. I knew no matter how tired, or how jaded, I could enjoy watching this.

That’s what Black Lagoon meant to me. It didn’t carry much emotional weight, but it had episode titles like “Guerrillas in the Jungle” and “Rasta Blasta”. There is something so attractive about its zero pretension; it’s somewhat fun to see when a series is so honestly and passionately devoted to just thrilling the viewer from start till finish. It’s fan-service, but in a broader sense (not in the moe – killer loli – panty shot – harem sense) – taking it’s cues from the Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Van Damme era of 1980s action, Black Lagoon was a consistent, balls against the wall action series with little or no regard for human life. It’s great.

If I didn’t know a second season of Black Lagoon was coming, I would feel somewhat deflated by this final episode. Of course- it pays off with the now-expected-during-every-episode kick ass action; in particular, ninja woman throwing around her giant machete on a rope is a high point, but then it just ends. We don’t even get to see Dutch. Hints are made about the second season (American CIA agents talk to Revy as if she has trained with them in the past, the Japanese Guerrilla survives to fight another day), and basically it ends with the feeling of just another episode. So much so I waited for the next episode preview, but alas nothing appeared. My anticipation of the second season starts now.

I love a lot of anime and technically, so much of it is superior to Black Lagoon – but I just know that if I had to choose one anime series, over almost everything else I’ll happily watch Black Lagoon again and again. BOOOOOM! HEAD SHOT!

Black Lagoon – 11 – The prelude to carnage

After the previous couple of unrelenting maid bashing episodes, the eleventh instalment of Black Lagoon was always going to seem a tad watered down in comparison. And so it proves- the penultimate “Lock’n Load Revolution” has more talking than shooting, and is almost entirely aimed at building up an initially convoluted race between an ambitious group of idealistic terrorists, a somewhat traditional (testicle cracking) Chinese triad (in cooperation with the CIA!) and in the middle of it all is of course our Lagoon.

If I have a problem with Black Lagoon it is that the characterisation has taken a vacation. It’s now more like watching Hellsing (though a lot better) – wondering who or what monsters will be facing Revy next. As fun as it is to see some crazy Chinese mafia bloke kick a grenade into a group of hapless grunts, Black Lagoon somewhere along its war path has lost that underlying emotional catharsis and is vainly trying to cover itself with one too many trendy gimmicks. In short, it’s getting a wee bit episodic. Still fun, but lacks a human bite.

Black Lagoon – 10 – The unstoppable chambermaid

There are many ways to settle a score and none better than an old fashioned dust up; I think this qualifies as the first time I’ve ever seen two women literally beat the shit out of each other with their bare knuckles. None of this pulling hair and scratching with their nails nonsense; if Black Lagoon is going to have a face-off between the two toughest women in the world, you better expect more than a few pinches.

So episode 10 marks the end of the “Unstoppable Maid” arc; emotionally it added nothing to the series, but I’ll be damned if I come across another couple of anime episodes this year that look as red hot as this was. While firmly tongue in cheek and more than willing to poke fun at its own absurdity, I love that knowing wink Black Lagoon makes at the viewer. That and the slick homages to any number of classic Hollywood pop-corn movies- this time Terminator 2 being the obvious influence behind Ms. Roberta and her unstoppable quest.

Usually I can’t stand girls-with-guns anime, but Black Lagoon ditches any hint of dainty beauty and replaces it with a big fat “fuck you!”

Black Lagoon – 9 – T:1000, unstoppable maid edition

“You should have paid more attention to Rock’s joke, Benny-Boy.” Quips Dutch, a sweating shadow of his composed former self, having just seconds before been subjected to the vicious blood lust (and impossibly strong arms) of an ass-kicking maid from hell. “Imagine her as an invincible killer robot.”

The set up for this story arc is so simple and yet it works so well. Not since Spike crossed guns with Pierre Le Fou or Rock Lee went kung-fu on Gaara have I been so viscerally thrilled by an episode of anime. The fluidity of movement, the sense of an unstoppable power being unleashed, it’s all here, taken to school with a pumping electronic soundtrack, achingly cool aesthetics and the sheer absurdity of what is rapidly exploding infront of us.

This is all such a great fun because of the realistic ways in which the character’s react to their increasingly insane situations- it’s easy to see that Dutch and his crew are genuinely disturbed by the cute T-1000 (and her massive knife) chasing their moving car down the street, and as a viewer, this powerfully conveys the intense danger in which they find themselves.

Black Lagoon 9 is a jolting visceral experience, the kind of quirky action-packed genius Tarrentino would die to replicate, and as hard as I’ve tried, you can’t do justice to such a buzzing spectacle with mere words alone.

Black Lagoon – 8 – Best.maid.ever

I write this post in lieu of discovering that Black Lagoon, surely the best anime airing in Japan at the moment, will only last a measly 12 episodes, and although I have heard rumblings that it should be continued in OVA form (no doubt adapting as yet unwritten manga chapters), 12 damn episodes just isn’t enough for a series as outright fun and exciting as Black Lagoon.

Now with that emotional outburst cleared from my system, it is with a reluctant joy that I can say that episode 8 is possibly the best yet. In terms of sheer climatic build up, the last 12 minutes were close to perfection. We’ve already had the absurdity of nuns with guns, so it seems worryingly natural that the newest character would be a military-trained South American house maid. It’s the way this character is introduced; the music is ripped straight from The Godfather as this cute-looking killer wanders from person to person, innocently inquiring about where to find the local Columbian mafia. Her young master narrates her journey, slowly building the powerful aura surrounding her and then you have the sunglasses, such a fucking cool look.

All this and we’ve yet to even see her in action. Just as she shoots her umbrella, the ending theme seeps in and that’s it. More next week. It’s one big tease, but damn, it’s really something.

Black Lagoon – 7 – Personality clash

The ticking time bomb of Revy’s personality finally explodes in the face of Rock, though gratefully he also snaps back and unfurls a passionate rant all of his own. It’s easy to imagine Rock being your typical male doormat, but here he stands up for himself and proves he too has an unbreakable steely quality beneath his tentative nature.

Revy, who often uses Rock’s middle-class background as a reason to insult him, is firmly put in her place and suddenly they have a new-found respect for one another. Rock has proven to Revy that he is willing to risk it all for the Lagoon, even if it took a black-eye and a gun to the head.

Amidst all this, there is treasure chest of absurd humour and quirky gimmicks to found in a wily mob of arms-dealing, drugs-smuggling nuns; all headed up by a sweet old lady with a specific taste for quality tea. I love how Black Lagoon is set in such a dead-pan and colourful paradise for unconventional criminals of all shapes, scars and sizes!

Black Lagoon – 5 to 6 – Nonchalant massacre of Neo-Nazis

It’s clear by now that Black Lagoon will be Rock and Revy’s show; the action scenes in these episodes are as expected absolutely kick ass, though the majority of what Black Lagoon is driving at is Revy’s humanity (or lack there of). Having slaughtered dozens of Neo-Nazi bastards, she nonchalantly explains to Dutch that she can no longer work with Rock.

Revy’s super human killing instinct is borne from an absolute disdain for life (including her own); she can kill so many people because to her they are nothing. However since Rock turned up and started questioning her brutal ways, Revy has started doubting herself too, and it’s that split second of hesitation that can cost her life. Assassins can’t afford to have morals.

On a totally superficial level, it was great to see Dutch kicking some Nazi ass too; he is the cold, calculated hit man to Revy’s indiscriminate kill-everything-that-moves motto of death. The inevitable Nazi showdown was edgy in how it soundlessly depicted Revy just walking from room to room, shooting men by the dozen. There is such an exhilarating discard for life during these moments that you can’t help but love it.

Black Lagoon – 4 – Neo Nazis

The beauty of Black Lagoon is that it knows exactly what it is; pure action, and then forcing the volume way past maximum. If last time flying submarines weren’t enough for you, how do Neo-Nazi’s sound?

The Black Lagoon is after a precious Nazi painting (commissioned by none other than the Fuhrer himself, Hitler) that has been sleeping with the fishes for a good 50 years, since the collapse of World War 2. It’s an easy 50k for Dutch and his crew until a regiment of hard ass Neo-Nazi’s crash the party and decide they want the painting too.

Of course, it’s unfair for me to label Black Lagoon as all action, because while the gunplay surely plays a pivotal role in this show, the characterization and setting is equally as strong. In just 12 minutes, I found myself carefully invested in a doomed Nazi submarine captain and feeling his subordinates’ claustrophobic horror when told they have but 2 hours left to live.

The kid within me just wants to go giddy at the flashy, powerful style of Black Lagoon, but its true strength lies within a compelling ability to weave personal stories within the context of such sheer explosive madness.

Black Lagoon – 1 through 3 – Adrenaline Rush

It took me a few weeks to catch onto Black Lagoon, but now I’m fully convinced of its (loud) qualities. I had avoided it up until this weekend because the reviews I’d read gave the impression that it was another typical girls with guns anime. I was wrong and it’s much more than that. I’m sorry for doubting you, Madhouse.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though- Black Lagoon is a purely action driven series, but (like Gungrave) rather than simply wallowing in style, the story sprinkles enough compelling character development to really capture the moment. The star of the show is Levi- an absolutely badass mercenary capable of killing her enemies by the dozen. So far, she has shown very little in the way of emotion- preferring instead to swear, get drunk and basically kill anything that moves. Her foil (and opposite lead) is Rock- a Japanese “salaryman” whisked away from the boring world of corporate business. He’s still searching for meaning in his life and opts to become a sailor of the Black Lagoon rather than go back to his boring old life of monotony. Rock is living the epitome of every salaryman’s dream.

The rest of the Lagoon crew are just as likable- particularly captain Dutch, who defines macho cool in very 1980s Schwarzenegger way.

It’s notable just how immoral the story has been up until now. Given this is about modern day ‘pirates’, the action is not so much as case as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, rather how much Dutch and crew will be paid – there is no respect for human life. The characters are criminals, but remain sympathetic because of their honourable warrior-code and a strong sense of comradery and friendship.

The animation is very physical and kinetic; when combat kicks off, there is a real bite to every bullet, every punch and every torpedo. It’s consistently exciting because the presentation maintains a palpable sense of danger where anything and everything is a possible weapon.

My long winded countdown of the top 8 spring anime

It’s been a while since I’ve watched so much anime. This spring season is quite remarkable in that not only is there an unprecedented number of new series, but also because a lot of them are actually quite good. And I’m not a fan of harem, loli or whatever other genre is “hip” right now.

My top 8 spring anime

8. Tokko

Undeniably this is a terrible series. Why I’m watching it, let alone blogging it is a mystery fit for Columbo. So yeah, big guns, big monsters, big breasts and dismembered corpses. That’s Tokko; it’s so damn badly animated too. I guess those are the reasons why I’m watching it. Approach with caution!

7. Kiba

Utterly fan pandering shounen adventure escapades, yet I’m bitterly enjoying it because despite the lead character Zed being the worst “hero” ever- the rest of the cast and the generally bright, expansive setting envelope me in a finely built universe, ripe for escapism. Given the sheer number of good shows airing this season, I’m not sure how long I’ll stick with Kiba but the fact I’m still around by episode 5 suggests there must be something I like enough to keep watching.

6. Good Witch of the West

Yet more frilly medieval melodrama featuring only pretty characters with mad hair styles; the Good Witch of the West has an interesting fantastical take on the days when teaching and explaining science was banned, but I’m not a fan of the way every character is so damn cute and as soft as a pillow. Certainly, the fairy tale premise suggests potential, though I may wait for a few more weeks and watch this in batches.

5. Witchblade

The first GONZO series since Basilisk that isn’t utterly mediocre tripe, Witchblade; starring an impossibly large cheated female avenger akin to Devilman\lady is a surprisingly heart-rending tale of a woman fighting (with strange supernatural powers) to be reunited with her lost daughter. The action and animation have so far been disappointly below average, but the story retains some strength thanks to a mysterious plot and the fractured relationship between mother and child.

4. NANA

By rights NANA should be higher on this list but I can’t hide the fact that the characters simply don’t interest me enough. Being as it is a series by and for young ladies, it’s not terribly surprising I’m not totally into it. That said, the particularly slender and stylish character designs are wonderful and the drama is very well… dramatic; lots of passionate kisses, tearful eyes and sad goodbyes.

3. Utawarerumono

So like everyone already knows, Utawarerumono (worst series title ever) is based on a porn game, but rather than having tons of fan-service (so far, there has been none, thank god), the story seems to be heavily spiritual and environmentalist- a Studio Ghibli style rural fantasy in which violent forest spirits and other mysterious apparitions exist.

2. Jyu-Oh-Sei

The fantasy and action in Jyu-Oh-Sei is deep enough to suggest an interesting story is on it’s way, though the strong homoerotic undertones are slightly detracting from what I hoped would be a completely dead pan science fiction show.

1. Black Lagoon

I watched the first episode today and I feel ashamed to have ignored Black Lagoon for so long. The action is stylish and fluid without falling into boring poses, while the characters themselves are interesting and mysterious enough to forecast some compelling drama ahead. Black Lagoon is vaguely reminiscent of Gungrave in that it stars compelling adult characters capable of pulling off some cool kick-ass moves. Very impressed.

Stuck in backlog hell

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

The most hyped series since Mai-Otome, I plan on watching Haruhi sooner or later. I admit the extremely loud fan-base has put me off it for now and at the best of times I try to avoid anime based around Japanese school girls. Until the unabated praise slows itself down, I’ll be content to ignore Haruhi.

Higurashi

Apparently Higurashi is disturbing horror, but again, it looks so typically cute and “otaku” that I’m having trouble motivating myself to sit down and watch the damn thing. I had the same problem with Jigoku Shoujo; for so called horror, Enma Ai looked like such a calculated pin-up for fan culture that I eventually just lost interest.