Am I going to anime prison for not liking Black Lagoon?
Whenever people are putting together some sort of list of top action anime or top seinen anime, I’ve seen Black Lagoon’s name pretty much up there most of the time and that’s what led me to watch this anime finally…and I did….and I hated it. It’s not that the show is bad but I think it’s just not my taste. Maybe a decade ago I would have enjoyed it but not anymore. Yes it’s very dark but it felt more Shonen in its execution to me than seinen.
I liked the first couple of episodes but post that it was slow going for me and after a point I had to really push myself to get through it. Normally, I watch anime in Japanese with English subs but I was so bored here I switched to English so it could run in the background while I did other stuff like drawing or whatever. Having said that, there was still some stuff I sort of liked so here goes:
What I Liked
The Kick-ass women
Honestly, this is one action anime in which I felt the guys were sort of there just for decorative purposes. I mean, our main action hero here is ‘Two-hands’ Revy, and pretty much all the other major fighters/power-mongers in the show are women. Case in point, Balalaika, Eda, Roberta, Fabiola. Our damsel in distress role goes to Rock and the other men like Dutch, Benny etc. all sort of take these supporting ‘cheering-from-the-sidelines’ roles which is kind of a different flavour. The whole ‘Hotel Moscow’ (what a cool name) and the underworld universe of Black Lagoon centred around the fictional Roanapur in general kind of did appeal to me.
Touching on Difficult and Unusual Themes
The anime goes explicitly into detail around very disturbing themes from the underworld, wars, government corruption etc. but perhaps what disturbed me the most was how much it touches upon people’s loss of control over their lives due to such extenuating circumstances and on stuff you generally won’t see anime go into like child pornography etc. It’s very bold and does manage to absolutely fuck with your head on these fronts which I guess is both a credit to the writers and also something to be careful of when watching it. It got extremely disturbing at-times and the episode with the Twins took me a while to wrap my head around even though I’m no stranger to awareness of the themes it touched on (it was so disturbing I can’t even add their image here).
Dutch and Benny
I like them…I just do. I don’t know why. Dutch reminds me a bit of Jet Black and Benny is just a pretty cool character though he doesn’t really do much. I like their equation I guess. Also, “Dutchi” is responsible for the line which is perhaps my only takeaway from the show “Amen. Hallelujah. Peanut Butter.” so there’s that too.
The John Woo Connection
I love anything which references John Woo ok and my post on Bebop’s references to John Woo is still WIP but I loved the homage paid through Revy’s name ‘Two-Hands’ of Woo’s characters shooting with two guns at-once. There are probably more references but my favourite was seeing Mr. Chang and just flashing back to Chow Yun Fat in The Killer. This article goes into more detail on the John Woo connection in Black Lagoon.
What I hated
Subtlety of a Bat to your Face
Maybe it’s because I’ve watched so much Bebop lately, which is a study in intelligent subtlety, or the general fact that I personally enjoy stories which don’t show or tell me everything but let me do a bit of the work, but I found Black Lagoon to be way too cliche. Everything is told to you. Rather than show you character development they sort of shove it in your face. This is where I got the sense of a Shonen anime rather than Seinen. It messes with your head by just piling on dark themes in a very cliche and explicit manner, rather than tug at your morality through mind games like a Death Note or a Monster would. At times, I felt like I was watching Yu-Gi-Oh but with guns and gore.
That infernal “Young Master” and Roberta shit
The Lovelace kid..that child made me want to throw my television out. First of all, why is he always called the “Young Master”?? Secondly, I know they try to do this whole character development arc of him going from a child to acting like a mature “man” but I didn’t see much maturity honestly. I’m just told by everyone he’s doing it but I don’t see it. He just came across as this snivelling idiot who should’ve stayed home. They had all the right elements-juxtaposition of his innocence and sentimentality against the dark circumstances he finds himself in but just executed haphazardly and poorly. In fact, I hated that whole Roberta arc-third season was a write-off for me.
Rock and Revy
When this started off, I genuinely thought this equation might play out along the lines of something like Batou and Major Kusanagi…maybe a more pacifist Batou…dunno…but nope. Rock falls both in the category of what I liked and what I hated. I liked the kind of transition for him from being naive and idealistic to more jaded and darker while still not losing the “good” in him completely but again but it was too partial. He stayed in neither boat and felt way too cliche. He would randomly be the good guy in one sequence, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and be shown acting “dark and tough” in the next…which could work well if it weren’t again executed with zero subtlety.
I did sometimes enjoy his equation with Revy but she’s way too cliche and self-pitying for me to really bother getting invested in her either. There are so many Tsundere female characters who run on the same kind of theme where they are difficult people but you realise it’s because of everything they have been through (case in point, someone I have been writing extensively on, Faye Valentine) but in Revy again it is very random and over-the-top. Their equation had its moments too and I enjoyed the below sequence plus the fight they had just before this but it was nowhere near as platonically subtle but powerful equation of Batou and the Major or the will-they/won’t-they barely discernible not-quite-platonic equation of Spike and Faye (they’re heavily on my mind these days ok?).
Moves way too slow…
Again, this might be because of a hang-up from all the Bebop watching which is again a study on the finesse of minimalism but even while re-watching others like Mushishi, Kino etc. I did not get the sense of the story moving unnecessarily slow that I did with Black Lagoon. Third season I got so bored I had to bribe myself to finish it. Roberta did not need a whole season to herself-that could have all been one, max two episodes in my opinion. There isn’t much of a story to Black Lagoon really but whatever there is doesn’t really go anywhere, is very random, moves very slowly and failed to really leave an impact on me.
I wonder if maybe the manga is a different taste but, given the paucity in time which I generally suffer from, reading manga really isn’t a real possibility for me anymore. As a kid, I used to pretty much read manga exclusively with very little anime-watching but I’m not that kid anymore. Anyway, this was talking only about the anime so am not claiming any reflection of this on the manga anyway.
If you like Black Lagoon and feel I’ve missed out on understanding something critical, drop me a line in the comments and let me know your views. Always happy to hear them.