Reviews

Black Lagoon (2006) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2020.

Subject

In the 1990s, a junior Japanese salaryman is taken hostage by a small team of expat US mercenaries near Thailand. Betrayed by his company and declared dead, he joins them: Chinese-American street thug Revy, African-American ex-Marine Dutch, and Benny, the laid-back part-Jewish mechanic. They do odd jobs as pirates, plunderers and foils of the world’s mafia, intelligence and terrorist organizations, operating out of the fictional Thai city of Roanapur.

Commentary

A seinen action adventure, complete with neo-Nazi buffoons. Paying tribute to US action cinema, Black Lagoon was a big hit in the USA. As in Outlaw Star (1998), even the commercial-break “eyecatch” comes with the sound of a shot, but here it’s inconsistent.

The plot is serialized across a few episodes at a time and the characters are all adults, but as in US genre action—in its contemporary post-9/11 state—life is cheap for ordinary thugs and the main characters have little depth, including a general lack of weaknesses, stakes and insecurities. The gloriously ominous closing credits sequence promises something more, and Revy’s gloom deepens accordingly in episode 6. Instead, we get Roberta, the ex-FARC maid gun bunny, which is not an improvement.

Something a bit darker closes the series: A Japanese Red Army veteran whose black-helmeted coup never happened in the student revolt under Okamoto Tarō’s “Tower of the Sun” instead plays a major role in a communist plot to bomb a US embassy and escalate to killing the US president. The veteran, Takenaka, sees right through the junior salaryman and escapes unscathed to continue his life as an “enemy of the state”, under the cover identity of a more senior Japanese businessman. Like Roberta, Takenaka seems disillusioned and maddened by his life for the ideology, but like Adrian Veidt, he’s no Republic serial villain.

In general, the tone of Urobuchi’s writing is indicative of Japan’s peaceful society. The extremely violent personal backgrounds—even Takenaka’s—are fantasies, stylized for a kind of dark glamour well outside the writer’s and viewer’s ranges of experience. I doubt Urobuchi actually had anything to say about Nazism or communism as they exist in the real world. Granted, there is more depth here than in Hard-Boiled (1992), but the TV-budget action sequences are uglier.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture series