East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Going through the Second Barrage

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A lot of online reviewers were less than kind with Black Lagoon‘s second season – called The Second Barrage. Most lamented the absence of Dutch and Benny from many episodes, the excessive focus on Rock and Revy’s “relationship”, and the less frantic action. So I was rather curious to see what it would look like.
And to me it looks… quite interesting.

To recap, Black Lagoon is an early 2000s anime/manga series set in the ’90s, and focusing on the day-to-day lives of a team of mercenaries, the Black Lagoon Trading Co., operating in the South China Sea. The first season follows four successive narrative arcs, throwing in a lot of firepower and an ample cast of supporting characters – including an organization of gun-running nuns, a Triad’s boss that is obviously Chow Yun Fat from A better tomorrow II, and a formidable unit of former Soviet special forces, known as Hotel Moscow, now working for the Russian Mafia.

The second season picks up where the first left off, and hits us with a first arc, in three episodes, that is possibly the most disturbing non-supernatural horror I’ve seen in a while. The “Hansel & Gretel” storyline openly name-checks Richard Matheson and references Kubrick’s Shining, but it also takes inspiration from Dan Simmons’ Children of the Night for a very bleak plot about a couple of adolescent sociopath killers with a very dark past and an even more twisted personality. Morbid and thoroughly messed up, gory and somewhat unpleasant, the episodes go into some very unsavory places, and the last ten minutes are a sequence of punches in the gut.

Mercifully we shift to a lighter arc with the follow-up, “Greenback Jane” – extremely violent and downright silly at times, as all the bounty-hunters in Roanapur hunt for the titular counterfeit money expert, and she enlists the Black Lagoon Trading Co. for a quick getaway. Silly, but after “Hansel & Gretel”, a much needed breath of fresh air.

The second half of the season is taken up by the longest story arc, the “Snow-White” sequence, and I can see the viewers that had loved the first series felt it like a let down. A straightforward Yakuza-movie-style storyline, it focuses on a lengthy operation by the Hotel Moscow crew in Tokyo, with Rock serving as an interpreter and Revy as his bodyguard.

Gangland politics and issues of loyalty and tradition take center stage, and the underlying worldview of the series – with the characters living in a twilight zone between the daylight of “normal life” and the darkness of the criminal underground – is made explicit.
Dutch and Benny are mostly absent, but each has a single scene in which to shine – Dutch in particular discussing Jean Paul Sartre and then dismissing the whole existentialist thing with a quote for the ages.

And so, yes, I liked it.
The first three episodes really made me uneasy and creeped me out a bit, but that’s what good psychological horror is supposed to do – you need to really hate it, because it’s too close to the bone. And if it’s well done, it makes you think about stuff you usually do not think about.
And I liked how the series finally started throwing ideas at me, and not just bullets. To do so it goes into some very dark places, but then brings us back to the light, after a somewhat rough ride.

Now, I’ve the five-episodes miniseries Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Bloody Trail (yeah, they go for classy titles in this series) and then my excursion in Roanapur will be over. I’ll save it for the weekend.
While not my top anime series by a long shot, this one’s being a much welcome diversion, and a brief and sometimes painful masterclass in high-octane action-adventure with ideas in it.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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