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Black Lagoon: The Complete Series (Premium Edition)
The highwater mark on a personal level for me when it comes to anime series' is "Cowboy Bebop" an essentially universally loved tale of bounty hunters in a not so distant future world. Sometime around 2006 though, a series launched, based off a manga of the same name and it took nearly a decade for it to make it into my hands. "Black Lagoon" presented here as a complete series (a possible misnomer I'll touch on later) is very likely a series a "Cowboy Bebop" fan would be wise to check into; more than that, it's an anime series that serves as a gateway to newcomers, provided that audience is a mature one. Spanning 24 episodes over two seasons and an OVA (presented here as an additional five episodes), "Black Lagoon" hits the ground running as Rock, the series' conduit to the normal world and in turn the viewer, is kidnapped by Lagoon Company, a band of modern day pirates consisting of Dutch, Benny, and Revy. Two episodes in and Rock decides his former life as an everyday businessman is worthy of trading in as he stays with Lagoon Company on a series of high octane escapades that leave little time to catch one's breath.
"Black Lagoon" is most definitely an acquired taste, pulling zero punches in the action and language department (at least on the English dub). It's first and foremost, loud, chaotic, thrilling, bloody, and vulgar. Yet, those willing to look past its rough, but incredibly stylishly executed exterior and there's a story which unfolds that holds its own as a solid entry into the action-crime genre. With the addition of Rock to Lagoon Company, the over-the-top antics of Revy continue, but now the band of pirates have at their disposal an arsenal of above board skills in the world of negotiation and business dealings. At the end of the day though, the show belongs to Revy, the female heroine of Lagoon Company; at a glance her character design echoes Lara Croft, but her attitude and approach to action is 100% Chow Yun-Fat through and through. Revy is a skilled marksman and fighter and her action scenes provide "Black Lagoon" with some of their most memorable moments.
As the show progresses, especially in the second season, our characters are allowed some growth and evolve as unique entities, as do the various organizations our heroes encounter: the CIA, Russian Mafia, Hong Kong Triad and a Colombian cartel are just a few of the shadowy underworld areas "Black Lagoon" dips its toes into. "Black Lagoon" is not just bloody and violent at times, it also pulls no punches in its depiction of the criminal underworld with crimes running the gamut from theft and assassination to themes of underground pornography and snuff films. It's a series that decimates the notion anime is "kids stuff" instead offering a product that would have a hard time earning an "R" rating if it were a film.
The highlight of "Black Lagoon" though is its focus on Revy's physical match and psychological foil, Roberta. A psychotic through and through, Roberta is force of nature that strikes fear in the hearts of all characters she encounters over the course of the series and sends Revy's blood into a boil at all opportunities. Roberta is a critical force in season one and the five final episodes, aptly collected as "Roberta's Blood Trail". As an entire package though, "Black Lagoon" is an incredibly entertaining experience and ends, at least for now (the series is still being written in manga form and there are talks of a season four), on a high note.
For those on the fence, I urge a plunge to be taken on "Black Lagoon" as it is top-notch action entertainment. Seasoned anime fans comfortable with the content are going to love it, while newcomers are going to walk away with a greater appreciation for the artform. I am personally, by no means an anime connoisseur and it's not often a series grabs me like this, but "Black Lagoon" exceeded every expectation I had for it. It's a thoroughly engaging action-crime series with a captivating protagonist, intriguing supporting characters, beautiful animation and phenomenally adapted dialogue to an English audience; the original Japanese audio tells the same tale, but without the more vulgar harder edged tinge that the dub offers, which is actually more fitting the style of the series. If this truly is the "Complete Series" then "Black Lagoon" has left a profound mark, if there's more to come, I say bring it.
The 1080p 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is incredibly sharp and eye pleasing. Colors are very clear and crisp as is the linework on the animation. Characters pop on screen and backgrounds hold up just as nicely, boasting an immersive visual environment from start to finish. Overall, this is a very clean transfer and is free of any technical hiccups that might give the series an inferior look.
The audio tracks are two very interesting points when it comes to the tone of "Black Lagoon". The original language Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 track is entirely serviceable, featuring clear dialogue and consistent mixing of effects and score. As a 2.0 track it only offers so much in terms of extra dramatic flair and kick. Along with the English subtitles for this track, this incarnation of "Black Lagoon" is a stark contrast to the highly kinetic action and violence on screen. The same can't be said for the DTS-HD Master 5.1 English dub, which takes everything that worked about the sound design of the 2.0 track and amps it to 11. The surrounds are used to great effect and the low-end is given a chance to flex its muscles repeatedly. Most interesting though, is the quality of the dub and its content/tone. Unlike the subtitled Japanese track, the English dub feels very much like the action on screen and isn't afraid to let the profanity fly; I'd argue the English version of "Black Lagoon" could stand toe-to-toe with "Deadwood" in the profanity department, and frankly, it fits the tone of the animation well. Either way you cut it, "Black Lagoon" delivers a pleasing aural experience, although the full surround dub has a lot more life to give.
First and foremost, the limited edition release of "Black Lagoon: The Complete Series" comes in a quite beautiful, thematic package. The discs are housed in a standard, multi-disc digipack which comes enclosed in an outer box resembling an ammo case. In addition to the discs, there's a small art booklet and a box that looks like a brick of C4 that contains a metal dog tag and high quality lighter black lighter with the show's title card (it looks to be a Zippo style and it obviously doesn't come with lighter fluid). In terms of actual extras, the most substantial feature is a behind-the-scenes look at the English language production. That aside, the remainder of the extras consist of a CD promo, two promo videos, textless opening and closing sequences, and a trailer gallery. It's a big shame for such a nice package supporting a phenomenal show, there wasn't a little more meat on the bones of the extras.
If a fourth season of "Black Lagoon" does arrive, it might render this "complete series" package entirely false in name. That doesn't mean if you don't already own "Black Lagoon" you should pass it up. The nearly 30-episodes offered here tell a very entertaining tale and as the story becomes more serialized, the more fascinating things get. Technically the A/V is top notch, with a very surprising English dub that feels like the rare improvement over the original language track. This premium edition is a little overkill and doesn't add anything in terms of digital extras that wasn't already on standalone season releases. Still, "Black Lagoon" is top-tier action anime, no, strike that; it's top-tier action programming, period. Highly Recommended.