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Hugh David gets to the heart of darkness

Black Lagoon’s appeal to its fans seems obvious enough: a down-and-dirty “A-Team” in an outlaw town with a ferocious girl with a gun” on point, tangled up with colourful yet dark villains in crisp action sequences. However, there is also darkness that envelopes the heroine herself, symbolised by the moody final credits, and in a few key moments of vulnerability buried within the fast-cut opening sequence. Revy at first seems like other male-fantasy “girls with guns” charcters, but the depths granted her by her particular darkness lift her above those who preceded her in the fanboy imagination.

One could argue that her sexy curves and cut-offs make her just like all the others, but such a look is ruined by an unsmiling mouth and dead eyes – past simple tough-guy mannerisms to borderline psychotic behaviour. In her world there are no princesses and fairy-tales, no happy endings, nor any notion that she might deserve one. She resembles the kinds of protagonists who peppered the spaghetti western genre, people shaped by crime, poverty, hardship and living on the blunt end of raw, unfettered capitalism. Revy’s take-no-prisoner actions and bad girl attitude may make her popular in the mass market, but her treatment of audience surrogate Rock from the moment they meet, then during Season 1’s Nazi submarine adventure, and right through Season 2’s Yakuza storyline in particular, reinforces everything that makes them incompatible. Such a refusal to make them a genuine couple, to undermine whatever closeness and warmth look to develop between them, goes against the grain for most popular fan-friendly manga and anime. The most likely end for this couple will be her killing him, either for mercy or so she can survive.

The villains of Black Lagoon are frequently even more damaged, while for all the comedic moments generated by their sometimes allies – Russian ex-para mob boss Balalaika, killer CIA nun Eda, knife-wielding assassin Chinglish – they all carry the darkness that made them killers. Even they, however, can be shocked by Revy and her actions, just like her boss Dutch, who sometimes seems to be concerned behind those permanent sunglasses that she’s a mad dog he can barely control. The traditional Girl With a Gun in anime and manga is frequently sexy, alluring, and in some way available (or potentially so) to an audience surrogate. Revy, like the show, takes the tradition and shoots it cold in the street, the way Italian cinema took the American Western in the 1960s and the American crime film in the 1970s and gunned down their traditions – and that makes her, like Italian popular cinema, more brutally realistic.

Black Lagoon season two is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.


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