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Hugh David returns to the Black Lagoon

Dutch, Benny, Rock and Revy are back for one more tough job as the Lagoon Trading Company of Roanapur, Thailand. Madhouse Studios adapted the four manga volumes covering the last arc of Rei Hiroe’s action-packed manga before its 2010 hiatus as five videos, released in Japan across 2010 and 2011, and there does not seem to have been much of a drop in quality from the first two seasons of Black Lagoon.

Everything about the show that fans love is present and correct, but at the same time, this is not the place for newbies to start with one of the best anime series of this decade. Sure, you could watch episodes 7 through 10 of the first series and be up to speed on the characters of lethal housemaid Roberta and Venezuelan heir Garcia, both of whom return for this new story arc. But you still wouldn’t see how Rock and Revy’s characters have developed since they first met, and how they are changing and being changed by each other.

This most unlikely of anime (potential) couples, the brutalised Chinese-American gunslinger and the former kidnapped Japanese salaryman, looked like they might just be starting to level out the weird relationship between them into something more normal in the “Fujiyama Gangster’s Paradise” arc that ended The Second Barrage. By the end of it, however, things were muddier still.

Roberta’s Blood Trail is, for all the blood and thunder, a more soulful arc than some of the earlier Lagoon Trading Company adventures. We get glimpses into people’s pasts, and look at the weight in the present of decisions made or actions taken or suffered in those pasts. Consequences, something absent from most lightweight action tales, are important in Black Lagoon, and are very much what set this series apart from the rest. The darkness that many of the characters have accepted as their lives now swirls around Rock and the decisions he makes; he is finally about to become one with the rest of Roanapur’s criminal underworld. If he does, though, he will lose the very thing about him that inspires Revy’s soft spot for him.

That we can have a conversation about characters and morality in a pure action anime is the real reason to love Black Lagoon. This is not the quippy carnage of post-Die Hard U.S. action cinema, where all the slaughter is made morally comfortable by a joke here or there; this is the hard-boiled brutality of an earlier era filtered through 1980s Hong Kong action cinema stylistics, a 21st century anime with more in common with spaghetti westerns, Yakuza flicks and American 70s/80s actioners than other anime. Horrible things are done by individuals long since corrupted by their choices in life, which makes Revy’s psychopathic nature almost honest by comparison. Nonetheless, her mad-dog personality has started to slowly inch towards a humanity Rock would recognise, and it is that which makes following their journey worthwhile.

With Roberta’s Blood Trail, however, it is Rock who is losing himself. As guns blaze and scores are settled in the jungle of the Golden Triangle, will our leading man’s schemes pay off for everyone? Or will the costs they all pay for his actions be too much for him to bear?

Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.

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