Black Lagoon (ブラック・ラグーン) is a 24 episode action series from 2006 based on a manga by Rei Hiroe and animated by Madhouse.
After low-level businessman Rokuro Okajima is kidnapped and held for ransom on a work trip his company decides to leave him for dead to cover up their shady dealings. Preferring not to die Rokuro joins up with the pirates who kidnapped him and begins a new life of crime mingling with Triads, Mafia, Cartels, Russian Gangsters, Pirates, Smugglers and other lowlifes in a city of vice and lawlessness in the south pacific.
Did you ever wish 90s era Quentin Tarantino made an anime? Because Rei Hiroe did when he made the manga, and the influence is uncanny at times. This is a series about people on the wrong side of the law interacting with other bad people while making pop culture quips, talking pseudo-philosophy and shooting everything to hell with some of the toughest women around. Rarely are there series that do either character development or action as well as Black Lagoon does both, plus it can be pretty damn fun when it wants to be as it knows the best action is over-the-top action.
The series is split into a bunch of 3-episode mini-arcs which are fairly self-contained and can be watched in any order which helps as you can jump in anywhere, but the stand-out episode is by far episode 8 which is one of the single-best episodes of any series. Long ago the AVC did a TV Roundtable on a Sailor Moon episode, and as big a fan of Sailor Moon as I am they choose poorly; “Calm Down, Two Men” is a single episode story which shows the breadth of characters in the city they live as well as giving “Rock” one of the best character speeches there is. More than anything though, this is a series where every single character just oozes cool, especially the ladies who are all universally more badass than any of the guys- see header image for demonstration. Ok, one of the guys is based off of Chow Yun Fat so he can hang with the ladies, but Brother Chang is an exception.
Some of the arcs can be a little sluggish, especially the first extended arc after the introductory one. Also as befitting a Tarantino-inspired show it gets violent at times, with the first arc of its second season being especially brutal in places. If you’re looking for characters on the side of law and order this is not the series for you as everything single person in it is some kind of villain. There is also a 3rd OVA season that you’re better off ignoring unless you absolutely love the first two seasons and have to watch it for some reason. Additionally, while it has the best dub I’ve ever heard, be careful watching it with kids around as this is a series about pirates and outlaws and they swear, a lot. They swear enough to make Tarantino proud and most R-rated films blush. It has perhaps the only use of c-*t you’re going to hear in anime so yeah, its kinda vulgar at times.
Weeb Level: 1/10. Really I’d almost put this at 0 if I could as the series is full of Western pop culture references such as The Wild Bunch, Charles Whitman, Brett Farve, Terminator, Rob Zombie, the bombing of the US Kenyan Embassy and more. Hell, in one part of the manga there’s a shoot-out specifically set to the lyrics of CCR’s Run Through the Jungle.
Fanservice: 2/10. There’s no nudity, though being in the South Pacific causes some of the girls, notably Revy, to wear some rather skimpy clothes.
Quality: 10/10. My basis for quality is how rewatchable a show is both as a whole and as individual episodes and Black Lagoon nails both of those parameters easily. Even outside of the superb episode 8 you can just pick almost any other episode and rewatch it happily.
Where to Watch: Funimation has it up on their website, while Amazon does host the series though it looks like its not free even with Prime. Crunchyroll does not appear to have it up currently. The DVD’s have gone in and out of print somewhat as it was the last series Geneon released as they collapsed with Funimation since picking up the license.