Blu-ray Review: BLACK LAGOON: ROBERTA'S BLOOD TRAIL, A Welcome Revisit
Let's start this review with saying that I am a huge fan of the first two seasons of Black Lagoon (reviewed here). The last storyline of the second season was arguably the best yet, ending all characters at a low point while leaving all other things the series was already so good for at a high point.
Then, in 2010, season three arrived, or rather Roberta's Blood Trail. For while the episode-numbering continued as normal, the format changed from a regular twelve-part series to a shorter five-OVA series, telling a single, longer story using longer (but fewer) parts.
This sort-of-third-season has now finally arrived on Blu-ray all over the world, with the UK getting its own version in a few weeks. Is it worth checking out? If you're a fan like me, the answer is an unequivocal, resounding HELL YES!!!
Rest assured I will elaborate, while trying to remain spoiler-free where possible. Read on...
After her employer is killed in a political bombing, the Colombian maid Roberta goes on a rampage to punish those she deems responsible. Having in the past been one of Farq's top assassins herself, she is very successful, drawing the attention of intelligence agencies all over the globe.
When her next target is suspected to be in the Thai city of Roanapur, all the criminal factions there understandably start to panic, as Roberta's previous visit left quite a bodycount. The Black Lagoon pirate crew tries to stay uninvolved, but this proves impossible once Rock's help is requested. And when the target and scope of Roberta's plans are uncovered, the city's panic turns to bloody horror...
We're back in the world of Black Lagoon, and what a welcome revisit this is. I felt goosebumps during the opening credits of Roberta's Blood Trail, as even in remix everything is there: the killer music, the crap lyrics and pronunciation...
And, like its opening credits imply, at first a mere remix seems to be what we are getting. Roberta visited Roanapur before in season one and already left a blood trail then, so what else is new?
But as the first episode unfolds, the plot turns out to have a lot more meat on its bones than just having old friends revisit one another for a merry-go-massacre.
For starters, Lagoon Company is pretty traumatized after the Japanese adventure at the end of season two. Series "Leading man" Rock especially wrestles with guilt, after failing to save... well, whatever and whoever he wanted to save.
Second, Roberta is no longer the coldblooded terminator-like unbeatable killer she was previously. This time her mission is one of self-destruction, wanting to die in as large a blaze of glory as she can achieve. On top of that she is crazy, drug-addicted and suffering from hallucinations. Yipes!
Also, the Roanapurian cannon fodder this time isn't just some criminal cartel. The power games behind the scenes are intricate and impressively detailed. Every faction, be it criminal or, eh... VERY criminal, acknowledges that a disaster is happening but attempts to profit from the situation. With Rock tentatively trying out an evil power game of his own, the web of protections and betrayals becomes mind-boggling once hurricane Roberta hits the city.
And once the violence starts, the series shows its unique talent of having a cake AND eating it. While this is definitely violence for entertainment's sake, gloriously over-the-top flashy and gory, it does show the sad aftereffects and warns against the desensitization that comes with it. The moral tightrope-walking here is impressive: whenever Black Lagoon threatens to become preachy on the subject, it suddenly throws in stuff like a serial chainsaw killing for comic relief!
Similarly, instead of going for the easy fanservice, director Katabuchi Sunao once again aims a bit higher than expected. Fan-favorites like Revy do not get the limelight as much as you'd expect, and while the attractive women in the series do have an occasional side-boob-in-the-shower shot, it never gets as lurid as the opening credits imply. What you DO get is a solid story, in which all characters, even the bit-part ones, evolve a bit or die.
It manages to be an homage to action films, a parody of action films, and a damn good action film, while staying consistent and true to itself. And that is very impressive.
The previous two seasons of Black Lagoon left me with high expectations, and to my surprise these were fully met without pandering to the fans. Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail cements its status as one of the best contemporary action anime and comes with the highest recommendation. It does the trick of making the series as a whole even richer, and its only fault is that it leaves me begging for more.
On To The Discs:
This review is for Funimation's USA Blu-ray and DVD release. Note that the Blu is for region A only. However, Manga UK's release should be almost completely similar in most regards (same dubs, same subs) and will be out the first week of December for region B.
The AV quality is excellent. Because of the artwork styles used, this is not a title which will make you buy a Blu-ray player. The DVD suffices, but having said that, if you do have a Blu-ray player, opt for the Blu as it is plain better.
There are two soundtracks: a 5.1 English and a 2.0 Japanese. Both are in True HD, with the English one having the edge soundwise (as it is in 5.1).
Extras are a textless version of the end credits and a US trailer. Apart from that there are trailers for several other new Funimation titles but that's it. Pretty bare-bones, but then again this isn't an expensive release. It does the job, and the job is good.