And so the most intelligent and exciting action anime to come along in a while closes its most extensive arc yet, with plenty of room for more seasons to come. (Though my hopes that Yukio, the schoolgirl Yakuza boss, might become a recurring character were, alas, not to be.) The reflective dialogue in this and the previous episodes lifts Black Lagoon into the ranks of the more intelligent action genre films like Michael Mann’s Heat or Collateral. This is also a show that isn’t afraid to develop characters very well, only to kill them off –arguably, Yukio is better sketched than mainstays Rock and Revy, though here we get to see a very, very vulnerable (for her) side of Revy. She’s back in character by the very last scene but we get the impression that when she says “If it were anyone but you, I’d have put two or three holes in you” it is as close to a love confession as she will ever come to.
Some of the broader issues Black Lagoon brings up are very interesting. Rock throughout the show, though more at the beginning, represents “civilian” values or perhaps more precisely the point of view of someone accustomed to comfort and unused to the brutally utilitarian underworld. The show, usually through the voices of Revy and Balalaika, works hard to undermine that viewpoint as being naive and arbitrary (though I wonder: Revy, ostensibly a nonbeliever, blurts out in episode 23 that the only thing that saved Rock’s skin was “God’s grace” and Balalaika’s surprising mercy). Eventually Rock adopts many of the values of the underworld, though never without completely losing any sense of compassion. It’s as if he has come to some sort of balance, of a sort, able to act decisively and coldly when necessary, but without becoming a war addict like Balalaika.
If one wants to push it a bit one can see a little of the realization that the pacifistic attitude among many modern Japanese is based less on principle and more on denial. I certainly agree, if the naive pacifism of many an anime is any indicator of general attitudes in Japan. Now I’m not sure the violent cynicism that passes for cool in this show–a very American attitude, I might add, and one which will make this show very easy to swallow for fans of films like Pulp Fiction and The Boondock Saints–is any better, but it certainly has a better claim on reality, I think. (The characters, Yakuza schoolgirl and Revy included, are also self-aware enough to admit that part of them longs for the flabby tranquility that Rock’s Japan stands for.) I also find it interesting that the prevailing attitude of most of the characters in the show is that they are beyond help, beyond any point where they can change their paths. This fatalistic attitude, laden with notions of “destiny,” is what seems more “Japanese” about it; Americans are more inclined to think that “it’s never too late to start again!” But everyone in this show already considers themselves as living in the twilight, as living dead. The Sartre quotations are oddly appropriate; the existentialist despair that pervades this show demands nothing less. There’s nothing left except to make one’s own meaning and go all the way, guns blazing.
More excellent analysis of this final episode is here.
So: Black Lagoon ends fittingly, with a gun shot, with the characters returning to their posts and ready for more adventures. May they go on many more than we otaku fanboys can see. Preferably with her: