Six hours ago, ALTIMA made a daring promise. The Japanese pop trio, responding to a question of whether they would ever cover a Run DMC song, boldly urged members of the press and public to attend their evening Otakon concert.
One hour ago, they delivered.
Full of power, grace, and confidence, ALTIMA put on a dynamic performance – flitting about the stage, posing with each other, and swapping keyboards for guitars. They stopped at nothing to please the audience – dancing, strutting, jumping, and thrilling Baltimore with rousing renditions of Run DMC’s ‘Walk This Way’ and Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock n Roll.’ The audience responded with adulation – jumping out of their seats, waving colored glow sticks, and even running in place as Motsu trotted out Japanese dances for them to attempt.
Everything was on the mark: the sound technicians, the lighting, the beat, and the cavorting performers. There was one time when a sound tech did not make an instantaneous adjustment, but it meant nothing next to the sheer energy and raw enthusiasm displayed by Motsu and Maon, set against the backdrop of digital pop provided by Sat.
There are times in live performances where the human element falters, rendering the result less than a recording, and there are times when humanity rises to all challenges and creates a work of true beauty and matchless wonder. At the end of the concert, Maon cried out that she would remember it for the rest of her life. This was no exaggeration.
The music video makes quite a few references to existing music videos, as well as to famous scenes in rock and punk music. For the curious, I’ve listed all those I was able to recognize below. Panty’s concert outfit references riot-grrl performers in general, whereas Stocking looks generally like a gothloli (think Kanon Wakeshima in darker colors, with a slightly different hat.) Costumes change quite a bit; Garterbelt starts out in nondescript black and is at one point dressed as Freddie Mercury (which is about as far from nondescript as one can get.) The imprint in the corner of the screen, PSG, resembles the MTV logo imprint. More specific references follow:
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: