Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Anime Review: Black Lagoon Roberta's Blood Trail

Well Makota Magica was depressing. I need something fun, simple and  light-hearted.

Nah I'm just kidding I've lost too many man points as it is, but let's at least watch a show where shit blows up good enough to deaden the depressing undertones. Who cares if the eponymous character has spiraled so far down the hole of pills and revenge that she's forgotten why she fights when I get an explodathon Robert Rodriguez and Micheal Bay would be envious of? "Don't be stupid. This is more entertaining than Hollywood could ever be."

Time to watch with Roberta's Blood Trail.

But time for back story. Roberta's Blood Trail is a short OVA think, animated miniseries, that serves as the third season of Black Lagoon.

The premise of the show is that a bunch of modern unromantic pirates hijack a boat for military grade software and try to ransom the japanese salaryman who was carrying it. His boss is a total douche leaving him to his fate. With nothing better to do Rokuro a.k.a. Rock joins up with the pirates using his skills as a top notch negotiator and businessman to their advantage, while still being absolutely horrified at the behavior of them and their associates, mercenaries and mob bosses.

From there the show is mostly about Rock futilely trying control the chaos that is their home town and minimize the damage. That and the crazy insane action that ensues when he fails.

This isn't about Second Barrage and the Yakuza arc but well those plans don't work and the start of Blood Trail sees him at his absolute lowest.

But let's talk about Roberta.

A previous arc saw our protagonists at the behest of a Columbian cartel kidnap the heir of a South American patrician not realizing his maid, who honestly loved the kid was a reformed guerrilla. It doesn't take much to make Roberta, the Bloodhound of Florencia not so reformed. In the end Roberta causes so much havoc in that crazy town that a third party forces both parties to lay down arms with implicit threats. Let it go or Balalaika, the leader of the city's Russian mafia will end you.

And the whole damn town remembers. This time around the thought of her back is enough to get the mortal enemy leaders of the local Russian and Chinese mafias to lay aside their gambits, well partially lay aside their gambits being mortal enemies and all, and work together, even getting entangled with the U.S. army when terrorists blow up the patriarch.

The death of Roberta's master has made her crazier than usual, unleashing depression and schizophrenia. She is really far gone, the only thing keeping her going is her unrelenting quest for revenge and heavy doses of drugs. She's popping pills like candy. Before she was a human terminator,

But in this by god they've pushed her further, not so much through the action but cinematography. The framing of her psychosis and fever dreams are haunting. The bloodhound was asleep and wants to return to those pleasant dreams but the horn was sounded and she can't bring herself to rest while the hunt is on.

The show always has had an international cast, the setting Roanapur being a fictional port city in Thailand. That said all of the factions have been desperately trying to avoid the gaze of the United States. The last thing they need is the marine corps and navy getting all up in their graft or worse upsetting the MAD scenario the city's major powers have going.  But if there is one thing that Uncle Sam will not abide it's terrorism and Roberta is a terrorist.

For our part it's hinted the U.S. government isn't exactly blameless in the assassination. It was more than an assassination, a coup. A coup that Uncle Sam was a bit more than complicit in. The NSA has some 'plainin' to do. Roberta is declaring a one woman war against the U.S. and there is only one way that ends.

Rock hates death, always wanting all the parties to survive, and in the last arc he put everything on the line and got a double bullet goose egg. He's having an existential crisis on whether or not to give up on his idealism completely.

The patrician's heir returns to our protagonists, Rock specifically, hoping to hire them to find Roberta in hopes of talking her down. Rock's gained a reputation for being the most level headed, if a bit naive, man in the city but between the Colombian cartel, the Russian mob (made up mostly of former Afghanistan vets), the Chinese syndicate, a rogue Cuban trained guerrilla, FARC, U.S. Special Forces, the CIA, NSA, and our protagonists The Lagoon Company (a bunch of smugglers and couriers) all of which are packing pretty heavy hardware, the show quickly becomes less about the job and more about staying the fuck alive through Roberta's Bloodtrail.

For most of the series thus far Rock has been trying to plead with everybody in this wretched hive to stay their hand and act within proportional response, but since intimidation is a primary tool for criminals that never goes over too well.

This time around instead he's decided to play everybody against each other so he gets what he considers the most beneficial and least destructive outcome turning himself into the grand puppet master of this massacre.

And it's kind of freaky. He knows he can't stop the madness so he's going to try to control it. The runt's grown some fangs, learned how to hunt, and is damn good at it. A scene that took me a while to get is when Rock is talking on the phone to his boss says, "We could make a real killing" and his boss suddenly out of sheer terror hangs up, not because he's never heard talk like that but because he's never heard it from Rock.

As you can imagine with all those factions floating around fighting for their own interests intrigue sets in and that might be disappointing. The real heavy action doesn't get started until half way in, but it really does help to make this a bit more of a character piece than usual.  Rock's been hanging around the mostly sociopathic Revy who's starting to get concerned how much like her he's starting to sound. She won't flat admit it but she cares about him and his slide into darkness is the worse fate she can think for him. She is who she is because she had to be and doesn't regret it. It was that or be a victim for the rest of her life raped and beaten until she died in a gutter.  She still believes Rock's got options. He still can choose to be the half decent human being she couldn't, but the door is closing.

Of course Revy has never been the touchy-feely type and leads one of the scrappier groups of combatants. This thing has been set up as a very military engagement and she's a wild card in all of this. Yes pistols, swords and chainsaws can go up against M-16s and rooftop sniper fire because of narrative protection and rule of cool. Once things get going it's wild wild show.

Rock's slide into darkness is also highlighted against the ideology, methodology and back story of Mr. Chang, the leader of the Chinese crime syndicate who used to be a Hong Kong cop. Chang prides himself on doing more or less what Rock is trying and the show pits the gambits of these two characters against each other. Visually further advancing the foil Chang looks like an older evil version of Rock and when Rock really starts to lose it, nonchalantly choosing who lives and who dies, shots are framed to increase the similarity. This show is king of the devil's maw. Never before have smiles frightened me so.

Garcia, the heir is also mildly interesting as a kid who's had to deal with way to much and is trying to man up. It's something that I've seen before but it is still interesting. He knows he's out of his depth and is willing to defer to the other chacters not because he's a kid but because he's smart enough to realize against stone cold killers he'd be dead in 10 seconds.

To wit, Balalaika here is particularly fascinating because this little war gives her an opportunity to settle several scores and it is really hard telling which side of the line she's on at any given time. She's got her modern rivalries and mafia interests, but her bloodlust is up as she pines for her days as a Russian commando. Her guys have always executed their orders with military precision but here it's clear her entire crew's been waiting for an opportunity prove it all wasn't a waste after the Afghanistan Withdrawal and end of the Cold War.

She's normally calm and cool but here we get a emotional storm from her, and the first rule of Roanapur is don't piss off the Russians.

On a more intellectual level I find it fascinating is that the show portrays several organizations of the United States government, a lot of whom have competing interests. Both the CIA guys and Army guys are pissed that the NSA guys started this whole FUBAR. They're in the killbox.

The Army Special Forces are generally portrayed heroically trying to toe the line and make the best of things while being over their heads on this one.

Talking about the CIA guys gives away a bit of a spoiler unless you've seen the whole show.

Eda, Revy's drinking buddy, and sister of the arms dealing Rip Off Church is a CIA agent.

She's been gaining intel from the Ripoff Church and subtly controlling Chang and by extension the whole city by feeding him international info. But this time 'round so much is going on that it's hard for her to keep up the speed chess and maintain her cover, especially from the smarter characters i.e. Rock and Chang who end up calculating her into their plans.

She always seems to be around at the right time to give the the right information to solve their current quandary.

An interesting theme that binds both Roberta and Rock is the Pyrrhic victory. Everybody around these characters can see it clearly. The conflicts they set in motion are futile and do not matter. Garcia the last person left alive she cares about doesn't give a hoot about revenge. And Rock as a character has gone so far down the hole that there no fooling himself that he's still the only sane man in all of this anymore. Furthermore the whole episode has changed jack squat in the city. It's still a pit.

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