Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage

Warning: spoilers ahead! Do not read this full article if you haven't seen Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage.

To quote reviewer Ed Liu at ToonZone, "If Cowboy Bebop is the anime equivalent of a sly, sexy come-on from the coolest human being you have ever seen, Black Lagoon is the equivalent of a punch in the face from a brash, abrasive biker." That seems to be the most apt description I can think of when preparing to talk about this awesome, awesome show, especially the second season. Like the first season, Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage is perhaps one of the finest efforts ever by Ocean Group, the Canadian voiceover/dubbing company behind Beast Wars, Death Note, Gundam Wing, Ranma 1/2, Escaflowne, Inuyasha and many others. While they occasionally lack the consistency of some of the best LA or Texas dubs, their stronger efforts are frequently incredible. This is certainly true for both the first and second seasons of Black Lagoon, but they still manage to outdo themselves on The Second Barrage.

This review will be divided into two main sections: a discussion of the regular characters and their dub performances and then reviews of the three Season 2 arcs which will cover all the new/returning guest characters introduced in those arcs. Yes, this will be long.

The Regulars
ROKURO "ROCK" OKAJIMA (Brad Swaile)-Swaile tends to play most of his roles in a pretty similar vocal range, and that's true here as well. What he varies is his acting choices; for example, in the equally superb Death Note dub, he plays the lead Villain Protagonist Light Yagami, who goes from a well-intentioned, freakishly intelligent young man to a complete psychopath over the course of the series, and Swaile plays it all beautifully. Contrast that to his role as Rock, where he stays in roughly the same vocal range but offers a completely different performance. Rock is simultaneously not fit and perfectly suited for living in Roanapur, and Swaile's performance reflects that. Yes, Rock is often kind, caring and optimistic, but every so often he displays a surprising ruthlessness or profane streak, which always feels like both a shock and yet completely right (i.e. we're shocked but we still totally buy it) thanks to Swaile's acting. Two of his best moments come in the "Fujiyama Gangster's Paradise": his meeting with Balalaika where he manages to talk his way out of getting shot with chilling ease, and his note-perfect "(Bleep) you!" after bashing the vile Chaka in the head with a bowling pin.

REVY (Maryke Hendrikse)-Miss Hendrikse was not an actress I was familiar with prior to watching Lagoon, so I'm perhaps even more impressed by her work even though I eventually learned that she was no newcomer to the business. Hendrikse, much like Revy herself, completely dominates her scenes, swearing up a storm in a semi-gravelly tone that works beautifully for the emotionally conflicted gunslinger, and she manages the balance between Revy's brash exuberance and her darker, moodier moments. She also seems legitimately angry almost all of the time, with none of it feeling forced (well, from an acting standpoint; I have my doubts about the legitimacy of some of Revy's outbursts), and an especially good moment is when she threatens to kill Gretel after the latter.... disturbs Rock. Full marks for Miss Hendrikse.

DUTCH (Dean Redman)-Would you believe that this was Dean Redman's first anime dub? Yeah, me neither. Redman simply is Dutch, completely at ease and natural in the role. His performance helps Dutch transcend the "giant, cool black man" stereotype and into a legitimate character. Redman doesn't get as much to do this season, but each moment he does have is absolutely perfect.

BENNY (Brian Drummond)-As in the first season, Drummond's performance is a nice blend of easygoing charm and general geekiness, which suits Benny perfectly. No complaints.

EDA (Lisa Ann Beley)-Beley's spirited, enthusiastic performance fits this unorthodox nun perfectly, although she does do quite well with Eda's rare serious moments.

BALALAIKA (Patricia Drake)-While she doesn't really sound Russian (sounds more like a British accent to me), Drake is otherwise superb as the frightening-but-beautiful crime boss Balalaika. She nails every aspect of Balalaika: her dark sense of humor, her sense of duty to her men, and her seeming utter lack of morals, especially in the final arc where we see just how far she's willing to go to gain power.

HANSEL (Ashleigh Ball) and GRETEL (Jocelyne Loewen)-"Creepy" is hard to play: it can often be either too much or too little, and this applies to voice acting as well. Thankfully, Ball and Lowen manage to avoid the various pitfalls of "playing it creepy" as the main antagonists of Lagoon's most purely unsettling story. Part of the challenge is that Hansel and Gretel, while deeply disturbed and depraved (alliteration is fun) thanks to their horrible "upbringing", are still children, and thus have a different outlook on life than the adult characters. Ball and Loewen are both excellent at portraying both sides of their characters, and on occasion even manage to make you feel some sympathy for these little monsters (Ball's pathetic whimpering as Hansel slowly bleeds to death is a great example). Loewen also shows off her lovely singing voice in the final episode of the arc, and I'm glad they let her do it.

VERROCHIO (Scott McNeil)-Verrochio doesn't last long, but what little time he does have is massively entertaining thanks to McNeil's hilariously over-the-top Italian accent.

BORIS (Mark Acheson)-Acheson continues to be rock-solid as Balalaika's utterly loyal lieutenant, and he has a nice moment near the end of the arc where even he's shocked at her ruthless nature.


JANET BHAI (Kelly Sheridan)-Admittedly, the titular Jane is kind of annoying, but Sheridan does a good job of making her not too annoying, as well as portraying her smug braininess.

"GROOVY GUY" RUSSELL (Brian Dobson)-Dobson is a lot of fun here as the increasingly frustrated cowboy, with funny moments coming from both his frustration at essentially being ignored and his exaggerated Southern accent/mannerisms. He also gets a great hyperbolic statement near the end of the arc that is, alas, too naughty to post here (well, probably) that involves what he's going to do after this mess is over.

SHENHUA (Saffron Henderson)-A lot of the fun of this arc comes from the various colorful bounty hunters who show up to catch Greenback Jane, and one we've met before is Shenhua, the beautiful but deadly knife-wielding Taiwanese woman who speaks broken English that is probably very offensive but still hilarious. Henderson continues to be a hoot in this role, and her gusto manages to make me overlook the stereotype factor.

FREDERICA SAWYER "THE CLEANER" (Venus Terzo)-Aided by an electronic filter of some sort since Sawyer speaks with a voicebox, Terzo is nicely creepy but fun as the chainsaw-wielding goth.

LAWTON "THE WIZARD" (Sam Vincent)-Vincent doesn't have many lines as the overdramatic-but-benevolent gunslinger, but he nails all of them, especially Lawton's hilarious speech interrupted by Revy's bullet.

CLAUDE "TORCH WEAVER (Jason Simpson)-Simpson makes the corpulent pyromaniac into a threatening figure thanks to the sheer disconnect between his light, calm voice and his divorced-from-reality attitude and lines.


YUKIO WASHIMINE (Lalainia Lindbjerg)
-Miss Lindbjerg has a difficult role to play here: she has to seem convincing as both a book-loving high school student and a budding crime lord. Thankfully, she meets that challenge head-on, with the highlight of her performance being the speech she makes to Rock that deconstructs his motivations after the bowling alley confrontation.

GINJI MATSUZAKI (Michael Adamthwaite)-Adamthwaite manages to make the tall, imposing swordsman into a compelling figure with his authoritative performance, and he manages Ginji's quieter moments equally well.

CHAKA (Jonathan Holmes)-Chaka is a truly despicable creature even by Lagoon's fairly lax standards, and Holmes goes all-out in both sleaze and arrogant machismo, matched only by his glorious panicking and empty threats as he dies in a truly pathetic way.

The other Washimine gangsters are voiced excellently, and Ashleigh Ball does a good job as Yukio's friend Maki.

In conclusion, The Second Barrage is a great show and a great dub. Check it out.