Sound good so far? At worst, it'd be mindless action with some quirky characters. At best, it'd be surprisingly deep and philosophical with some creative situations and spectacular action sequences. No possible way to mess this up, RIGHT???
Seven episodes. I love the first seven episodes of Black Lagoon. They take down a helicopter with a torpedo boat. They obliterate a squadron of boats with one woman hopping from one to the next with a grenade launcher. They put the two most opposite characters alone in a sunken submarine and let them swap philosophies. They pit two search-and-rescue crews against each other without their knowledge. They introduce the gunrunning nuns of—I'm not kidding—the Ripoff Church. The stories are engaging, the animation is high-quality, the action sequences are great, and the characters are human. So much potential, Black Lagoon. And so much potential wasted.
As the series progresses, the show gets farther and farther away from its namesake. New antagonists and evil organizations take the stage, and refuse to give it back to the main characters. It's no longer about Rock, Dutch, Revy, Benny, and their boat. It's about cartels and terrorists and criminal syndicates, with periodic glimpses of how the heroes fit into the story of these other groups and individuals. Each story arc takes a gamble on a new premise centered around new characters, so you're out of luck for a few episodes if you're not on board with what might as well be the setup for an entirely different anime. It's not the crew or the boat that ultimately defines the series; the theme of villainy, in all its various forms, is the thread that holds the show together.
The boat barely shows up in the second half of the series. Half of the main cast is all but entirely absent from the last six episodes of the 24-episode series. The name of the show is the name of the ship. And if the show isn't about the ship, or the people that crew the ship, then Black Lagoon is sailing in the wrong direction.
There are moments that reminded me why I was initially so fond of this series. A gunfight between two headstrong women that degrades into a hilariously exhausted fistfight. The members of the Ripoff Church handling the armed goons at their door like they're obnoxious solicitors. The battle-hardened Revy showing a bunch of disbelieving kids what they should really look like when they play dead. Even as the plot started to drift away from the high-seas adventures that got me hooked in the first place, there was enough to keep me hopeful that the next story arc would put the series back on course.
I almost stopped watching when they introduced the incestuous gender-bending sexualized cannibal vampire murder children. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT!?!? WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH PIRACY?!?!? This went well beyond the limits of my comfort zone. And the show kept testing my limits as the second half unfolded. I can tolerate a certain degree of graphic animated violence, but I get unreasonably squeamish when sharp objects get involved. Bullets everywhere? Fine. Chainsaws and axes? Excuse me; I feel ill. Practically every villain in the second half of the show wields some variety of sharp object. Except the flamethrower guy. I would've liked more flamethrower guys. Too much slashing and skewering for my sensibilities.
I've seen shows that have gone in unexpected and unwelcome directions (SeaQuest DSV comes to mind), wasted their potential (Star Trek: Voyager's early seasons especially), or made me uncomfortable in some way (half the Britcoms I've seen recently), but I've rarely seen a show where all of these things happen so strongly and frequently. I might have been fine with one of these problems—sure, it's gross, but it's ultra-cool; yeah, they forgot about the boat, but they're making the most of this new plotline; okay, the main characters aren't developed as much as they could've been, but the show is still good—but Black Lagoon subjected me to a triple-whammy of discomforts and disappointments. Worst of all, the series never went more than one or two episodes without showing me a glimmer of what I wanted out of it, rekindling my enthusiasm just before the fire could go out.
Except for the THREE episodes with the incestuous gender-bending sexualized cannibal vampire murder children. AGAIN, WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT!?!?
Right now, I can't really say I liked Black Lagoon—but I loved parts of it. All that's left to watch now are the five episodes of Roberta's Blood Trail, a follow-up to the series that might save my opinion of it...provided there are more guns than knives, the entire crew of the Lagoon gets at least as much air time as the villains and side characters, and the titular boat actually makes an appearance. Ending the show on a high note might just be enough to make me forget about everything disturbing and disappointing the next time I rattle off a list of my favorite anime series.
Failing that, blowing up another helicopter goes a long way.