It has been well established that I believe that director Sunao Katabuchi’s “Black Lagoon” is one of the best action-oriented anime series that I have seen. Those who watched it will always remember its bloody mayhem, foul language, its unique balance of grim undertones and black humor that manages to maintain a strong momentum because of its flamboyant action sequences. Myself, I’d like to remember the series because of its unique blend of characters and powerful existential themes. I hoped for another season of the anime series because “The Second Barrage” left some things hanging.
Well, if you remember the maid called Roberta, who was just so near-invincible in the first season, you could say that she was one of the more powerful characters in the show. Season three of “Black Lagoon” comes in the form of 5 OVA’s (episodes 25-29) that has a 34 minute runtime that is called “Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail”. This season takes a more thematic approach, and rather than making the action its focus, the drama and the darkness in its themes becomes the central focus.
Diego Lovelace, the influential figure in South America and Garcia’s (Kazue Ikura) father had been assassinated during a political rally. This drives his faithful maid, Roberta (Michie Tomizawa) to the brink of insanity and murderous rage that her thirst for revenge drives her back to the city of Roanapur. Hunting down the suspects behind the assassination, Roberta goes on a wild killing spree that leaves a lot of bodies in its wake. This brings the heir to the Lovelace family, Garcia and his maid understudy, Fabiola (Satsuki Yukino) to Roanapur to try and stop Roberta’s murderous rampage. Here, Garcia enlists the aid of the triad group led by Chang (Morikawa Toshiyuki) and the Lagoon company to track Roberta down. What they find is that Roberta is on a collision course with a U.S. military commando unit who had planned Diego’s murder.
While the first two seasons of the anime series focused on character build up of the primary characters and just how they went about their jobs, their neutrality between the various criminal element, and the development of the Revy-Rock dynamic, season three takes the focus more on Roberta. After episodes 9-11 in season one, one would be hard-pressed not to have been taken by this killer maid who has been called “the Bloodhound from Florence“. Here, the viewer gets a full view of her transformation into a bloodhound who is just an unstoppable killing machine, and her decent into madness. Revy takes a back seat, while Rock somehow undergoes development as well as returning characters Garcia, Chang and newcomer Fabiola. Even the American soldiers who were written to become the antagonists have noble traits and this makes this season a lot more thought-provoking since Roberta’s first appearance.
Really, Roberta becomes this season’s main draw. It became really easy to sympathize for her suffering, root for her but at the same time, become scared shitless because of her murderous behavior. There is a lot of darkness in its premise, as it almost becomes a cerebral war drama with the characters pieces in a game to save lives. The director was able to generate the necessary suspense, as secrets become revealed, and the viewer will no doubt become glued to the screen as the story unveils. Rock finally becomes someone who has adapted to the ways of Roanapur, as he becomes someone who appears as a main piece in this game of cat and mouse, and one is left to wonder just what is his end game. The series explores its characters, and answers a lot of the questions as with Roberta’s past and Revy’s tragic story. It was masterful the way the direction commanded the tense atmosphere, that when something big does happen, it does come out with a huge impact in its narrative. The execution of the storytelling may have started off a little slow, but once it picked up, it is non-stop in the expression of its themes and the generation of tension.
Being a lot darker than the previous two seasons, “Roberta’s Blood Trail” seemed to have a more gloomy form of animation and layouts. There is also something that feels a lot grimmer and unsettling the way the story was told with its animation. The violence and brutality have also been amped to the max, and with the superb audio design, you could feel each gunfire and explosions that made me feel the intensity that much more. The animation also feels to carry more detail since season one, but it maintains that sense of personality that defines the series. More blood came with its more unnerving scenes and even has more graphic nudity than its predecessors. Much of the action focused on Roberta and her moves against a commando unit, but not to be outdone, Revy (Megumi Toyoguchi) and Shen Hua (Yuko Sasaki) leads an enigmatic gunman and a kid who wields a chainsaw. Another thing that the season does do so well is the way that it created genuine confusion between its characters and the viewer could see them struggle with each other and experience inner turmoil in the more dramatic moments.
I did really enjoy “Roberta’s Blood Trail” but I do have to admit it wasn’t perfect. The pacing could’ve been a little more brisk, not that it was bad but for a seinen title, its abandonment of a fast-paced flow of the story may confuse its fans. I know it was necessary to its build-up, but I just felt that several scenes in the dark building could’ve moved a lot faster. The dialogue is also a lot heavier than its previous seasons, and this may disconnect some viewers. There is a lot more symbolic gestures and content that rose from this story arc, and it could be argued that they could be a little too philosophical. Sure, the last few episodes of “The Second Barrage” also had a more philosophical theme to them than season one, and “Blood Trail” just goes even further. Episode 29 came dangerously close to becoming a little heavy-handed, but the director managed to keep things together. I saw them as something definitely meant for those who could handle esoteric themes and this makes the Japanese language track with subtitles a much-needed necessity to appreciate its messages. Fans of the previous seasons may feel a little disconnected to its shift in tempo.
“Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail” is definitely one vicious ride that goes up and down. It goes for heavy character build up and takes its time to build tension. It is as if a huge boulder gets carried on one’s shoulders to take to a hilltop and then drops it with such unstoppable force that it just careens towards everything and runs them over. It can be called a cerebral thriller than an action-packed affair. It is bloody, a little sadistic and even disturbing, and yet it does not wallow in all those things alone. Sexy shots and nudity did not feel like fan service, and the director handled such things with finesse and gave more depth to its story. “Blood Trail” almost feels like a re-invention of the series, as it was a sincere attempt to make a great series into something resembling brilliance (they even re-mixed the soundtrack). Now, if “Black Lagoon” goes about another season, I hope it will continue to push its limits and become one of the more stimulating anime titles. Highly Recommended. [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]