We have seen countless struggles in anime between good and evil, but what about a struggle between grey vs. grey or evil vs. evil? There are actually a few anime that fit that description, but few quite as celebrated as Black Lagoon. Lets go into the depths of the criminal underworld and look at one of the darker anime ever to reach mainstream popularity. What you want to know is, "Is it any good?" Well...sort of.
The story can be broken down into arcs, but there is no real overall progressive plot. Just more dirty jobs that need to get done. "Its like wagon train, it's a great show but they never really get anywhere, they just keep wagontraining" -Stand By Me. The main character is a quirky Japanese businessman who is captured by a modern day pirate crew. They hold him for ransom, but his company refuses to offer a dime to save his life. Rather than killing him, the crew make him a member after he has the admittedly awesome idea of launching torpedoes at a helicopter while jumping their boat through the air. Together, our modern pirate crew take on Nazis, homicidal twins that were previously stars of a series of pedophile snuff films, and other bad guys. All the while, our "heroes" or more accurately protagonists since they aren't really heroes, are working for a Russian mob division called Hotel Moscow.
One reason Black Lagoon is praised is for the sheer amount of melodramatic, dark and depressing shit that happens. Seriously, critics who attack other anime for trying to be "dark and edgy" praise Black Lagoon for doing the same thing! In reality, Black Lagoon is a poorly written melodrama with mediocre action scenes. It is an absurdly overrated anime both here on MAL and over on 4chan. If the series wanted to be dark because it was bringing attention to real world issues or was a well written tragedy, that would be one thing, but Black Lagoon is dark for the sake of being dark and violent for the sake of being violent. Black Lagoon has no morals or messages to teach. I would also be fine if Black Lagoon were a pure, fun action series. However, as previously mentioned the action is too sparse and is mostly rather unsatisfying. Black Lagoon goes halfway between being the dark, bloody insanity of Hellsing Ultimate and the thought provoking darkness of Berserk. By not settling on just one, Black Lagoon ultimately fails at both.
There is a wide cast of characters, but most of them are either unlikable bastards or just not that interesting. A lot of people like Revi and say she is the most badass chick in anime. This is pure bullshit She comes across to me more as a loud, obnoxious, ceaselessly strutting bravado whose skill doesn't live up to her ego. She is great at slaughtering weak opponents, but can only beat the few quality opponents she faces in ridiculously cheap fashion. She also cries like a bitch and passes out after getting stabbed in the leg, which isn't very badass. She's less Alucard and more Luke Valentine. She has the cliche' tragic past, but we can't really empathize because she feels no remorse for her misdeeds. She grew up slaughtering families to stay in their houses much like Lucy from Elfen Lied, but whereas Lucy actually has a conscience, Revy is a complete sociopath. She is less Lucy and more of a lame version of Captain Hans from Hellsing. She is a seemingly nihilistic monster that has a few moments where she seems to still possess a human soul, but not enough to make us actually root for her. However, she isn't nearly as cool as Captain Hans, so if he fought Revy, I would root for the SS Werewolf all the way! It is a bad sign for a character's likeablility when the audience would rather cheer for an SS member. Dutch could have been an interesting character if he was developed more, but most all of the development and back story goes to Rock and Revy, who are probably my 2 least favorite characters in the show. The 2 best characters in the whole show are the Incredible Mr. Chang and Balalaika. Guess which 2 characters have the least screen time? Yep, unfortunately it's those 2. If they made a spinoff series with just Chang and Balaika, it would actually be a substantial improvement.
The art and animation is honestly pretty damn good. I don't really have much more to say about that.
The soundtrack is best described as weak and utterly forgettable
I really can't say I enjoyed this series very much. There is no single category where this show really shined. It was decent as an action, but not truly outstanding. It was bogged down by needlessly depressing melodrama for no reason as explained above. If young otaku want a "dark and mature" anime to feel like men, why not watch Berserk or Monster? Those are plenty dark and a SHIT load better than Black Lagoon.
Black Lagoon isn't a horrible series, but it isn't really a good series. The best characters are wasted, and it isn't as entertaining as it could have been. If it had focused more on longer, higher quality gunfights and less on needlessly depressing bullshit where our "heroes" must help the Russian mob ship children into slavery before vivisecting some puppies and burning down an orphanage on Christmas Eve, maybe it could have been a good series.