ANIME & MANGA - Review
10:00 - 7th December 2013, by David West

Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail

After her employer and benefactor Diego Lovelace is assassinated in Venezuela, the lethal maid (and former FARC operator) Roberta sets out to track down the people responsible for his death. The trail leads her to the port of Roanapur and the Gray Fox Command Group, a unit of National Security Agency operators from the US who are in Asia on a mission inside the Golden Triangle. Following in Roberta's wake is the heir to the Lovelace family, Garcia, who is desperate to find Roberta before she reaches the point of no return, and Garcia's diminutive bodyguard, Fabiola. Garcia hires Rock to locate the rampaging Roberta, which brings Revy and the crew of the Black Lagoon into the chase. However, if Roberta slaughters the NSA unit, it will bring the full might of the US military down on the corrupt town of Roanapur, so all the local gangs, including the Sun Yee On Triad, Hotel Moscow and the Columbian Cartel, set aside their differences to try to stop Roberta by any means necessary before she kills the Americans.

There is mayhem, bloodshed and bad language aplenty in Roberta's Blood Trail, although this five-part OAV finds time for character development, and even a glimpse into Revy's past. Her upbringing turns out to have been fairly horrific, but this is a series that has never been afraid to tackle dark subject matter. As the plot unfolds, Roberta becomes more and more unhinged due to a combination of grief, combat stress and the stimulants she constantly pops to stay alert, until she is totally out of control and scarcely human. Black Lagoon is a show that thrives on the intensity of its action scenes - and there are sequences here that put John Woo to shame - but it is refreshing to see an action franchise that acknowledges that violence has a cost that is both physical and psychological.

Some familiar faces reappear to join in the carnage, including the Chinese assassin Shenhua, the chainsaw wielding Sawyer, and the bounty hunter Lotton. Of the Black Lagoon crew, Benny and Dutch generally stay on the periphery of the action, while Rock takes most of the spotlight as he grapples with how to manipulate events to keep both Roberta and the NSA operators alive. The script shows a darker side to Rock's personality on this occasion - perhaps the corruption of Roanapur is beginning to seep into the former salaryman's core. The two youngsters caught up in the chaos, Garcia and Fabiola, serve as a reminder of the innocence of youth and the promise of a better future set against a backdrop of immorality and insanity.

The plot is fairly complex, with multiple factions with different agendas all competing for screen time, but at the centre is Roberta's mission of vengeance which is compelling enough to hold the other strands together. The show has strong production values, with smooth animation throughout. The English dub features the series regulars, reprising their roles and Maryke Hendrikse is on ferocious form as Revy.

Writer and director Sunao Katabuchi takes his time setting all the pieces on his chessboard, which means Roberta's Blood Trail does not explode right off the bat, but once the action begins, it hits like a howitzer. The series is shot through with darkness and cynicism about human nature, but it provides a thrilling ride through Roanapur's mean streets.
SCORE: 4/5
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