The move from that of a televised anime series to an OAV format did its fair share of good for the crew of Black Lagoon. By allowing them to work without worrying about censorship, they could get the violence as visceral and hyper-sexualized as possible and create a no holds bar bloodfest the likes of which anime has rarely had before. Going into this, it should be perfectly evident from the name what you’re in for: A tale of carnage caused by everyone’s former guerilla warfare enthusiast maid, Roberta. And boy does it deliver.
Our tale starts with a public bombing orchestrated by a contracted group of US Marines killing the head of the Lovelace family in Venezuela, leaving the family heir Garcia orphaned and under the care of his maids. At this point, we also learn of Roberta’s career prior to her joining the Lovelace family as a maid, where she was a revolutionary in a group that ruthlessly killed anyone that got in their way. After the marines kill the head of the family, Roberta goes to Roanapur for revenge in what is easily the most entertaining OAV series to come out in recent memory.
Roberta’s Blood Trail follows the titular supersoldier maid on her quest for vengeance, involving everyone in Roanapur and several outside forces in a drug fueled battle that could escalate in an all out war to end all that Roanapur is. It’s not a complex story that’ll shake the very foundation of storytelling, but it has its fair share of intrigue, particularly with Rock participating and running the course of actions from the sidelines. Revy and co take a back seat to Roberta as far as plot focus go, and it ends up all the better for doing so.
If this OAV does have a weakness, and it has plenty of noticeable ones, it’s the constant shifts in perspective between the groups going after Roberta and Roberta herself. For two episodes, this creates a narrative that’s spread extremely thin, developing nobody and raising more questions than are answered. You have Roberta on her own, the marines and drug trafficking forces hounding her, Revy and the group of psychopathic mercenaries that she contracts to help her, Garcia and Fabiola on a mission to bring her back with them, Rock scheming while occasionally contacting Mr. Chang and berating him with passive aggressive language, Balalaika and her cohorts…
If you think that’s a long list, that’s because it is, and it gets hard to follow in some parts. Everything gets resolved, but many of the factions seemingly drop off before being brought into the game again just to be eviscerated by either Roberta or Revy and her group.
Even with Roberta as the main character, there’s effort made to characterize some of the bit players a bit more, which in the end does more harm than good. Roberta’s given plenty of time to develop, and that time is relished completely due to the utter insanity of Roberta (Even almost killing her master in a hallucinogen induced hysteria) being an utter treat to watch. However, it’s when they begin to delve into Fabiola’s hypocritical stance against unnecessary violence and Rock’s slow transition from victim to influential figurehead for Roanapur that the cracks start to form and widen.
In a story with such a large number of groups, you’d expect a lot of memorable faces to make appearances. And fortunately, you’re entirely correct. The only three noteworthy survivors of the manhunt for Jane are along for the ride (Za Uizaado, Shenhua, and Sawyer), Balalaika and her crack team join in on the hunt for Roberta, and Garcia is back from Season One to bring Roberta back. Even Eda the corrupt nun is along for the ride, reporting to her higher up as events unfold.
It’s a colorful cast that’s a delight to watch as they shoot, impale, slice, and run their way through Roanapur’s back alleys and slums to find the berserker maid. Even if none are characterized exceptionally well, they lay their parts well as far as entertainment and badassery go.
Black Lagoon has never been one to make a point, but has never been afraid to give the otherwise gleefully murderous cast the occasional moment of somber introspection. It’s these slow moments that really let the gravity of the situation sink in, from Revy’s monologuing about her past on the sunken sub in the first season to Fabiola arguing with her over her corrupt ways. Even Roberta occasionally takes a break from her rampage to reflect on the ramifications of what she’s doing, or just how her past has caught up with her.
Despite how much they add to the series, I don’t think that they’re always implemented properly. Very often they’ll follow an intense, engaging fight where the characters won’t even have a moment to clean off the blood that has sullied their outfits. It’s not much of a gamebreaker by any means, but in a show that’s almost fetishistic with the level of action that it uses, it can seem a bit out of place most times.
The only ones that ever really feel appropriate are when Fabiola and Revy butt heads over each others’ personalities. The two have a volatile chemistry that makes their anger fueled arguments a marvel to behold. What’s even better is these escalate each time as they learn that the other isn’t going to budge in their stance.
On the animation front, Black Lagoon’s always been a step above average. The environments always look lush yet sinister, helped by fantastic lighting and keeping things from remaining completely static. The characters are rarely off model and are animated very fluidly. It helps that the violence is done very smoothly, making the bloodbaths that give the fights life even more enjoyable than they would be if done even just a little more poorly.
Being an OAV and thus having a larger budget, things are done to even better effect. With the lack of censorship helping things out even more, the team finds itself able to do stunts with viscera of multiple varieties that would make even the most avid horror fan give pause.
The music is a hard bumping, hard thumping soundtrack of electronica and hard rock, each episode opening with a remix of the delightfully Engrish Red Fraction by MELL and each episode ending with an orchestra version of Johnny Comes Marching Home, pumping you up for the next episode of blood and butchery. The seiyuu cast is appropriate, well rounded, and excellent in almost every case, special mention going to Roberta and Lotton “Za Uizaado”. The best, or least fortunate part depending on your tolerance for it, is the distinct lack of groan-worthy Engrish. It was amusing in Second Barrage, but ultimately came across as too clumsy to take seriously. By eliminating that entirely, Roberta’s Blood Trail lent itself an air of somberness that Second Barrage ultimately failed to attain in the last arc.
Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail is a competent, compelling, and superbly well coordinated OAV that does much to impress. It has plenty of flaws, particularly in the middle with all the different groups after Roberta and the violence never catching a break, but it ends on a very satisfying, open ended note that leaves enough room for more seedy goodness in a possible sequel.
If you like action series or have watched and enjoyed Black Lagoon before, Roberta’s Blood trail will be right up your alley. If not, as long as you have no objection to sexualization and violence in overwhelming amounts, Roberta’s Blood Trail will be well worth your time. Of course some prior knowledge through the anime or manga will be beneficial to enjoying it, but I think the idea of a Terminator-esque maid making mincemeat of an entire town of criminals is an interesting enough premise on its own. It’s a fun, occasionally nauseating watch with more than a little wit helming it, and I for one enjoyed nearly every second of it. And if you’re anything like me, you will too.