You know as much as I love action anime, shows that focus mostly on guns have rarely been my thing. This is in part because anime as medium puts more focus on katanas or ridiculously over-sized swords than it does with guns, but it’s also because I prefer sword fights. However there are a pair of gun-centric anime which I love, each for different reasons. I’ve no doubt this comparison has already been made many times, but I think it’s worth discussing the differences between what are to my knowledge the two most high profile gun-centric anime, Black Lagoon and Jormungand. There will be spoilers, you have been warned.
Let’s start with Black Lagoon since it’s definitely the more well known and well received of the two. If you don’t know what Black Lagoon is all about go watch episode one right now, decide if you want marathon it or not and then come back, it’s well known enough that I don’t really want to explain it. I will tell you what the main attractions of the show are though, some rich dark realism, and action, metric fuck-tons of action. This makes for a great combination because it means we get to see loads of awesome violence while understanding that most of what we see can replicated in the real world. It has a stronger connection our world and us than say Cloud’s Buster Sword, and that connection adds some additional flavor to the show, after all it goes against everything that contributes to the perception of anime as being mostly the same as western cartoons. Anyway Black Lagoon doesn’t really have a plot, it follows a bunch of different adventures of the Lagoon Company, Rock, Revy, Dutch and Benny. What makes Black Lagoon so memorable, in my experience is the setting and how the characters interact with it. Black Lagoon takes place in the fictional port city of scum and villainy of Roanapur, but because of all the realistic details of the setting it feels like a real place, even if that place is a shit hole. Unlike so many anime out there Roanapur feels like it’s full of real people, who behave like real humans that we can understand and connect with. Sure it’s full of some ridiculous characters too and those guys are entertaining, but on the whole Roanapur is full of people we understand as people and can get invested in. They do things we realistically do between the scenes of awesome violence. Like getting shitfaced at the bar, tons of people around the world do that after work.
The point is that Black Lagoon’s setting is both atypical for anime and incredibly alive, and therefore easy to get immersed in. This in turn allows to get more invested the characters, because their stories, backgrounds and personalities are something we perceive as more real than say, any random tsundere from any light novel adaptation. I think this is why the characters are so memorable and so beloved by the anime community, Revy for example has one the most widely accepted icons of kick ass women in anime for years now. Another part of what makes Black Lagoon memorable is how flawed it’s world and characters are. I’ve been saying that Black Lagoon uses realism and if there’s one facet of realism it banks on, it’s the use of flaws. In storytelling tradition of realism, making characters flawed is an important part of making the characters nuanced and believable to the audience. And Black Lagoon excels at this, the main characters are basically mercenaries for hire, they’re willing to take on assassination jobs, become pirates to raid and steal from ships, and aid people running from the law or the mob. And all of the important side characters have the same kind of baggage, Balalaika is former Soviet soldier turned Russian mob boss, Chang is a former gunslinger turned Triad boss, Roberta is a former terrorist working as a maid for a mob boss, and the local church is run by nuns who sell drugs and weapons. And all of this is interesting and it makes for great contrast when we get the male lead Rock. Rock is a former businessman without any kind of violent background or criminal record, he ends up joining the Lagoon Company because his company was willing to make him a sacrificial pawn to cover some of it’s bad business. But makes Rock great is how he just finds a place for himself, he struggles early on, but as the story goes he gets increasingly comfortable in Roanapur and his business skills and education make him sought after by major side characters like Balalaika. And watching a pretty normal dude find a niche in a city overflowing with crime and violence is really interesting, and it’s not something I can say I’ve seen often, if ever, outside of Black Lagoon.
The last thing I want to mention is that because Black Lagoon does such a good job of pulling you into it’s world, it helps suspend your disbelief when the more insane shit goes down. If anything the insane stuff is made exponentially more awesome because it comes out of nowhere and explodes into this realistic world. Most of my favorite parts of Black Lagoon were the Roberta episodes and Roberta’s Blood Trail OVA, because Roberta’s action scenes are fucking madness, she’s jokingly described as a Terminator, but she makes Arnold look pretty tame in comparison. I mean there’s a scene where she bites through a sword like Saitama did in One Punch Man, but she’s a regular human being not an insanely powerful superhero, which makes that scene fucking badass. Anyway Black Lagoon is really good, if for some reason you haven’t watched it yet, go do so. Now onto Jormungand.
Jormungand is decidedly less realistic than Black Lagoon and generally just not as awesome during it’s action scenes, which has led the majority of the anime community to describe it as worse than Black Lagoon. And I, ever vigilant in my battle against the common consensus, think that is true and false at the same time. I’ll explain in more detail in a minute, but for now a brief overview of the show. Jormungand follows the adventures of an arms dealer and her bodyguards, from the perspective of her newest recruit a child soldier named Jonah. It does have an overarching plot unlike Black Lagoon but that isn’t communicated very well in season one, which mostly looks like a string of short, disconnected adventures. Jormungand is pretty much willing to do away with realism right out the gate, just looking at the main character’s character designs, Jonah is basically a child version of Scar from FMAB, with white hair, red eyes and dark skin, while his boss Koko Hekmatyar looks like a ghost with her stark white skin and hair, complete with blue eyes. Everyone else has pretty natural hair, skin and eye colors though. Also Jonah deflects a missile with a grenade explosion Halo-style in the first episode, so bye bye realism. Before I really dig deep into this series I think the what really sets it apart from Black Lagoon is a core feature of it’s design, Jormungand is meant to be fun. Where Black Lagoon drew you into it’s dark and gritty world, Jormungand is pretty clearly meant to be taken far less seriously. It never reaches the level so stupid it’s awesome, or even just plain stupid, but it feels like the main characters are almost like video game protagonists gunning down hordes of nameless goons in a world full of more realistic people. At least as far as the combat goes. While the combat is fun, ridiculous enough to be awesome but not quite ridiculous enough to be cartoony, the characters are actually pretty well realized.
I feel like Jormungand sort of mimics what Cowboy Bebop did only to a far lesser degree. In Jormungand you just kind of have an understanding that these characters have fully fleshed out backstories, philosophies and lives outside of their work on screen. Some characters, mostly Jonah, do get screen time to expose or discuss their backstories and philosophies. But even with no or very basic information about the characters it’s pretty to get a sense for who they are and what they do or what they’ve been through. In the second half of episode one the main characters meet random rival arms dealer A and totally waste him by the end. The man has like only two scene’s where he’s in control of the scene and his backstory is just, “he’s an arms dealer working in Europe, probably used to be in intelligence.” But because of how they handle this guy you get a pretty good idea of who he is and what he’s about even though he’s a got a few minutes of screen time and less than 10 seconds of background exposition. It also does a really good job establishing the fact that Koko is far more intelligent and dangerous than she appears at first glance, and that her guards might be following her more for her genuine competence as an arms dealer and a leader than for her money. While I admit I’d be hard pressed to call Jormungand’s characters as good as those in Black Lagoon, I think Jormungand does a better job communicating character information quickly, which is important because it has a larger cast, and I think it makes for better adversaries.
One of the big draws of Black Lagoon is that there aren’t really villains, almost everyone’s a scumbag or a criminal and combat is less about good vs evil and more about seeing who’s more intelligent and competent. That’s part of what made Roberta so interesting, she was at least as good if not better than Revy. But for the most part I felt like the adversaries in Black Lagoon were a bit weak. Outside of Roberta, the vampire twins, and Ginji the yakuza swordsman most of Black Lagoon’s adversaries were bit players that created believably violent scenarios but ultimately looked weak and dumb when compared to the Lagoon Company. By comparison I think Jormungand does a better job of making the various adversaries feel more threatening and/or interesting even if they don’t amount to anything. Both shows have a lot of one-off adversaries and neither has the run time to give them extensive backstories. Both shows also make them believable people but in Black Lagoon they usually don’t communicate as much information about the adversaries even if the adversaries seem like they arise naturally from the setting, so the adversaries come off, quite believably, as those on the stupid end of the intelligence scale, a life of crime is not a great education after all. By comparison Jormungand features career soldiers, intelligence officers, and arms dealers, people who generally have a good education, discipline and/or critical thinking skills and practical battle experience. I think what really clinches it for me, is that I felt like Jormungand’s characters were in more danger more often and that the conflicts are usually multi-layered. In Black Lagoon every conflict is almost entirely physical with maybe some detective work done beforehand, and there’s nothing wrong with that, I’d say Black Lagoon has better action scenes overall than Jormungand, but in Jormungand there’s usually battles going on in tandem with business/mental/legal conflicts.
I think this is part of what Jormungand fun, in addition to the more lighthearted tone of the show Jormungand has this sort of A Team “I love it when a plan comes together” thing going on. In episode one for example, some of Koko’s bodyguards kill the snipers guarding rival arms dealer A, meanwhile Koko is in his office keeping him distracted and overconfident, while two of her other bodyguards get the military to void the contract they had with rival arms dealer A. It feels a bit cartoony as the plan neatly ties up all the loose ends in this in-your-face sequence but it’s fun, and to be honest this is handled much better in later episodes where it feels more badass than cartoony. In a similar vein Jormungand is just funnier. It puts more time and effort into having some comedic scenes in between the action, and it doesn’t feel out of place because the show is never all that serious or dark. Anyway I feel like I going in circles here so let’s wrap this up.
I agree with the community consensus in that Black Lagoon is better, at least from an objective standpoint. I think Black Lagoon, with’s its rich, dark, gritty tapestry of realism is the better written show. I also think the fight scenes are better animated most of the time. There’s a reason that Black Lagoon is so renowned, it truly is a great experience and in case you haven’t seen it and aren’t getting the message GO WATCH BLACK LAGOON. That said, I have always found Jormungand to be the more re-watchable of the two. It probably has to do with the fact that Jormungand is fun and upbeat relative to Black Lagoon which leans more heavy and grim in comparison. Don’t get me wrong I love Black Lagoon but it’s not the kind of show I can watch over and over, it’s just a bit too dark for that. Moreover I kind of have to be in the mood to re-watch it, I should note that on my first viewing I didn’t have this problem, and I can’t just sit down a marathon it because I can only be in the mood for dark and gritty stuff so long before I need a break. But with Jormungand I feel like I can pick up whenever the hell I want and feel comfortable just getting one episode in or bingeing the whole thing. This is a hard thing to describe because on the one hand, I know Black Lagoon is better written, better animated, and more interesting, but on the other hand I just love how, user-friendly I guess is the best term, Jormungand is. Also Jormungand has better music and that adds to the experience when you watch the show. So yea after rambling my way through this post the final verdict is, Black Lagoon is objectively better, Jormungand is much easier to watch. I enjoy both shows and if action is your thing, especially modern military-esque action, I highly recommend both shows. If you’re looking for comparisons Black Lagoon is sort of like Gangsta meets Cowboy Bebop, except way fucking better than Gangsta and a cut above Cowboy Bebop in my book. Jormungand is a bit closer to something like Gate mixed with Call of Duty, though Jormungand is definitely more serious and significantly better written than Gate, contains no fantasy elements, and doesn’t suffer from a storytelling problem I’ve taken to calling the Patriotism Problem (which I’m writing my post about and it should be done shortly; it’s done now and you can find it here).
I hope you all enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.