For fans of: mercenaries, action, moral ambiguity
There’s a moral ambiguity at the heart of Cowboy Bebop and its rag-tag crew of mercenaries. Spike and the crew generally act for the greater good, but most often only because there’s a bounty on the line. Black Lagoon does away with the idea of anti-heroes almost entirely: the show is focused on a band of mercenary pirates dealing in drug smuggling, gunrunning, and human trafficking. At the outset, Rokurou Okajima is a dull mid-salary Japanese businessman who’s kidnapped, completely by chance, by the outlaws of Lagoon Company, who hope to use him as a bargaining chip in a negotiation. Instead, “Rock” is abandoned by his company (they consider him completely expendable, going so far as to preemptively declare him dead—though they offer him a promotion and a respectful funeral for his service), and soon realizes he’s been shown more respect by the kidnappers, and has more freedom as a prisoner, than he did as a cog in the capitalist machine. Given his freedom, he declines in favor of staying on with his captors, trying to maintain his core values, but discovering a strange sort of honor in his new criminal endeavors that was lacking in his earlier life.
This series’ critique of greater-good capitalism is particular to modern Japan, but the idea of working for a heartless corporation that simply doesn’t give a shit whether you live or die is, it must be said, broadly relatable. What follows Rock’s career change is an action-packed journey into a criminal underworld that still has time to ask fundamental questions about what it means (and what it’s worth) to be free.
Where to stream: Hulu, Funimation