Canaan vs. Black Lagoon: A Battle of Battles – Don't F This Up (1)

A post in the “Don’t Fuck This Up” series. In reply to comment number 8, by Ghostlightning.

Canaan and Black Lagoon are without a doubt two of the most badass gun-slinging action anime ever produced. The two series have some similarities such as their high production values, dark urban setting, mostly female-dominated action, and, of course, boatloads (u-boatloads, even) of violence. That all said, the action scenes in both shows feature very different choreography from one another, which I will now explore.

The Bones of It

Black Lagoon

The most important name to know when talking about Black Lagoon’s action scenes is John Woo, the Chinese film director known for doing over thirty ultra-violent, badass action films since 1973. To pull an easy descriptive and comparative quote from the back of Viz’s release of volume 1 of the Black Lagoon manga:

Ravy’s two-gun style echoes the on-screen combat choreography (sometimes called the “bullet ballet”) made famous in movies by John Woo. In real life, using two guns like this is highly impractical since it is virtually impossible to actually hit anything, especially if the target and the shooter are moving, and it’s also difficult to reload. Of course, it looks totally badass on film, and in Rei Hiroe’s stunning action-manga Black Lagoon!

This sort of action is all about skirting just past edge of what is realistically possible. If you tried to re-enact the things seen in Black Lagoon in real life, of course none of it would do you any good, but it’s not necessarily too ‘out-there’ to pass for possible – just suspend your belief a little and have fun. Some of this is subverted heavily in the series, as for all the rooms-worth of people Revy guns down, we do also see that she has put countless bullet holes in all of the walls, and she really does have to reload after every so many shots – a complicated-looking process that we can believe she has simply mastered.

Now, you might be saying ‘Digitalboy, they drove a U-boat into a helicopter’ to which I will say ‘how do you know that doesn’t work? it looked probable.’ And then you will say ‘but the maid, Roberta!!!’ and I’ll explain that the show tells us she’s a former member of the most vicious military unit there ever was, and we can assume that she is trained heavily to be the most badass thing on the planet this side of Balalaika.

Black Lagoon is full of things that, realistic or unrealistic, we expect from an action scene. Taking cover, yelling orders, getting tactical… cutting bullets in half with a sword, hey, fuck mythbusters, the Japanese proved it can be done!


Canaan has no semblance of realism whatsoever. It lets you know this from early on – in the first episode, Canaan spins around a metal pole while firing at individual, long-distance targets from within a crowd of thousands – some through walls – within seconds. Canaan is more about badass superpowered madness with characters who can easily hop onto a rooftop, rather than need to carefully plan an escape to one in a tactical firefight while surrounded (Black Lagoon The Second Barrage ep. 5).

Because Canaan is SO much more powerful than most of the people she fights, it’s hard for just a normal firefight to remain exciting – thus, many of the fights will throw in over-the-top situations or wide-scale destruction to keep things jive. For instance, episode 2 has a car chase complete with psycho cab driver, fighting on a moving vehicle in crowded Shanghai, and cars going right over cliff sides to land on rooftops.

The biggest difference from the kind of action in Black Lagoon is simply the size of the battlefields. Whereas Black Lagoon would feature battles in a single room while the characters hide behind various pieces in the room and lunge out to shoot, Canaan might have a similar situation wherein entire buildings would substitute a turned-over table as cover.

That all said, Canaan doesn’t have as much of a grip on it’s style in action sequences. Black Lagoon sets out to be a gritty action series and succeeds whole-heartedly even when the animation or dialog wavers a bit. Canaan, on the other hand, only seeks to be badass and doesn’t really get a footing on how it wants to go about doing so. As much fun as the show has in it’s really crazy moments (like Canaan trying to shut down a tomahawk missile, in flight, WITH HER MIND) the action really falls flat when the show isn’t in ‘badass mode’ (see the kind of awkward combat in episode 3, or the outright shit in episode 9).

I do wonder how much this occasional faltering and constant lack of realism can be attributed to the director, whose other work was Sword of the Stranger – the movie with THE best fight scenes in ANY anime, but all done with swords.

But It’s Not All Contrast

So I’ve said that Black Lagoon does quasi-realistic action and does it superbly, while Canaan does wacked-out superhero action with mixed results, but there are places they are certainly similar. The first is female domination, which is for totally sexual reasons in both shows. In Black Lagoon, it’s all about smokin’ hot babes who could kick your or anyone’s ass and love doing it, while in Canaan, it’s about chicks who kick ass and make out with other chicks. I want to say that one is a man’s fantasy and one is a gay woman’s fantasy, but I’ll save that for another time.

Another similarity is the kind of characters involved. Both of these stories are quite definitively pulp (moreso Black Lagoon) and therefor feature a number of eclectic, eccentric characters and organizations. Black Lagoon has a goth chick with a massive chainsaw, a maid with ridiculous power, a samurai who can cut bullets in half, and a certain pair of twins who will haunt you for the rest of your life. Meanwhile Canaan has the raging sadomasochist siscon Liang Qi, the fearless and silly Yun Yun, and a mute siren with godnormous tits.

Everything about this wins.

Everything about this wins.

Drawing a Parallel

I love the styles of fighting in both Canaan and Black Lagoon, but if I were to make my own gun-smoking action show (and I’ve been working on one for over a year, so I assure you I will!), it wouldn’t quite be like either of them. My style would have a little of both, mixed with a dash of Baccano, an ounce of Cowboy Bebop, and two pinches of Pulp Ficiton. Even moreso than either show, I am a big fan of eccentric, lesbian characters, and have filled my show (Dark Dreams at the End of the World) with even more of them.

My story features a twelve-year-old female lead named Dark Holy who is the leader of a gang called The Ryugane, who seek to take over the city called The End of the World and free it from rival gang The Alliance led by the older woman, Razor Black. It’s that kind of story. As for the action scenes, there’d be plenty of gang warfare a-la Dead or Alive (the Takashi Miike film, not the porn game) or Texhnolyze, tactical shoot-outs like Black Lagoon, sudden quick fights and deaths like you see in a Tarantino flick, bouts between extraterrestrials like Baccano, and an over-the-top ending that will surely put Canaan and Read or Die to shame.

(I may be obsessed with pulp stories. )

Related Posts:

Violence Fetish (not NSFW in spite of warnings)

That’s Fucked Up (my immediate reaction to the ‘vampire’ arc in Black Lagoon)

Canaan 8Canaan 9 – neither of which had any real fighting.

23 thoughts on “Canaan vs. Black Lagoon: A Battle of Battles – Don't F This Up (1)

  1. A most excellent post given the speed at which you churned it out. The succinctness is also good, since I have a feeling you’ll be doing quite a few of these. I’d say you didn’t fuck it up, which is good. lol

    *runs off to check out Sword Of The Stanger*

  2. I think you did a good job man. Kudos to you for doing this less than 24 hours after I made the request. I like your placement of the two shows’ treatment of action within some kind of sliding scale of realism.

    Good job relating it to your own project and for keeping the whole thing relatively judgment (shit, crap, etc) free (except for the wild claim re Sword of the Stranger; but I agree with you on it anyway).

    • :D Yah, it was pretty easy to avoid being judgmental because they are two of my favorite shows and I have no complaints about either. There actually was a moment where I thought ‘…am I letting Black Lagoon win?’ and then I thought ‘wait, I like Black Lagoon more than Canaan! Damn you recency bias!’ But yeah, I avoided judgment.

      And the Sword of the Stranger comment I am standing by to death. I’ve seen all of the other ‘best action anime’ and nothing even compares.

  3. I find Canaan’s better fights interesting, because they have so much fun with the motions of the body. When Canaan the character does her dance in the first episode, she’s running and jumping and twirling, and it’s all so breathtakingly graceful. Black Lagoon’s fights are great, but I believe it only matches that level of sheer delight in the “gun vs. katana” fight at the end of the second season.

    That said, I’m haunted by Liang Qi’s last fight. That’s what we waited for? All the anticipation built up from seeing her whirl around in a qipao in the opening… And that’s what we get? Some fancy footwork and an intensely uncomfortable climax? I still can’t believe it.

    • Not reading your last part because I’ve only seen up through ep 9 of Canaan, but yeah, Canaan definitely has the higher budget of the shows, and therefor gets to have more fun with motion. Black Lagoon, while nice, is notably budget-cautious for a Madhouse show, at least in the first season.

  4. Now that you mention it, Black Lagoon DID throw gun-kata all over the place. How did I not realize that?
    But indeed, it’s a gritty, awesome show. Definitely an easy sort of gateway anime for anyone I know. Except maybe those that spurn excessive violence.

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