“Since all of you don’t want it, then I shall grant your wishes in taking it away, including your womb, happiness, life and everything. The things I yearned for. The things I treasured. The me who lost everything. And the ‘they,’ who obviously have everything I desired for. But yet they choose to throw everything away.”
Othello’s doing a really great job expanding on the worldbuilding. It’s so interesting to pick out all of the little things we can glean from his comments on contracts and such, and how they match up with things Sebastian and others have said in the past.
I’m really eager to learn if reapers are meant to be keepers of human progress as well as shepherds of the dead. If Grell and Othello are there not only about suspicious deaths, but to correct a discrepancy, that could be really interesting.
There’s a reason I used the softest portrait of Balalaika for his essay that I could find: for all the talk of what a “badass” she is, she owns her femininity. She neither plays up her sexuality as a “vixen” nor downplays it as a “tomboy.” She wears her hair long because she wants to, and it doesn’t get in the way. She has long, well-manicured nails because she wants to have them, and they don’t get in the way. Anyone who makes the mistake of making assumptions about her sensitivities as a woman quickly finds out that she…thinks it’s completely irrelevant.
In essence, I think that’s what’s great about Balalaika as a female character: she just is who she is. She values her objectives above anything else. She doesn’t try to prove anything to anybody, because she stays so focused that she doesn’t have to.
Plenty of people call her “fry face” or “that Ruski bitch” behind her back, but never to her face. That’s not because they think she’ll take personal offense, or even that one of her male subordinates will kill them to “defend her honor.” It’s purely because if you’re the type of person who would say that, you’re on unfriendly terms with her. If you’re on unfriendly terms and you see her or one of her subordinates face to face, you’re already dead. Nothing she does is ever completely personal. She is ruthless, but never malicious or spiteful.
That’s not to say that she’s emotionally flat pragmatist robot. She clearly has a rich inner life. She often feels compassion for her enemies, and has real friendships with outsiders like the members of the Lagoon Company. In keeping with such complexity, she’s not opposed to random acts of kindness.
The same woman who got discharged from the Russian military for saving a child in Afghanistan here…
Is the same woman who looks a child assassin (who tortured one of her subordinates to death) in the eye as she has her snipers shoot them in the leg. The show doesn’t show it in real time, of course, but apparently it takes him several minutes to slowly bleeds to death in the clip below. In both cases she did what she did because it would be “shameful” to do otherwise in a way that has nothing to do with her sex or gender.
It’s no wonder the subordinate in question that the child murdered cried out for his “Capitán” until his last agonizing, grizzly final breath.
Balalaika deeply respects and cares for her subordinates as much as hey respect and care for her. That becomes very apparent towards the end of the clip when she converses with the snipers who shot the boy about how emotionally difficult the entire ordeal was. If you don’t have the stomach to watch, I’ll spoil it for you now: it’s her right hand man who says “that was hard to watch.” Balalaika sincerely apologizes.
There wasn’t a single moment of the scene in which she felt good about any of it.She simply calculated that such a method was absolutely necessary to honor the dead and maintain the reputation of Hotel Moscow, the crime syndicate that quite literally keeps Roanapur from collapsing in upon itself.
There are several moments throughout the series and OVA in which Balalaika seems outwardly calm and collected in moments of emotional turmoil. She will will freely admit to feeling grief, regret, and/or hesitation about a ruthless action she has taken or is about to take. However, Rei Hiroe has written her win a way that never lets you think for even a second that she’s afraid to cry or express her emotions, and it is glorious!
Balalaika is so pragmatic at her core that she is more inclined to kill a rival mafia boss because their men are generally unruly rather than of any real threat they pose to her operation. She says as much to her right hand man while observing a yakuza beating Rock in an attempt to get attention from Revy. Her ire is raised not by the attack on her ally: she simply cannot stand to see “soldiers” misbehave. Both she and Sergeant Bosco (her right hand) say they wish they could wipe out the entire yakuza based on that unruly scene alone. Of course, no action is taken. She remarks upon it and moves on so as not to compromise her larger objective.
I wouldn’t rule out possibility that she “breaks down and lets it all out” in private, and it certainly wouldn’t change my opinion of her. Given her position as the head of Hotel Moscow (and the most powerful person in all of Roanapur), those private moments are so few and far between that we never get to see them on the page or screen.
Alternatively, she may be one of those people who doesn’t express sorrow with tears. Either way, you never get the sense that she’s struggling to “keep it together,” in public, even when we know she feels emotionally devastated. That has nothing to do with being a woman: it has everything to do with being a good leader.
Carefully observe the body language and positions of Balalaika and her subordinates carefully in this short clip.
She leads her men into battle. No henchman is ordered to handle the man who’s been running around town calling her a “fry faced Rutsky bitch,” and plotting to assassinate her. No subordinate dares to insult her by trying to handle the man himself. She doesn’t need them to because she can hold her own physically and mentally in a fight as well as any of her subordinates.
If you pay attention to the overall context of the scene, it becomes clear that she didn’t come down there to kill him personally because she was offended by what he said about her. She felt it was necessary to maintain her relationship with Dutch and the Lagoon Company: a critical neutral party in her territory that she can’t afford to alienate. Balalaika is a very good friend to have indeed.
She’s a true leader that knows it’s her duty to protect and maintain order amongst her subordinates and the territory that she calls her own. In a better world, that would be the gold standard for leadership regardless of the sex or gender identity of the leader.
NOTE: I titled this “part 1″ because there’s a lot more I want to write about her as a character. This started out as a much longer essay, but I decided to break things up for the sake of clarity and readability. Expect more Balalaika worship in the days and weeks to come.^_~
Special thanks to@opinionatedashellblog, @odilekuronuma (who wrote 2 of the 3 Casca analyses I linked to above) and @murasakihime. I wouldn’t have been inspired to write about any of the female characters I have from Black Lagoon thus far if it weren’t for you.