In my previous article about the series Black Lagoon I wrote predominantly about its first season and the often repulsive and unsympathetic violence of it. The characters within were alienating – the sympathetic fish-out-of-water protagonist was often more than simply the butt of jokes but actively presented as an impediment to the expected lifestyle of those he was forced upon. What this did was make the group of characters that would usually be presented as relatable and entertaining seem particularly unlikeable not in a comedic fashion but in a way which undermined how entertaining the series ended up being. Many of the conflicts, once the initial introductions were out of the way, were ultimately petty and inconclusive ones with high body counts but no real catharsis in the violence.
A screencap from the opening credits of “Black Lagoon”
The term “gratituous violence” is nowadays almost interchangeable with “explicit violence” when talking about media; both are used to describe intensely violent works such as horror films and crime fiction. However, there is a distinction between them that is highly subtle and which quite clearly places them as opposites as critical viewpoints. Gratituous violence is that which is unnecessary in narrative terms – it is there to titillate or elicit a basic response of excitement or revulsion. There is a quite specific sense of intent in the word “gratituous” that implies the content is unneeded.
“Explicit” violence has no such intent or quality distinction; it is simply violence which is graphically depicted.