Black Lagoon 1

Rei Hiroe – Viz – 2008 – 9+ volumes

So, at this point, I’ve read more than half the series, including the beginning. I still prefer Dogs, but reading the first volume of this did help me appreciate it more.

I finally found out why Rock is on a boat with a bunch of smugglers, and it does make some sense, though I like to think that it would take more than one wild stunt to let someone as wussy as Rock into your party, splitting the pay with you. Mostly, this volume gave me new appreciation for Revy. I didn’t realize she was the reason I should read this series. She’s definitely the best part, though. There’s a segment where she singlehandedly wipes out a fleet of assassin boats by jumping onto them and opening fire with two guns, singing Rob Zombie songs all the while. And she loves it. I realize she’s a marketed badass, but she is good at what she does. She’s so jolly when she’s at work too, which is what makes her so great. She works with a smile on her face. Of sorts.

I still took issue with the action scenes. Rock’s big insanity debut was completely baffling, since I thought the torpedoes launched from the bottom of the boat until I finished and saw the editor’s note in the back about it. Even some dialogue from the characters, like that the torpedo tubes were on the deck, would have helped in that situation. I just could not figure that out. A lot of the action scenes are like that, actually (especially the scene where Revy is jumping around firing on the boats, I couldn’t tell if she really was jumping from boat to boat, or what), but that was the only one that baffled me as far as what was going on.

Roberta the maid, the subject of the 3-volume storyline later in the series, makes her first appearance when the Lovelace son is kidnapped and she seeks out the Black Lagoon, the group caught transporting him. She’s pretty terrifying, but better here than she is later, when she’s got a lot of sad political context surrounding her. It’s true that a badass maid storyline can only really be done one time, though, if you don’t have anything else to back it up.

But yes, I like it a lot more now that I’ve read the beginning. I still have to put my money where my mouth is, though, and follow this with a volume of Dogs to see if that series really is the better one in my mind. It’s been forever since I read Dogs.

It is a shame this seems to come out so slowly in Japan. I still have three or four volumes to track down, but it will be a long, long time until we see a new storyline here, I think.


Black Lagoon 9

Rei Hiroe – Viz – 2010 – 9+ volumes

Ugh.  I just realized this and Kobato both ran in Sunday GX.  That’s like the time I realized all the insane things that ran regularly in Young Animal (Berserk, Detroit Metal City, Futari H, March Comes in Like a Lion), except I really hate Kobato and it doesn’t belong.

Anyway.  I think this series has won me over, and I was happy to see that skipping a volume didn’t leave me in the lurch.  The characters are still trying to track down the killer maid, except I think the last volume must’ve focused on Revy and a few side characters, and this one instead focused on the American soldiers, the Lovelace kid, and bringing the whole story to a close.

This is a long volume, and you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck here.  There’s tons of action, and while I started the volume with a bad attitude about the action scenes, I wound up enjoying all of them quite a bit.  There are occasions where individual panels don’t quite make sense, but I can tell what’s going on in this volume a lot more than I could the previous ones.

With all the story here, there are some extraneous talking scenes (the Lovelace kid has way too much story time, and the scenes where the killers ponder their lots in life seem a little out-of-place), but most of it still felt like a necessary evil, stuff that we had to get out of the way before the story could move on.

The ending… mmm, I wasn’t completely satisfied with it, but I think the best part was what Fabiola said to Rock on the way out.  As much as I’ve read, what she said was complete fabrication, and he seems like a good guy in the middle of all the bad, but everyone takes it very seriously, including Rock.  I do like her point, though, and it did make me go back and think about him.

The actual resolution to the story was a little wonky and underwhelming, slightly off from what I’d expect of Black Lagoon, but all the same, it seemed pretty consistent with all the talking and whatnot in this volume.

I think Dogs is still my current go-to title for gratuitous and stylized seinen action, but it’s been awhile since I’ve read that one.  I need to pick up the new volumes of that, and the old volumes of this series (it looks like we’re caught up with Japan and will be for quite some time), and see how the two compare.  Black Lagoon may come out on top in terms of over-the-top action.  Neither has much of a role in this book, but I think the Revy/Rock duo (with one good for insane battles and the other serving as a wussy balance) is my favorite part, and I think the early volumes will focus on them a lot more, along with explaining just what exactly Rock is doing with the Black Lagoon in the first place.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

edit: aww, I should have saved this and had another all-Black manga night, and invited Black Jack and Black Bird to the party, maybe pick up some old volumes of Black Cat and see where the night goes.


Black Lagoon 7

Rei Hiroe – Viz – 2009 – 9+ volumes

The crazy maid arc continues with lots and lots and lots of exposition.  Her family came to town looking for her, and she came to town to blow up what appears to be some form of the US Government.  Because getting America involved in Roanapur would be very bad, there are people that want to stop her.  There are also people that want her dead very badly.  And there are people that want to stop anything at all from going down.  So a lot of the bosses are called together to try and figure out what the intentions are around town.

Meanwhile, for some reason, Rock is called in by the head of the Triad to assist the maid’s family in finding her.  I have no idea what Rock’s special power is here besides speaking civilly and getting Revy to both act nice and stand up for him, but he’s running around trying to fix things, with everyone telling him he’s nuts.

There’s an amazing, loaded scene between Rock and Revy at the end of the volume.  Not really romantic, just incredibly loaded.  I’ve only read three volumes of this series, but I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but I knew the series would turn on it if it did.  It was pretty awesome, and subtle in a way I wouldn’t have expected.  Very nice.

I’ve got a pretty good handle on the way the series works and who the characters are and their roles, and I’m still not entirely convinced this isn’t more than a couple notches above average, but maybe that’s just because there was no action in this volume.  With this much exposition, I would expect there to be lots of violence and action in all the right doses (read: like, ridiculously high) next volume.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Black Lagoon 6

All right, this volume was better than the last one, but it’s still safe to say that action series with global reach like this one aren’t really my thing.  There were two stories in this volume, the first one was a pretty straightforward one involving some underhanded trickery to get paid for a counterfeit printing plate, and the second one was the beginning of a longer story involving a maid in the house of a Venezuelan politician that was killed.  The maid takes revenge.  Yeah.

The story about the counterfeit currency was pretty entertaining.  It was still a little hard to follow (I wasn’t all that clear on what went wrong with the counterfeiting job that had the men after the girl with the plates), but I was entertained enough by the action that I didn’t let the details bother me too much.  The first fight in the book, with Revy and some nuns at a church, was worth the price of admission.  The fights took place in a church, a hotel, a warehouse that was on fire and collapsing, and on the Black Lagoon.  Cowboys, nuns, priests, Mother Superiors, gothic lolita girls with chainsaws, and computer hackers may or may not have been involved.  Weapons included flamethrowers, rocket launchers, grenades, metal bars, guns… you know.  I wouldn’t mind a lot more of this sort of thing.

The story with the maid just got underway before the volume ended.  South American politics looked like they were going to play a role, but then, for some reason, the maid seeking vengeance fled to the Thai city that the Black Lagoon docks in.  It’s still not entirely clear why that is, but apparently, all the bad guys that live in the city are afraid of the maid.

There are two fairly serious issues working against this series.  One is that the action scenes are really… not good.  Again, the huge sound effects aren’t doing this series any favors, but there’s a lot more than that wrong.  Lots of small panels, cropping, speed lines, not enough foreground-midground-background separation, bad composition, and generally just a bunch of confusing jumping around so you can’t tell where anyone is or what they are doing.  There’s also a specific name for cutting 180 degrees around a subject that I can’t remember right now, it’s more of a film composition rule, but it seems to apply to comics as well since it’s clear that it shouldn’t be going on when you see it here.  It makes things really confusing and disorienting.  Aside from the fact that guns are fired and people are jumping around, I have literally no idea what is going on in these scenes.  As I said last time, the art is neither simple enough to read cleanly nor detailed enough to get away with these crimes.  It takes a lot to set me off when it comes to artwork, but things like this are a pet peeve of mine.

The other issue is that the stories are also kind of confusing.  Now, I passed this off last time as my fault for not reading earlier volumes, but it’s clear at the beginning of the counterfeiting story that some things just aren’t explained all that well, since the characters and events in that story don’t seem to have much to do with the Black Lagoon.  Unless they do, and their stories were explained in previous volumes.  It would be kind of awesome if the story knit together like that actually, but I kinda doubt that’s the case.  Again, the details aren’t really the point of this series, but still.

Also, the cowboy is clearly American, and complains about wanting to go back to Florida.  They use lots of cowboy analogies around him.  I don’t live in Florida, but I’ve been there a few times and I’m pretty sure there are no cowboys.  But maybe this man is an individual and always wanted to be a cowboy.  Who am I to criticize?

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Black Lagoon 5

I’ve been jumping into the middle of a lot of series lately, and normally it works out.  It’s usually pretty easy to figure out the typical shoujo and shonen series without knowing the setup since those types of series generally share a lot of similarities.  Black Lagoon wasn’t so easy, however, as the fifth volume dropped me in the middle of a mofia/yakuza fight that left me rather confused.  I’m going to talk about it anyway, but keep in mind that this is definitely a series that you’ll want to start at volume 1.

Aside from my confusion over the story, I actually wasn’t that fond of the art in Black Lagoon.  The action scenes don’t read very well.  Part of this probably has to do with the SFX retouching, since large English titles are usually laid across the Japanese ones, and that obscures a lot of art and will break the composition of the page in a series like this.  The other problem was that the action scenes were done with small panels and cramped art.  The art wasn’t overly-detailed, but neither was it clean enough to easily read what was going on when people were jumping around and shooting at each other, and cramming it into small panels didn’t help much.

Now, the story.  Thankfully, the intro and character profiles in the front of the book, along with the description on the back, meant I wasn’t completely in the dark about what was going on.  The basics seem to be that the main character, Rock, was fond of the girl that wound up inheriting the head position in a major yakuza group.  The book starts in the middle of a hostage situation where a tense truce is apparently worked out between the yakuza group and Rock’s Black Lagoon group (?), so the girl’s bodyguard and Rock’s bodyguard Revy go in and blow away a bunch of guys in a bowling alley while Rock and the yakuza girl get into a fight.

The bigger problem seems to be that a representative from the Russian underworld is trying to work out a deal/start trouble with the yakuza, and somehow the girl’s group is involved (though apparently the girl’s group is in extremely poor standing in the yakuza).  Rock decides how the cards fall even though he’s only a salaryman interpreter, and he learns a little about himself along the way.

This type of series isn’t really my thing, and a lot of the detail that went into describing exactly how the yakuza system worked went over my head.  I do like the fact that Rock seems to be a pretty average guy that lacks even fighting skills that was somehow drawn into this crime world.  I also really like his insane bodyguard Revy.  I’m curious to see how other stories in the series work before I dismiss it outright, so I’m probably going to read the next volume to see where else the story goes.  Apparently this volume wasn’t the normal setting, and it didn’t seem to involve most of the members of Black Lagoon, so maybe the story is usually a bit easier to follow than this.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


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