Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 12th 2008
Rokuro Okajima was just an ordinary Japanese company drone, living mostly to kowtow to superiors, until one fateful task in SE Asia found him carrying a disk of highly sensitive company secrets, one which was “procured” from him by Black Lagoon, a group of “couriers” who sometimes operate beyond the law. Dragged along at first for potential ransom, Rokuro gets introduced to the seedy underbelly of life as he finds himself caught up in their schemes. When the lifestyle ultimately proves to be a liberating experience for him, Rock (as he's now known) steps up from kidnapped status to team member. Thus does he find himself in the midst of wild and dangerous adventures involving piracy, helicopter and water gunships, mafia battles, and a hostage transport mission which winds up in a shoot-out with a very deadly maid, all in the company of boat captain Dutch, computer expert Benny, and the sexy, foul-mouthed, violence-loving “Two Hand” Revy.
More than three years before the popular anime version debuted came the original Black Lagoon manga, courtesy of manga-ka Rei Hiroe. Its John Woo-influenced, violence-laden pages feature dialogue liberally strewn with profanities, creating a series which revels in its harsh edge, graphic content, sex appeal, and certain self-aware sense of ridiculousness while also offering up a certain faint level of comic undertone. In other words, it should suit any fan of R-rated Hollywood action movies just fine.
For the Black Lagoon novice, the first volume wastes no time getting down to business, as the very first panel shows Dutch's fist slamming into Rock's face during the aforementioned heist. What follows is a fast and furious introduction to the SE Asian underworld for Rock, as well as a nasty lesson in the value of Japanese company drones to their corporate masters. This deliciously seedy environment teems with thugs, gangsters, and mercenaries, offering plentiful opportunities for action and adventure, as Rock quickly comes to learn. While he is used to introduce the reader to the people and environment of the Black Lagoon crew (it's the name of their PT boat, you see), he soon fades into the ensemble cast led by cool black tough guy Dutch and tech-supported by the more amiable Benny.
The true star of the series, though, is Revy, the gun-toting young woman featured in the cover art, whose standard outfit consisting of a halter top, very short cut-off jeans, and combat boots might get her accused of flaunting her sexuality if anyone dared cross her. As practically a physical incarnation of violence, she sports one of the nastiest dispositions you'd ever want to see. Her loose-cannon attitude and the wild, savage glee she takes in shooting up or beating up anyone and everything makes her convincing as an action heroine; this is a woman who almost seems to go out of her way to constantly prove how rough and tough she is. Providing a stark contrast to her is the cool-headed but possibly even more ruthless Balalaika, the scar-faced woman who heads the Hotel Moscow, who impresses just as much with her calm, businesslike demeanor as Revy does with her guns and moves. And, as the last chapter proves, she is no slouch when it comes to handling a gun, either. Chapters 2-4, which approximately constitute the second half of the volume, throw a third tough woman into the ring, as the almost inhuman maid Roberta steps up to show off her own way-cool attitude and capabilities.
Those familiar with the anime version will find no surprises here, as the content of the first half closely mirrors the first three episodes of the anime except for a somewhat truncated version of the Black Lagoon-vs.-gunship scenario. The second half matches to content shown in episodes 8-10 of the anime series, although again the anime version used a broader and more developed version of the events shown in the manga. (Roberta appears at the Yellow Flag much quicker in this version, and the pursuit to the docks and subsequent battle there are far less involved.) The anime version fully retained the language, pacing, and feel of this volume, and even the look mostly remains consistent between the two versions; the only noteworthy differences are that Balalaika seems a bit softer here and Revy, who is supposed to be Chinese-American, has a decidedly more ethnic cast to her features in calmer scenes early in the volume. (When riled up, though, she looks nearly identical to her anime version.)
And that brings us to possibly the main strength of the first volume: its artistry. Hiroe delivers on pleasing character designs, an almost amusing style of expressiveness in facial features, and ample detail, but the way he paces things with his paneling and carefully stages his action scenes put him as much amongst the elite manga-ka as his raw artistic skill. Aside from the cover art, which may be the weakest piece in the whole volume, Mad House's production of the anime version replicated the look and feel of Hiroe's work as accurately as any manga fan could hope for.
Viz Media's production of the title comes in an oversized volume at a higher-than normal price point, but the bigger pages allow more room to show off Hiroe's action scenes and the placement of the translated sound effects is so skillfully done that no clue remains that they were ever present in Japanese. Tacked on at the end of the five regular chapters is a four-page bizarro high school version of the Black Lagoon crew, followed by a single four-panel strip, a page of closing words by Hiroe, and two pages of Editor's Notes on Revy's “Two Hand” style an the PT boat which serves as Black Lagoon.
Like its anime version, the manga version of Black Lagoon offers a healthy, high-octane serving of nearly non-stop violence, scheming, and graphic content. It aspires to be nothing more than a hard-core actioner, and because of that it works extremely well.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Great look, plentiful and well-crafted action scenes.
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