Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 30th 2008
On most days, two-handed gunslinger Revy and her crewmates aboard the smuggling boat Black Lagoon are plying their trade across Southeast Asia, delivering goods for the top dogs of criminal underworld. But a crisis of global proportions has erupted in the city of Roanapur as two child assassins seek the blood of the Italian, Russian, and Chinese cartels! Can Revy and her pals stop the madness and help out their most important clients? Later on, the Black Lagoon's crew find themselves battling a very different sort of criminal organization when they're asked to transport some stolen plans detailing an Islamic fundamentalist terror attack. Not only will they have to race against time to get the documents to the U.S. authorities, but they'll have to dodge the hordes of ideologically-driven killers chasing after them...
In today's world of absurd, shoe-throwing politics, real life really does turn out to be the best source for fictional material. And that's where Black Lagoon turns to for its next story arc in Volume 3: kiddie killers may have a fascinating psychopathic edge, but nothing gives a sense of immediacy quite like having Islamic jihadists play the bad guys. It's the point in the series where the line starts to blur between action-adventure escapism and current-affairs commentary—although perhaps the only commentary being made here is that it's cool to shoot people and blow stuff up. Whatever one thinks of terrorism in the world today, there's at least one unanimous opinion to be had about Black Lagoon: the stakes are high, the explosions are loud, and the action is nonstop.
Nowhere are the stakes higher than in the finale of "Bloodsport Fairy Tale," where the entire power structure of organized crime is threatened by twin assassins whose nightmarish childhoods turned them into monsters. To be honest, the interplay between the Russian mob, the Mafia and the Triads is something of a convoluted mess here, and all that really matters at this point is that Revy and crew (plus longtime rival Balalaika) hatch some insane yet cunning plan to dispose of the children. As always, the sense of urgency and intense gunplay keep things moving at a fast clip, but it feels like the soul of this storyline—where the twins' history was explained in harrowing detail—was left back in Volume 2.
On the other hand, the remaining hundred-odd pages in this book don't even have to come up with a compelling background for its villains—the mere mention of jihadist terrorism is enough to grab attention. With the mention of organizations like Hezbollah and Abu Sayyaf, this arc is the closest the series has come so far to current events, although the political name-dropping is mostly there for flavor than anything else. Even so, our heroes are quick to point out that it's a completely different game dealing with enemies who fight for God rather than money. Most importantly, these chapters reflect the true spirit of the series: the sense of adventure that comes from making impossibly risky deliveries for shady political and business purposes. Ex-salaryman Rock gets to show his engineering genius once again (and his pathetically slow reflexes a few chapters later), while gunslinging Revy gets to team up with a blade-wielding "Chinglish girl" for some gracefully brutal bloodshed. And really, would you want it any other way?
As usual, Rei Hiroe's visually intense style is a key part of the action, with every gunshot and explosion drawn in eye-popping detail. Striking layouts and angles also help to create the necessary impact, although sometimes the artwork ends up getting in the way of itself, with so much flying debris and smoke that figuring out exactly what happened is something of a riddle. But that's only one artistic fault among a lot of other positives: the precise attention to detail, especially with prop objects like guns and vehicles, the variety of character designs (an international cast certainly helps), and the ability to render backgrounds ranging from dingy city streets to the open sea to deep tropical jungles. Even the dialogue scenes are drawn with deliberate intensity as the characters play various mind games with each other.
Unfortunately, the actual text of the dialogue ends up backfiring on itself: it takes up too much space and it's either super-cheesy or makes no sense. It's true that most action-adventure dialogue is like that, but this series is unusually wordy by the standards of the genre, especially when the crimelords start talking about dealings in annoyingly vague terms. Then there are the attempts at character-building—usually when Rock reflects on the hopelessness of the world around him—that end up as merely shallow attempts at pseudo-philosophy. If the script would just let the action speak for itself, it'd probably be a much more readable experience.
Although the dialogue is something of a mess, the harsh, heavy lettering of the sound effects—fully converted into English—do a better job of fitting into the tone of the art and story. In addition, the oversize pages of this volume give more room for the artwork to shine, as well as justifying the slightly higher price tag.
In a way, this volume of Black Lagoon doesn't quite live up to its potential: here it is, bringing up the controversial subject of jihad-driven terrorism, and instead just uses the perpetrators as generic targets to be shot at. Come to think of it, even the psychology of the child killers from the previous arc was better developed. But even so, this series still accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: to provide the kind of excitement that can only be had with a gang of gun-toting adventurers on the South China Sea. If the characters could just learn to keep their mouths shut more often, it'd fix the one major problem with the series, but otherwise, there's not much else to do but enjoy and watch the bullets fly.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B+
+ Continues to entertain with rapid-fire action, intensely dynamic art, and a new story arc with a contemporary spin.
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