Reviewby Carlo Santos,
A terrorist attack in Venezuela has left the head of the Lovelace family dead, and now his faithful, gun-toting maid Roberta has gone on the rampage. But why has Roberta come to the dangerous streets of Roanapur, Thailand? Her young master Garcia wants answers, and that's why he's on Roberta's trail, with the less experienced but equally deadly maid Fabiola accompanying him. But Roanapur is no place for a little boy and a young lady, and the crew of the Black Lagoon find themselves caught up in a tangled situation when Garcia asks for their help in tracking down Roberta. It seems that every major criminal, terrorist and military organization is involved in Roberta's web of revenge—so of course, only a fellow as naïve as Rock would be so willing to throw himself into it...
"We've got those she's trying to take out, those who are trying to take her out, and those trying to take advantage of her." Rock Okajima sums it all up on page 174, which turns out to come in very handy as Black Lagoon plunges further into its longest story arc yet. So long, in fact, that at the end of this book it's only just about crossed the halfway point. And that's after getting a three-chapter headstart in Volume 6! Such is the scope of Rei Hiroe's ambition in the "El Baile de la Muerte" arc, which brings in almost every major character of the series up to this point, as well as the U.S. Special Forces—and once those guys get involved, you know it's getting serious. However, as we are about to learn, bigger isn't always better, and setting up a massive, all-encompassing storyline sometimes has a way of backfiring on itself.
The backfire doesn't show up right away, though: in the early chapters, this story arc still brims with the energy of a classic gunslinger's brawl. Credit that to the barroom fight between Fabiola and the South American druglords, which carries over from the previous volume and only gets better when more people and bigger guns enter the picture. But as any action manga-ka knows, thrilling fight scenes can't last forever (especially when the entire venue's been destroyed already), and at some point, someone has to start telling the actual story.
That's when things start to backfire. Not all in one dramatic gesture of failure, but over several chapters of sloppy narrative—too much time spent with people discussing the ramifications of Roberta's rampage (usually in clipped lines of dialogue that barely make sense), too many scene changes involving various bad guys who are only tangentially connected to the plot, and too much preparation for the big showdown instead of actually having a big showdown. It's the climax that never comes: "Hold on, this story arc is about to get awesome ... in the next chapter ... or maybe the next ... almost ... wait, that's it?!"
Yes, that's all there is, although the developmental chapters do have some fine moments: the flashbacks following Roberta's path to Roanapur, Rock and Revy's debate of personal philosophy, and one particularly chilling (if also confusing) scene where we get our only glimpse of Roberta in real-time. These key plot points all deliver a powerful emotional punch—but the in-between scenes that actually move the plot forward are far weaker in execution.
Even the artwork loses some of its luster when put in the service of ineffective storytelling: it's hard to get excited about crisp lines and details when dialogue is taking center stage. Hiroe does try to pick unconventional angles and visuals to make such scenes interesting, but there are times when this only makes it worse—it's hard to tell which character is speaking when you're looking at a coffee table. However, the key scenes mentioned above fare better in the art department, showing genuine signs of skill and effort: Roberta's ominous moment comes with plenty of shadow and mood lighting, for example, while the pivotal conversation between Rock and Revy makes great use of layout to direct the flow of the scene. But the best parts, of course, are always the fights and shootouts, whether it's Fabiola ripping through the Yellow Flag bar or the flashbacks of Roberta taking down anyone in her way. Unfortunately, such scenes become rarer as the storyline grows more complex ... leaving everyone wishing for the days of mindless nonstop action.
If there's one thing that remains consistent throughout the series, though, it's the brash, tough-guy dialogue spouted by just about everyone. Although this works great for brassy action scenes, with everyone taunting and yelling at each other, it's also a major reason why the plot developments are so hard to follow. When everyone speaks the same way, how is anyone supposed to tell the characters apart? (Remember, you're probably looking at a coffee table while trying to parse these lines of dialogue.) Less confusing are the sound effects, which are translated completely into English with no remaining traces of Japanese—but integrate so well into the visuals that no one's going to mind (especially for a series with such an international setting).
The greatest failing of Black Lagoon's seventh volume, ultimately, may be something far simpler than the ever-evolving storyline and the double-crossing web of characters. It may be something far simpler than the fact that certain emotional high points are executed well, while plot-advancing dialogue scenes ramble off into confusion. In fact, the biggest problem with this volume may not even have anything to do with the artwork being highly polished (especially in action scenes) but often being put to use in dull, disorienting conversations. The biggest problem is this: Why isn't Revy running around kicking ass and taking names?
That's something that Volume 8 had better solve, and quick.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B-
+ Starts things off with a terrific shootout, then expands an ambitious storyline with a handful of key scenes.
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