Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Benny's girlfriend Jane is coming back to Roanapur, but not just to see her lover – she's working on a scheme that involves the Chinese government and a German aeronautics company, and let's just say that it isn't very nice. She lures a young Chinese intelligence agent into her web and then leaves her to suffer the fallout when her government finds out she's been duped and ditches her in Roanapur...putting her in a situation very similar to Rock's when he first fell in with Lagoon Traders. Will Rock's kindness and Revy's hatred of Jane convince them to help the lost agent? You never can say in Roanapur...
It's been a long wait for the crew of the Black Lagoon last sailed into our bookstores, but it looks like it was worth the wait. Volume ten of the violent (yet human) action series takes a little bit to get into unless you've just finished re-reading the previous book or watching the anime version of Roberta's Blood Trail – and I would recommend doing one or the other, as it will make this read much more smoothly – but once Hiroe gets going, it's hard to put down. The story picks up shortly after the events of volume nine, and Rock is still working through what happened when Roberta came to town. He's clearly still very bothered by it, and in their own ways, Revy and Benny are trying to help him through it. (Dutch is barely in this volume, which is a shame.) Everyone is distracted, however, by the return of Benny's girlfriend Jane, who is stopping by Roanapur with a plan to catch the Chinese government in its hacking activities. This necessitates the use of a young Chinese intelligence agent, feng Yifei, who has no idea that she's strolled into a trap until it closes on her. While Jane is perfectly happy with her work, the Chinese are desperately trying to avoid an incident (or embarrassment), and they tell feng that it's her duty to die in Roanapur.
Does this sound familiar? Essentially it is a repeat of what happened to Rock back when he was just Rokuro Okajima, everyday salaryman who waltzed into a bad situation. feng recognizes Rock's empathy and the fact that he still has a lot of basic humanity close to the surface and goes to him for help...and much to Revy's chagrin, there really still is a lot of Rokuro in Rock. This is what keeps him defined as a character and adds a little light to Hiroe's otherwise dark story: Rock has an innocence and a sweetness to him that everyone else lacks. Benny and Dutch have turned off their moral compasses, Revy may never have had one, and characters like Jane operate based on hedonism. But Rock is still hopeful that some people can be saved, and no matter how many times he suffers because of that belief, he keeps coming back to try again. He seems a little wiser now, but that doesn't change who he is deep down. We can see that the other characters also value this kindness in him, especially Revy, who threatens several people this time whom she feels might try to take advantage of Rock. Interestingly enough, she doesn't correct either Jane or feng when they call Rock her boyfriend, although I don't recall them ever defining their relationship as such, and they certainly don't act like it. It's hard to deny that he's special to Revy, however, and may be the one soft spot in her hard life.
Most interesting about this volume is the way that feng's story mirrors Rock's. While Hiroe definitely gets a little too obvious about that using unnecessary flashbacks and imagery, it helps us to see that Rock may not be the only person to end up in Roanapur the way he did, and feng's determination to come through this or to go down fighting is the rejuvenating force he needs to fully get past the Roberta incident. feng doesn't allow herself to wallow, reminding Rock of how he had to pull it together initially and also driving home that survival is possible for those who want it, something he really needs to remember at this point.
Hiroe's use of Chinese government hackers feels fairly timely (and it is interesting and perhaps controversial that he doesn't have the characters in the book deny their activities), but the rest of the plot could take place pretty much at any point in history. Black Lagoon is in many ways ultimately about survival, and Hiroe drives that home with the grittiness of his artwork – occasionally in the sense that you can practically feel the dirt and heat of Roanapur on your skin – but also through the treatment of sex and violence. There's very little difference between the two in some ways, and sex is certainly treated like a form of currency in this book in particular, with feng kissing Rock as payment. This may remind some readers of the way the female twin during their arc offered to sleep with Rock as thanks; it says a lot about the character that Rock is horrified both times. There are also casual mentions of prostitution and sex tapes (made without the players' knowledge), so this is definitely not a book for the faint of heart. While there is physical fanservice (mostly from Jane, who appears to be insatiable), most of it is gun related, with shots of different firearms and gun battles that rely on difficult angles. Viz's rating doesn't lie when it tells you that the book has “basically everything your mother ever told you not to do.” If you get right down to it, however, that's what makes this series so appealing: it's a dark, criminal fantasy about a world with few rules, where death is ready to take you the minute you start to think about giving up. Rock needed to be reminded of that, and with feng's story arc not over yet, it will be interesting to see how parallel their paths will continue to run.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Exciting and fast-paced, interesting angles for a lot of the gun fights. Parallels between Rock's story and Feng's have potential.
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