BLACK LAGOON • Rei Hiroe • VIZ • 18+
If you need dirty jobs done around the fictional city of Roanapur, Thailand, you better ask the mercenary crew of the torpedo boat “Black Lagoon.” Forced to leave his ordinary life behind and join the crew of the Black Lagoon, ex-salaryman Rokurô “Rock” Okajima becomes the brains of the crew, working alongside the muscular African-American Dutch, Benny the mechanic, and the series’ star character, Revy, an angry, hard-drinking Chinese-American bad girl who leaps into combat with twin handguns and impossibly tight cut-off shorts (clearly a fetish of the artist). Beginning with a punch to the face and loaded with swearing, blood and mayhem, Black Lagoon is a high-energy heist manga intended, if the author’s in-jokes are any indication, in the collateral-damage spirit of movies like Rambo and The Wild Bunch. The manga is divided into story arcs which run from about three to ten chapters; Russian mafia, Chinese triads, yakuza, neo-Nazis and Hezbollah terrorists duke it out in Roanapur, each with their own representative badasses, although (a sign of the times in the manga market) the strongest gunmen tend to be the most fanservicey characters such as gun-toting maids, nuns and creepy-cute incestuous twins. Amid all the violence, Rock tries to keep both his spine and his conscience (“Who’s the guy with the stick up his ass?” the surrounding badasses scoff); one of the manga’s strengths is that Rock’s moral compass keeps things from getting too sadistic, and it also never descends into easy angst. The pages are dialogue-heavy (not a bad thing, since the dialogue is well-written and Tarantino-ishly foul-mouthed) and the action scenes are more flashy than clear, with huge sound effects and closeups of muzzle blasts sometimes making it difficult to tell what’s happening. It’d be a better manga if it slowed down once in awhile, but it’s a fun ride, and at its best moments it reaches an almost Hellsing-like level of mayhem. The English edition is censored for copyrighted song lyrics and brand names, including, oddly, the brands of the guns.
*** 1/2 (three and a half stars)
Today’s winner is Victoria G.! Congratulations, Victoria!