Black Lagoon Volume 4 tones down the action in favor of organized crime politics; believe it or not, the tradeoff makes things more interesting.
Writer/Artist: Rei Hiroe
Translation: Dan Kanemitsu
Adaptation: Dan Kanemitsu
What They Say
Lock n' load with the baddest soldiers of fortune ever to hit the high seas of Southeast Asia! Aboard their World War II era torpedo boat, the Black Lagoon, Dutch the Boss, Benny the Mechanic, Revy Two Hand, and Rock, the salaryman from Japan, deliver anything, anywhere. In the dangerous underworld of the Russian Mafia, Chinese Triads, Colombian drug cartels, crazed assassins, and ruthless mercenaries, it's hard to know who to trust. But if you've got a delivery to make, and you don't mind a little property damage along the way, you can count on the crew of the Black Lagoon!
The action shifts to chilly midwinter Tokyo, where Balalaika hires Rock as her interpreter, and Revy comes along as Rock's bodyguard. The Washimine-gumi, a Yakuza family on its way down, wants to make a deal with Hotel Moscow. Soon, however, the yakuza realize they might have been better off making a deal with the Devil himself! As the pressure builds, Rock faces the reality of his outlaw life, and Revy meets her match in the Washimine's number-one enforcer. The icy streets of Tokyo are about to burn red-hot!
Sure, I've taken Hiroe to task over the slower, longer storylines that have made up the last couple of volumes of Black Lagoon. Not counting the "Goat, Jihad, Rock 'n' Roll" segment started in Volume 3, most of these multi-chapter arcs deliver for a while but then fizzle out after the action dies down. And with Volume 4 delivering the first eight (!) parts of another multipart story, it's apparent that these longer stories are here to stay. But the good news that this volume proves that the series doesn't have to be any less entertaining when Hiroe takes things at a slower pace.
Before Volume 4 heads in that direction, it takes a quick chapter to wrap up the aforementioned "Goat, Jihad, Rock 'n' Roll" story arc. The story has pretty much wound down by this point, so the resolution is straightforward: Revy wields her akimo pistols to clear an opening for the car, and everybody makes it to the delivery safe and sound. The wrap-up is short, but it's a lot of fun all around. After being subjected to title after title filled with silly high school shenanigans, it's almost refreshing to come back to a series with a heroine who kills a bunch of people, smokes a celebratory joint with her coworkers, and doesn't even TRY to make any excuses for how bad of a role model she's being.
The real gem of this volume is that exceptionally long "Fujiyama Gangsta Paradise" arc -- eight chapters here, with more to come in Volume 5 -- that I mentioned earlier. Hiroe takes his time to establish a complex plot involving a lot of key players; the gist of it is that Hotel Moscow have stepped in to support the Washimine Gumi yakuza outfit in their power struggle with the rival Kosa Kai family, who have been trying to renege on oaths established with the deceased Ryuko Washimine. Rock and Revy have been brought in as an interpreter and hired muscle, respectively, although the story so far has more to do with the yakuza and Russian mob than the Black Lagoon crew. In place of gunfights (the big guns don't come out until well into the second half) there's a lot of interesting political intrigue being built in these eight chapters, including the introduction of a reluctant heir to the Washimine family and some unexpected backstabbings on both the Russian and Japanese sides of things.
The methodical pacing in the "Fujiyama" arc might try the patience of some readers who just want Revy to get on with it and shoot someone already; otherwise, it's one of the strongest-written volumes the series has offered to date.