Volume 1 of Black Lagoon is a must-read for mature action manga fans.
Writer/Artist: Rei Hiroe
Translated By: Dan Kanemitsu
Adapted By: 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, Columbian 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!
What We Say:
At an MSRP of $13, this is the first "premium"-priced Viz title that I've read; to be honest, I'm a little disappointed in the print quality. I appreciate the larger form factor, which is probably where a lot of the extra $3 went. But to my eyes, the artwork is noticeably washed-out and soft in spots, even when compared against Viz's own standard-sized releases. I can't help but contrast Black Lagoon's release to the similarly-priced oversize volumes that Dark Horse and Yen Press regularly produce, which are much more nicely printed and put together than what Viz has done here.
On the bright side, Viz has included a few short extras in this volume: a four-page high-school comedy omake, one 4-koma gag comic, the author's afterword, and two editor's notes.
I really like Hiroe's sense of style here. He's not afraid to borrow from American or Hong Kong pop-culture when he needs to, and he's settled on a blend of Japanese-style art with Hollywood over-the-top action that works extremely well. It's not just the slick style; the artwork is technically proficient to boot. The man's obviously got a soft spot for guns and military machinery that shines through in the mechanical designs.
A reader in the forum noted that Viz has touched-up the original artwork to remove several trademarked logos that were present in the Japanese release. Though these edits really should've been mentioned in the frontmatter and will no doubt upset purists, they're cleanly done (I wouldn't have noticed a thing if they weren't pointed out to me) and don't remove anything tangible from the storyline.
Kanemitsu's English adaptation is a mixed bag. It's fine grammatically and reads OK in a lot of places, but in other places the "edginess" of the dialogue really feels forced. Even by B-movie standards, some of the one-liners in Chapter 0 are really cringe-worthy.
As is typical of Viz's releases, the lettering is done with a legible comic typeface and the Japanese SFX are replaced with English translations. A handful of lines are spoken in Russian and Spanish, which are printed here in their original language with English translations beneath. Also of note: Viz has licensed and reproduced the lyrics to White Zombie's "Electric Head Pt. 1 (The Agony)" and Rednex's "Shooter" for an action sequence in Chapter 1. The White Zombie license is a nice touch, though I could have done without being reminded that Rednex ever existed.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Volume 1 of Black Lagoon sets the tone for the story pretty much from the get-go, opening with a literal punch to the face and a couple of drawn guns. RokurĊ Okajima, the Japanese salaryman on the receiving end of that punch, has been taken hostage by the crew of a modified Navy PT boat called the Black Lagoon. The Black Lagoon crew aren't interested in Okajima himself so much as the disk he's carrying on the behalf of Asahi Heavy Industries. Neither they nor Okajima are sure what's on the disk, but they're pretty sure the secrecy surrounding the disk means that it (and, by extension, its courier) is worth a whole lot of cash to Asahi.
Even though he's not all that cooperative, Okajima's captors start to take a sort of liking to him. Before long, they're giving him a pet name ("Rock"), buying him a few drinks, and even introducing themselves while waiting for the ransom to arrive: there's Dutch, the boat's pilot; Benny, their technician; and Revy, the akimbo-pistol-toting femme fatale. Unfortunately, because Asahi considers the disk's secrets to be worth more than Rock's life, they decide to skip the ransom and just send in a group of mercenaries to eradicate Rock along with the disk. This is where Hiroe starts rolling out the kind of insane action sequences that dominate the rest of the volume: Revy basically shoots her way out of the ambush, leading the Black Lagoon crew to a short car chase and eventually into an epic battle between their boat and Asahi's helicopter. As unlikely of an action hero that Rock is, he shows enough initiative and fighting instinct to impress Revy a full-time job on the Black Lagoon's crew.
Now that the basic cast of characters is established, Hiroe doesn't waste much time in the remaining chapters before getting straight to the action. The introductory "Chapter 0" is followed by a short one-chapter story that pits the Black Lagoon against a crew of pirates in a territorial battle. Hiroe wraps things up here with an elaborate shoot-out sequence, which is hands-down the most badass thing the entire volume has to offer -- and that's really saying a lot. The three-parter that follows is almost tame by comparison, but it's still no slouch. After the first part of the story establishes that Dutch and company have abducted a wealthy brat to pressure his father into an unfavorable business deal, the remaining two parts deal with a one-on-one showdown between Revy and the child's overprotective caretaker.
Black Lagoon isn't your stereotypical manga action series. There're no heroes with golden hearts, important lessons about teambuilding and friendship, melodramatic overtones, or half-hearted attempts at plausibility. No, Black Lagoon is kind of series where people take down helicopters with airborne torpedoes, sink boats with one shot from a handheld RPG, and fight to the death with FARC-trained maids. Black Lagoon has only one simple life-affirming lesson: don't screw with a woman holding an RPG.
In other words, it's awesome.
Hiroe obviously doesn't have any pretentions about what he's making here; Volume 1 of Black Lagoon draws deep inspiration from Hollywood and Hong Kong popcorn action flicks and, more importantly, makes absolutely no excuses for it. The key ingredient here -- the one that makes Black Lagoon work where so many other manga action series feel stale -- is that Hiroe doesn't saddle the over-the-top action with scenes of lingering seriousness or angst. Yeah, there are small bits here and there about who the crew of the Black Lagoon are and how they ended up becoming soldiers of fortune, but the point of this volume isn't to focus too much on these nitty-gritty details. The point is to watch our anti-heroes work together (well, okay, mostly Revy) to rack up ridiculous body counts and generally kick serious amounts of ass. And you know what? It may sound dumb -- hell, it is dumb -- but it's also incredibly damned entertaining.
Really, that's what the decision to fork over the $13 MSRP comes down to: how much the idea of shallow but wonderfully over-the-top action sequences appeals to you. If this sounds up your alley, Volume 1 of Black Lagoon is a really fun, solid release that comes highly recommended.