Review by: Clive Owen
Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Rei Hiroe
Genre: Action (Graphic Novel)
MSRP: $12.99 US
Release Date: Now Available
Lagoon Traders … for when you need the job done with blood, sweat and bullets.
Japanese salary man, Rokuro Okajima, did not expect to have a gun pointed at his head when he woke up and he certainly didn’t expect to be kidnapped by a crew of “couriers” that includes a sexy tattooed girl with a real mean streak. Most surprisingly, though, is that this young man in the starch white shirt and slim black tie did not expect to become a member of the very same group that kidnapped him. This is Black Lagoon, Volume 1, a manga by Rei Hiroe that inspired the action-packed anime of the same name.
In the first volume of Black Lagoon, we meet the eclectic Lagoon Traders crew that acts like couriers for a Russian crime syndicate that made Southeast Asia their home as well as smuggle illegal goods for anyone willing to pay good money. Led by a smart yet tough African-American named Dutch, the crew (that moves about in an old WWII modified PT boat called the Black Lagoon) includes a Florida-raised mechanic named Benny and an attractive-yet-deadly girl in a tank top and short cut-off jeans named Revy “Two Hand.” This band kidnaps Rokuro in hopes of getting some ransom money along with the payment for the computer disc Rokuro was carrying with him on his business trip.
Of course, when Rokuro’s employers are more concerned over the contents of the disc rather than his safe as well as telling him that he’s better off dead for the sake of the company, the newly renamed Rock (renamed by Dutch who likes it better than Rokuro) joins the crew after he helps his once captors go up against a group of mercenaries. He also comes to the conclusion that Revy might be pretty but she’s also out of her mind. Rock even makes a suggestion that gets them out of a jam when the crew goes up against an attack helicopter
Watching the group’s back is the local Southeast Asia’s Russian mafia contact who just so happens to be a woman named Balalaika who sports a nasty scar and a mean streak. The Lagoon Traders work for her despite Revy’s mistrust of this mysterious woman who seems to know everything about every crime syndicate in the vicinity including the Chinese triad that attempts to take Dutch and his crew out. They certainly weren’t counting on Revy who – sporting earphones blaring Rob Zombie and two guns – single-handedly takes them on. Yeah, she’s nuts but she gets the job done.
The final chapter in the volume has the crew attempting to take the kidnapped son of one of Colombia’s drug cartel leaders. While the boy is bratty with everyone else on board the Black Lagoon, he responds to Rock and comes to trust him. Of course, the deal goes sour when the boy’s maid, a dainty woman in a maid’s outfit and large-rimmed glasses named Roberta, comes into the very bar that always seems to be shot up when the Lagoon Traders are in town.
Roberta might be dainty but she shows rival Colombian mobsters what she’s really made of and Rock hit’s the nail on the head when he compares her to the Terminator. Her past, I should mention, is quite interesting and actually plausible. One of the most exciting and memorable moments in this volume is the confrontation between Revy and Roberta that begins as a gunfight and ends as a very bloody fistfight that has the survivors of the bar battle betting on who wins.
Rei Hiroe’s art and storytelling really stand out and Hiroe’s ability to showcase the action sequences in a way that it is seldom too hard to follow. There are times when the action does become a bit chaotic – such as Roberta’s battle with the Colombians – but they somehow light up the panels wonderfully. I should note that this manga does deserve its M rating for its excessive profanity rather than its bloody action. Still, the manga doesn’t take itself seriously and this makes it a fun read. I even enjoyed the super short extra story and four-panel comic featuring Roberta.
If you’re already familiar with Black Lagoon via the anime then you already know that this series is not just action-packed but thoroughly enjoyable. The first volume of Black Lagoon the manga is the same way and thus makes this a seriously fun manga older readers will certainly like reading. Trust me; this one is well worth the retail price.
Crammed with triad crime lords, blood-thirsty mercenaries, Colombian cartel hoods and a maid you don’t want to piss off, Black Lagoon is like an overblown Hollywood action film … only that overblown Hollywood action film is actually a very good one. It’s a great start to a good series.
Rei Hiroe’s manner of depicting action and bullet-fueled gunfights is nothing short of chaotic but his is still able to convey these action sequences with plenty of style much like the anime itself. The characters are richly drawn and that makes this a manga easy on the eyes.
There’s no shortage of action in Black Lagoon, Volume 1, and on top of that the story and characters are genuinely memorable. It’s a violent, over-the-top action manga that does everything on a big scale and you will like it for that reason alone. In short, Black Lagoon is one seriously enjoyably mature read.