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Comedic Sociopathy Meets Military Science Fiction

Black Lagoon, Volume One  (Black Lagoon, volume 1)

By Rei Hiroe 

22 Jul, 2015



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2003’s Black Lagoon manga collection is military fiction! it’s a translation! Two, two, two reviews in one! 

Although one might argue that this book is at best marginally SF, as the only aspects that seem at all speculative are the alternate laws of physics to which some of the characters appear to have access.

The crew of the repurposed WWII-era torpedo boat Black Lagoon (Vietnam War vet Dutch, nihilistic gun nut Revy, and hacker Benny) don’t bother with the conflicted personal histories of a Drake protagonist or the shiny white aura of a Pournelle mercenary. On the grand moral scale of sell-swords, they’re well towards the unabashed-villains end of the scale. The only reason they’re at all sympathetic is because their enemies are even more depraved (and because the plots conspire to keep them from giving in their their worst impulses). 

Enter the unfortunate Rokuro Rock” Okajima, a salaryman who has the great misfortune to be in possession of a computer disk the Russian Mafia hired the crew of the Black Lagoon to … acquire. The crew have no problem snatching the disk and as an extra cherry on the sundae, they snatch the hapless Okajima as well. Why not? If he proves useless, they can always toss his bullet-riddled corpse over the side.

And it gets worse from there.

Rock’s employer, Asahi Heavy Industries, is in the middle of a bold new commercial venture and when I say bold, I mean highly illegal. The disk contains proof of their shady dealings, information that could be useful leverage against them. As the crew of the Black Lagoon have not yet managed to deliver the disk to their Russian Mafia paymaster, there’s a window of opportunity to recover it (or at least destroy it and everything within a few hundreds meters of it) before it falls into the wrong hands.

And as for Asahi Heavy Industries’ faithful employee Rokuro Okajima? Well, as the head office explains to him in a phone conversation that doesn’t quite go as Rock hoped, the disk never existed and Rock has already been declared dead. A heavily armed unit of mercenaries is on the way. His former bosses leave him with this parting bit of advice.

For the good of the fifty-thousand-plus workforce of Asahi Heavy Industries, accept your fate with dignity and perish in the South China Seas.

I hope I am not spoiling things too badly when I say that the above is only one of several stories in this collection.

This is a black comedy about bad people doing terrible things to awful people. (Rock very quickly becomes comfortable committing crimes he had never before contemplated, so he’s definitely not a white hat — even if he is not as overtly murderous as Revy.) The volume is rescued from complete nihilism because the crew of the Black Lagoon generally manage, sometimes not entirely willingly, not to go quite as far as their competitors in pursuit of the almighty dollar. 

As the collection itself notes, these manga have been inspired by action movies like those of director John Woo. The Rule of Cool allows Revy’s signature combat style, leaping acrobatically whilst firing two guns; I am sure she’d fire even more if she could work out how to hold them. 

Some awesome plot power in reverse grants her enemies the aiming skills of a drunken Imperial Stormtrooper. It’s a pretty good bet that the worst that is ever going to happen to the crew are scrapes and bruises, while their opponents are not so lucky.…

Thanks to the author’s fondness for gun-waving women, this actually passes the Bechdel test, modified for comics:

1: At least two women,

2: Who talk to each other,

3: About something other than a man.

Granted, the conversation that comes to mind as qualifying is two women telling each other how much they want to hurt each other, but it definitely qualifies.

This isn’t really my thing. I seem to have lost my taste for comedic sociopathy, and casual carnage. If it happens you have not, and are looking for an action film in manga form, you might want to consider this.

A preview of volume one can be found here. Black Lagoon, volumes one to ten, is available here.