Black Lagoon has, from all we’ve seen, two types of storylines. The first is the slower, longer, more over-arching plot threads, like the Washimine-gumi saga that filled most of the last two volumes. Then there are the adventures where the scenery is punctured with flying lead, everything that can be blown up is blown up, and people reveal various perverse ways in which anything imaginable can be used as an assault weapon. Guess what we get this time around.
It’s not as if the series is missing anything when it jams itself into absurdist-overkill action mode, though. Even when things are going through the roof and punching holes in the bottoms of passing airplanes, there’s always still some tenuous semblance of story ‘n character, even if it’s relegated to second-banana walk-on status. The up-front themes this time around aren’t honor, loyalty, or the brotherhoods that exist between criminals — it’s Revy’s pissed-off psycho-smile and Rock’s pop-eyed stupefaction at what kind of crazy crap he’s managed to get himself into this time.
The first two-thirds of the book, the “Greenback Jane” saga, deal with the Lagoon crew crossing paths with a character who could easily be a refugee from Gunsmith Cats, a series that Black Lagoon owes a great deal (and yet would never be confused with it). The titular character is a forger, a lady who’s managed to whip up a formula for copying American currency, and is now in a whole swamp of trouble. She only makes things worse by trying to find refuge with Revy and Sister Eda’s “Church”, where she gets less than no sympathy from the clergywoman: “Know what Jesus said in John:5? ‘Don’t be bringin’ me any trouble, bitch!’” (Few manga are this eminently quotable in English.)
Jane has a motley — maybe mottled — crew of hired killers after her. Among them is a familiar face, “Chinglish Girl” — i.e., Shenhua, the Manchu-broadsword-wielding, qipao-wearing assassin whose blasé manners are a fine match for the snotty ‘tude of her fellow contract murderers. There’s also the Goth-chick Sawyer — weapon of choice: chainsaw — who’s missing both her voice and a good chunk of her sanity. The assassins close ranks and give chase when Eda decides to blackmail Greenback Jane into letting them protect her. The whole way this is depicted on the page is both pricelessly funny and a great example of what I guess you could call “subjunctive storytelling”, where the whole question of whether or not what you’re seeing is even real is held over until the last frame.
The mission quickly turns into one of Lagoon’s patented shoot-outs, where extra points are awarded for creative overkill, and is then capped off with a boat chase … although anyone who’s read even one book of the series would guess that in a boat chase, the Lagoon crew automatically have the upper hand. They are correct. And as a cap-off, there’s a surprise about the real reason for the presence of a certain recurring character — which, given the generally gratuitous nature of Black Lagoon in general, is actually a good deal less gratuitous than some of the things they could have come up with. (Let’s face it — at this point, having a character unmask themselves as a CIA agent is almost normal. Almost.)
As for the remaining third or so
of the book … check out the cover art. Remember her? Roberta, the Maid
With the Machine Guns (and who’s deadly enough without them anyway)?
It’s about time she
waltzed flamencoed back into the
storyline and started destroying everything again. Well, she doesn’t
show up, but we do get someone in almost exactly the same mold: the
equally cold and precise Fabiola, with the same inimitable style of
poker-stiff politeness wedded at the hip to massive amounts of property
damage. Her entrance is nothing short of classic: she walks into the
most dangerous bar in town without a single weapon and tears the place
to shreds anyway. Well, she does have some help from Rock and
Revy — the latter being curious to see what brings her back to town,
since wherever the maids of the Iglesias family walk, hell follows
A good manga title is consistent: it sets up its premise and never falls too far below a certain baseline for delivering on that premise. Black Lagoon set the baseline pretty high to begin with and hasn’t disappointed me yet. If there’s no live-action movie version of this by the end of next year I’m going to be stupefied.