Black Lagoon has, from all we’ve seen, two types ofstorylines. The first is the slower, longer, more over-arching plotthreads, like the Washimine-gumi saga that filled most of the last twovolumes. Then there are the adventures where the scenery is puncturedwith flying lead, everything that can be blown up is blown up,and people reveal various perverse ways in which anything imaginablecan be used as an assault weapon. Guess what we get this time around.
It’s not as if the series is missinganything when it jams itself into absurdist-overkill action mode,though. Even when things are going through the roof and punching holesin the bottoms of passing airplanes, there’s always still some tenuoussemblance of story ‘n character, even if it’s relegated tosecond-banana walk-on status. The up-front themes this time aroundaren’t honor, loyalty, or the brotherhoods that exist betweencriminals—it’s Revy’s pissed-off psycho-smile and Rock’s pop-eyedstupefaction at what kind of crazy crap he’s managed to get himselfinto this time.
The first two-thirds of the book, the “Greenback Jane” saga, dealwith the Lagoon crew crossing paths with a character who could easilybe a refugee from Gunsmith Cats, a series that Black Lagoonowes a great deal (and yet would never be confused with it). Thetitular character is a forger, a lady who’s managed to whip up aformula for copying American currency, and is now in a whole swamp oftrouble. She only makes things worse by trying to find refuge with Revyand Sister Eda’s “Church”, where she gets less than no sympathy fromthe clergywoman: “Know what Jesus said in John:5? ‘Don’t be bringin’ meany trouble, bitch!’” (Few manga are this eminently quotable inEnglish.)
Jane has a motley—maybe mottled—crew of hiredkillers after her. Among them is a familiar face, “ChinglishGirl”—i.e., Shenhua, the Manchu-broadsword-wielding, qipao-wearingassassin whose blasé manners are a fine match for the snotty ‘tude ofher fellow contract murderers. There’s also the Goth-chickSawyer—weapon of choice: chainsaw—who’s missing both her voiceand a good chunk of her sanity. The assassins close ranks and givechase when Eda decides to blackmail Greenback Jane into letting themprotect her. The whole way this is depicted on the page is bothpricelessly funny and a great example of what I guess you could call“subjunctive storytelling”, where the whole question of whether or notwhat you’re seeing is even real is held over until the last frame.
The mission quickly turns into one of Lagoon’spatented shoot-outs, where extra points are awarded for creativeoverkill, and is then capped off with a boat chase … although anyonewho’s read even one book of the series would guess that in a boatchase, the Lagoon crew automatically have the upper hand. Theyare correct. And as a cap-off, there’s a surprise about the real reasonfor the presence of a certain recurring character—which, given thegenerally gratuitous nature of Black Lagoon in general, is actually a good deal lessgratuitous than some of the things they could have come up with. (Let’sface it—at this point, having a character unmask themselves as a CIAagent is almost normal. Almost.)
As for the remaining third or soof the book … check out the cover art. Remember her? Roberta, the MaidWith the Machine Guns (and who’s deadly enough without them anyway)?It’s about time she
waltzed flamencoed back into thestoryline and started destroying everything again. Well, she doesn’tshow up, but we do get someone in almost exactly the same mold: theequally cold and precise Fabiola, with the same inimitable style ofpoker-stiff politeness wedded at the hip to massive amounts of propertydamage. Her entrance is nothing short of classic: she walks into themost dangerous bar in town without a single weapon and tears the placeto shreds anyway. Well, she does have some help from Rock andRevy—the latter being curious to see what brings her back to town,since wherever the maids of the Iglesias family walk, hell followsclose behind.
A good manga title is consistent: it sets up its premise and neverfalls too far below a certain baseline for delivering on that premise. Black Lagoonset the baseline pretty high to begin with and hasn’t disappointed meyet. If there’s no live-action movie version of this by the end of nextyear I’m going to be stupefied.