Black Lagoon vol 1 (Ongoing Series)

Distributor:  VIZ Media

Author:  Rei Hiroe

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  $12.99 (approx. 8.50)

Number of Pages:  216

ISBN:  978-1421513829

Reviewed:  2nd March 2008

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)


Black Lagoon was one of my favourite anime series of 2008, and the opportunity top pick up the first volume of the manga it's based on wasn't to be ignored!

As with the anime the story starts with Japanese office worker Rokuro Okajima at the mercy of pirates in the southern seas.  He was sent by his managers to courier a disc of accounts data to the head of the one of the company's overseas branches, but his mundane job took a dangerous turn when the Lagoon Company pirates hijacked the boat he was on.  It turns out that the disc has more on it than just expense accounts, it contains details of the company's shadiest dealings and the information has attracted the interest of the ruthless Russian mafia boss Balalaika.  Because of this Rokuro now finds himself at the mercy of the hulking Dutch, trigger happy Revy and computer expert Benny, and his worries at what he will have to tell his boss are replaced with horror when Revy decides to take him hostage!  He will, she believes, be worth a bit of ransom money from the Japanese, but instead his bosses abandon him and hire mercenaries to kill them and recover the disc.  In the ensuing combat Rokuro, nicknamed Rock by his captors, proves himself to be a creative thinker and Dutch allows him to join the Lagoon Company.  His old life as a boring salaryman is behind him, and his new life as a pirate of the South China Seas is just beginning...

Anyone who has been watching the excellent anime series will know the above already, and it's interesting to see how closely the anime follows the manga.  Most anime series take a few liberties, making changes to fit with the demands of TV broadcast or to pad the story out.  It becomes clear when reading this first volume that Black Lagoon doesn't really do this, with the only differences really being cosmetic or chronological.  But more of that later.  Black Lagoon in manga form works as well as its anime counterpart.  It's an adult manga aimed at an older male audience, that doesn't mean that it includes loads of sex and nudity either - in

fact there is none of either in this volume - but it does mean that it's damn violent, pretty cynical and lacks the morality of the 'shonen' style manga aimed at a younger demographic.  It's non that common for a 'seinen' (as such adult male orientated series are known) come out in the West, and as a 27 year old male I always find it interesting when one does.  I will get it out of the way now, Black Lagoon is pure, unashamed wish fulfilment aimed at Japanese salarymen.  It comes through in nearly every panel, Rokuro is a nobody working a dead-end job whose natural brilliance is constrained by Japanese society.  As soon as he breaks free of it he comes into his own, showing skills he's never demonstrated before and earning everyone's respect seemingly by virtue of his honourable Japanese spirit, hard-working attitude and honesty.

The blood-soaked and bullet-riddled world of murderous criminal gangs that Rokuro is thrown into is glamorised in much the same way as it is in British gangster films like Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.  And much like those films you find yourself drawn into it and relishing each victory the characters achieve, especially if it involves pitch gun battles and colourful villains.  The story is exactly the same as in the anime with around half the book taken up by Rokuro's first meeting with the Lagoon Company and the subsequent attempts by his employers to destroy them and the disc.  After this is varies slightly, in that it

skips a story about a sunken U-Boat from the anime and goes straight on to the following story arc.  This second story arc takes up the rest of the book and sees the Lagoon Company's mission to deliver a young boy to a mafia group go awry when the boy's maid Roberta turns up.  Roberta is not your usual maid, she is a deadly and unstoppable soldier that will stop at nothing to rescue her young master!  The action is nearly non-stop and there's enough over-the-top gun fights and cool characters to give John Woo wet dreams for about a month.

Here's the thing.  I know this is wish-fulfilment aimed at twenty to thirtysomethings stuck in dead-end office jobs.  I know that it's cynical, morally bankrupt and glamorises the seedier side of society.  But by god it's fun!  The action is spectacularly OTT, the characters are great and best of all the artwork is absolutely superb.  It's really exciting stuff, and it thunders along at a frantic pace.  In some ways it is better than the anime too, it's especially good to see Revy looking more Chinese (she's supposed to be Chinese American after all) and Balalaika actually speaking Russian to her officers.  The only things that lets it down slightly is that Balalaika is a bit too cute, looking too young to be the former military commander she is, and Rock's grand plan to defeat the mercenaries sent by his bosses isn't explained well enough.  In the anime the setup to the plan's execution is much more convincingly done.  However, this is pretty much nitpicking, the real thing that lets it down is that it's pretty much exactly the same as the anime, and if you've seen that first then it makes the manga pretty much redundant.

On its own merits Black Lagoon vol 1 is a fun and exciting read, with huge amounts of action and great artwork.  It's far-fetched in places, even by its own standards, and morally dubious throughout, but if you like gangster films you'll find a lot to like here.  When compared to the anime it surprisingly falls just short, the action is simply better in motion and the excellent voice acting really brings the characters to life.  Despite this it is still a great read, but be prepared for plenty of death, destruction and callous killing.  If you have the anime there isn't really too much reason to get this as well, but I doubt that will stop anyone!  Black Lagoon is one of the best manga action series available, and is well worth checking out.


Pretty good stuff, a short bonus comedy manga strip that sees the characters re-imagined in a school setting and a four-panel comedy strip about Garcia and Roberta.  There's also a couple of comments from the author, a preview of the next volume, a description of the PT Gunboat the Lagoon Company use and a brief bit about Revy's nickname and the real-life impracticality of using two guns at once.


Feature:   Extras:

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