Monday, September 7, 2009

Manga Mondays - Black Lagoon, Vol 2

Of all the original manga I first sampled a while back, Black Lagoon was probably my favourite. It was fun and there was a lot of energy behind it. Does Black Lagoon Vol 2 manage to keep the elements made me love Vol 1 so much? Hit the jump to find out.

Written by Rei Hiroe
Art by Rei Hiroe
Adaptation by Dan Kanemitsu

Well, does volume 2 hold up or not? The answer would be yes and no. Volume 2 is a massive tonal shift from volume 1, but, surprisingly, it works. Very well, in fact. The first volume was, as it says on the back cover, "nonstop explosive action" with solid and engaging characters, but the second volume tones down the action, which is still there, and takes some time to focus on and flesh out the characters. The volume has a much darker tone than the first one, but it still works given the subject matter and general background of the title.

There are three stories in the volume. The first is Die Ruckkehr des Adlers, which involves wannabe Nazis and takes up half of the the book. The next is a Rock and Revy story and then the final two chapters start the Bloodsport Fairy Tale story, which continues into the next volume. All three stories have their own charms and work pretty well though, since it continues into the next volume, Bloodsport Fairy Tale feels mostly like set up.

Die Ruckkehr des Adlers involves the members of Lagoon Trades, the name of the company that Dutch hides his illegal activities behind, going down to a sunken Nazi U-boat in order to find a painting that their client wants. Things get complicated when a group of wannabe Nazis also show up in order to claim the painting. Gun fights and action follow. The story is divided between the action scenes and some down moments where Hiroe starts to develop some of the characters a little, mostly Revy at this point. Dutch also gets a decent amount of face time in the story and he is one of the more interesting characters in the book with a good amount of depth to him as well, so it's a little disappointing that he doesn't really play a large part in the rest of the book.

Normally, I don't like Nazis showing up in stories since, well, they tend to be shortcuts for evil doers. That, and they show up everywhere seemingly for that very reason. Luckily, though, Hiroe does tend to use them as some kind of comic relief and they mostly come off as morons. They are also never really presented as a serious threat and tend to be slightly comical, more a vehicle for the plot and character work than the focus of the story, so I can tolerate their presence here.

The next story deals with Rock and Revy and it really fleshes out the characters and their relationship. Hiroe does a really good job of playing the characters off of each other and getting down to what makes them tick. Hiroe does a really good job of playing off Revy's pragmatic cynicism against Rock's naive optimism. It's a nice look into how Rock has adapted to his new life while providing a little more insight into Revy. All around, it really helps to take the series beyond it's shoot 'em up roots and make it into something more. It also firmly establishes them as the main characters of the series and introduces some new supporting characters, the Rip Off Church, which is exactly what it sounds like - a church that rips off people with illegal activities and smuggling since the law doesn't look at the church for these kinds of things.

The final two chapters start the Bloodsport Fairy Tale story. It's about a pair of child assassins that are trying to kill Balalaika, the leader of Hotel Moscow (the Russian mob). Balalaika was a minor supporting character in the first volume, but she takes center stage in this story. She's a pretty interesting character and does a pretty good job of standing out from of the rest of the cast once Hiroe focuses on her. Overall, it's mostly set up and gets stuff in place for the rest of the story.

As said earlier, the volume is also darker in tone that the previous as Hiroe deals with some of the less glamorous aspects of the criminal underworld. It's nothing too bad and Hiroe does a good job in dealing with the tonal shift because he still keeps the feel of the first volume around and manages to get some great character moments out of the shift as well. All in all, it may not be same as the first volume, but Hiroe still does a great job with with it.

The art is pretty good as well. Hiroe has a dynamic style and easily handles both the character moments and action scenes with ease. His characters are really expressive and I do enjoy a lot of the facial expressions he uses. His action scenes are still as enjoyable as they were in the first volume. Hiroe manages to convey a sense of chaos while still keeping the scenes pretty orderly so they are not a giant mess. He is definitely becoming one of my favorite artists.

Verdict - Must Read. Despite telling different kinds of stories than those that were found in the first volume, Black Lagoon manages to retain a lot of it's charms and delivery some engaging and compelling stories that don't forget the action aspects of the series.

Like this review? Interested in Black Lagoon, Vol 2? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis.

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