How do you make the wait between volumes of a series not seem interminable? Make sure that the last volume has a significant amount of closure to it. Vol. 9 of “Black Lagoon” wrapped up the title’s longest-running arc in explosive fashion with the kind of energy that you usually see reserved for series finales. There was no official word that this was going to be the final volume of the title, and you had this big hint that there was more to Dutch’s past than he was letting on to give you the indication that we’d be seeing more of Lagoon Company in the future. Still, the first nine volumes made a pretty complete story on their own. If mangaka Rei Hiroe decided to give us more, excellent! If not, then the title’s legacy is at least secure.
Now, almost five years after vol. 9, vol. 10 has finally reached our shores. As Hiroe explains at the end of the volume, he meant to have this out sooner but things got complicated. Eh, at least he gave us an explanation even if it isn’t all that detailed. The good news is that “Black Lagoon” is back and ready to kick more ass! Right? Not really, if this volume is any indication. Rock, Revy, and company’s return is more “Gunsmith Cats: Burst” than “Battle Angel Alita: Last Order.” The tone is right and there are some good ideas and entertaining moments, but things just aren’t firing on all cylinders here.
Even if Rock managed to engineer things so that just about everyone who deserved to came out alive after the last arc, the means by which he did so have left a bad taste in his mouth. Fortunately Benny’s girlfriend Jane is back in town to provide a distraction. She’s recruited a new hacker to run a scam on a German electronics manufacturer. Feng Yifei is fresh off the boat from China and is greeted in traditional Roanapur fashion by having all of her stuff stolen before she can meet up with Jane. It’s a dubious start to this partnership, but maybe it can be overcome to allow these two to pull off a profitable digital heist?
Well, it might have been possible if it weren’t for the fact that Feng is a spy for China’s People’s Liberation Army and if Jane wasn’t aware of that fact herself. Jane’s real goal is to use her new hacker’s connections to frame China for data theft and profit accordingly. As for Feng? She’s subsequently cut loose in one of the most dangerous cities on the globe with a big fat target painted on her back. Fortunately for her, a couple of Lagoon Company’s members have a soft spot for people who find themselves in her situation.
It’s a pretty decent setup for a “Black Lagoon” story and its potential may yet pay off down the line. We also get plenty of action, expertly served up by Hiroe, as a trio of hitmen “brothers” are hired to take down Feng and go about it in suitably violent fashion. There’s also plenty of black humor strewn throughout. Most of the laughs are derived from Feng’s situation and the reactions of her superiors, but the rest of the cast get their moments too. Like the cameo from Sawyer, the cleaner, as she explains about the sofa “bread” and human “butter” she had to clean up from the apartment that Feng gets to set up shop in. I also won’t deny that it was good just to see Revy in action again. She’s a live wire who energizes just about every scene she’s in, whether it involves responding to Jane’s offer of a threesome with a “you won’t be able to go back to Benny after I’m done with you,” revealing her connections with strippers, laughing at the problems involved in cleaning up after corpses, or acting as a second opinion to Rock’s impulses.
This is all good and it keeps the volume from being a total wash. After the epic action of the past few volumes, it’s understandable that Hiroe felt the need to dial things back before he tried to top himself. Decent premise aside, the mangaka gets bogged down when it’s revealed that this arc is basically Rock reliving his introduction to Roanapur through Feng. It’s a simple concept, but Hiro feels the need to hammer things home through lots of circular conversations with Feng and Revy and Feng and Rock. This is annoying in itself and quickly becomes frustrating when you realize the mangaka is hitting the same points over and over again. By the end of the volume the story’s momentum has slowed to a crawl and not even Hiroe’s crazy-ass “extra story” can turn things around. Considering how efficiently fast-paced the plotting has been in previous volumes, this is a major disappointment.
Then again, the mangaka is coming off of an extended break/hiatus so some rustiness on his part should be expected. The question then becomes whether or not he can shake it off and get back into the groove he had with the previous volumes. I hope that he can, because I’m not looking to re-experience the same kind of crash-and-burn that happened with Kenichi Sonoda and “Gunsmith Cats.” Particularly in a series that looks to be releasing new volumes on an annual basis now. Titles like “Ooku” and “Real” can get away with that because each new volume is excellent. Vol. 9 of “Black Lagoon” isn’t a swing-and-a-miss, but it does not inspire confidence in the series going forward from here.