Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
I have previously reviewed volume 1 of Black Lagoon on this site and thought it was a wild, pulpy, and ultimately enjoyable, ride. Now that Viz is about to release volume 5, how has the series held up?
Volume 5 picks up in the middle of an imminent war between “Hotel Moscow” (the folks the main characters work for, run by the scariest Russian broad you have ever seen) and a Japanese yakuza group known as the Washimine-Gumi. Basically, the Russians want a piece of the Japanese underworld and they want to go through this particular yakuza group to do so. All of this, though, is mere back story to the human relationships, and not just guns, blood and swords, that drive the story. At the center of this mess is the very thing that drew me to this title in the first place — its portrait of a former Japanese businessman turned mercenary, now nicknamed Rock (from Rokuro), and the very odd relationship he develops with his nihilistic, & possibly crazy partner, Revy. Apparently, Rock has returned to his homeland to act as a translator for his employers, but his return is problematic since it isn’t entirely clear who exactly is returning to Japan. Is he really Rock, a mercenary with a conscience, or is he just a Japanese business man still playing at “crime” the way a little boy plays at cops and robbers?
This volume takes place a year after Rock has been thrown away by his former company and joined up with the Black Lagoon crew. However, he still holds on, perhaps very selfishly, to his innocence. When pretty, teenager Yukio is charged with becoming the head of the Washimine-Gumi group thanks to blood-ties, Rock wants nothing more to than to save her from a life of violence and pain. Yukio, though, isn’t some damsel in distress that wants a hero to save her from the duties she has inherited, nor someone who shies her gaze from the ugliness in the world of organized crime. Rock wants to save some version of himself by saving Yukio and usually this isn’t the kind of thing that works out very well….
While in early volumes there was a sense of fun and adventure to the violence (as creator Rei Hiroe lovingly depicts Revy’s “two-hand” gun-stylings), here a sense of futility and tragedy have crept in. Revy seems a sadder figure because violence is not only her art but her life, and perhaps her only real method of communication. I’m fascinated by the relationship between her and Rock, because in spite of herself she tries to shield him from going through some of the terrible things that turned her into her current self. Revy may be a lost soul but she still has someone like Rock pulling her out of the darkness, even if for only a moment or two here and there.
Both the writing and art were incredibly strong in this volume and I look forward to seeing how Rock continues to develop as a character and how his influence may pull Revy along in new directions in the future.
Review Copy provided by Viz Media.
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