Inside Viz's 'Black Lagoon' Manga
by Chris Arrant
Date: 23 September 2008 Time: 05:00 PM ET
No, this isn't undersea monsters. Well, unless you consider a World War II torpedo boat a monster.Black Lagoon is a popular Japanese manga with over 3 million copies sold that recently hit American shores thanks to VIZ Media. Created by rei Hiroe, the manga follows a group of mercenaries as they cruise the high seas of Southeast Asia about the aforementioned World War II torpedo boat named 'the Black Lagoon'. Successfully adapted into an anime series that's also reached to America, the crew of the Black Lagoon are one of the best and most dangerous soldiers-for-hire in comics – and they need to be, as they're up against the Russian Mafia, Chinese Triads, Columbian drug cartels as well as mercenaries and assassins. When they're not sailing the South Seas, the crew of the Black Lagoon base themselves in the fictional city of Roanapur, Thailand and drive with 1969 Dodge Coronet R/T, and hang out in a bar called the Yellow Flag.
The story starts as the crew of the Black Lagoon take on a new crewmember in the form of a paper-pusher named Rokuro – but you can call him Rock. He joins a full cast of characters where it's hard to pick one as a favorite. But editor Mike Montesa has his chosen. "Without a doubt, it’s Revy. She’s part of a long line of tough-chick heroines (actually she’s more of an anti-hero) that doesn't take any lip from anyone and can dish out punishment in spades," explains Montesa. "Revy’s character doesn’t seem so deep at first, but given her background, it’s pretty easy to see why she walls herself off. She has a hostile reaction to Rock initially, but he seems to be the only person capable of standing up to her, and without violence as a lever over people, Revy’s actually vulnerable." "Rock is a pretty standout character too, and Revy and Rock really are the core characters of the series," the editor elaborated. "Their relationship is a developing one and it’s very interesting to see how it plays out." The captain of Lagoon Company is Dutch, an African-American Vietnam vet that prefers to stay above the action unless absolutely necessary. Joing him, Rock and Revy is Benny, the technical expert. Rather bookish, he's not the gun expert but prefers to make his impact with his technical achievements. Creator rei Hiroe debuted as a manga-ka in the doijinshi community in 1993, and it was his work on Black Lagoon which debuted in 2002 inside the monthly Japanese magazine Sunday GX. Black Lagoon's success is partly due to the high action quotient, and Hiroe's admitted fascination with small arms, which show up technically detailed and accurate as possible. Black Lagoon is the first of rei Hiroe's work to be brought to the states, no doubt due to the immense popularity overseas and potential for America. "VIZ Media looks at a lot of manga for possible publication and Black Lagoon instantly jumped out at us," said Montesa. "The action, the characters, the artwork, the story…it was all so compelling we just had to do this one! Black Lagoon is unlike anything else VIZ Media has at the moment." Although written in Asia, the series contains several references of American culture. " There are often cultural concepts that don’t translate well, but Black Lagoon is interesting in that it references a lot of Hollywood action movies and action movie tropes, so it wasn’t too hard to get these ideas across." Black Lagoon features a significant level of graphic violence, especially with gunfights and fights in general – this isn't Pokemon. It's a staple of the book and one of it's key attractions (along with it's characterization), and VIZ has taken steps to prevent younger readers from glimpsing the violence by shipping it in plastic wrapping, but never even considered changing the content. "VIZ Media felt it was important to stay true to Rei Hiroe’s original intent and vision by keeping the graphic violence but also the adult themes. Those two elements put Black Lagoon into our mature or “M” rating category for ages 18 and older."