Black Lagoon, Vol. 10

By Rei Hiroe. Released in Japan by Shogagukan, serialization laughably sort of ongoing in the magazine Sunday Gene-X. Released in North America by Viz.

If everyone has in fact forgotten about Black Lagoon, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. I wondered why I’d never reviewed it here, then realized the last volume came out in 2010, before I started blogging manga. Rei Hiroe’s past series have not so much ended as stopped, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this one may do the same. The end of this volume has him a) apologizing to readers for this volume taking so long to come out, and b) adamantly insisting the manga was not on a hiatus. This despite the fact that after putting out this new volume of Black Lagoon, we seem to be in the midst of another drought. Sunday GX’s website has a Black Lagoon section, but it’s mostly about a new game, I believe. In other words: enjoy this volume, but expect to forget it all over again soon.

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Of course, enjoying this volume may be difficult in any case. Not because of any real quality issues, but because the author is deliberately reminding readers what sort of world Roanapur is, and how deep Rock is now embedded in it. The last volume had Fabiola calling Rock out on his ambiguous morality, even if he did manage to save the day. Here he seems to still be taking that to heart, to the point where he’s gotten too jaded to actually be himself – much to Revy’s annoyance, as a cynical and bitter Rock is not something she likes to see (or finds attractive). Then there’s the return of Greenback Jane, who was played for mostly light relief in her debut arc but now is pretty much horrible. She cheerfully leads a woman into a deathtrap for her own means, justifying it by the woman’s inability to have a successful cover story. And her sexual activities with Benny have become almost constant, to the point where, after hearing a suggestion that she might drag Rock into them as well, Revy pulls off one of the best threats in the entire series.

But let’s talk about the woman I mentioned above, Feng Yifei, who if pretty much deliberately introduced to be Rock’s female counterpart, and succeeds in that she’s likeable and we are rooting for her, as opposed to most of the rest of the cast where we just sit back and watch the catastrophe. She’s clearly drawn to Rock, and he to her, but my biggest interest was in how Revy saw her, and I was very pleased. I think there is a bit of jealousy in there, though Revy would never admit it. But more to the point, Revy not only sees in her what she saw in Rock, but actually wants to help her as a means of helping Rock out of his funk and getting him to be the moral guy again. It’s terrific character development, really.

There’s a lot more I could talk about here, including the hilarious and disgusting appearance of Sawyer the Cleaner, the Chinese politics that mostly passed over me but seemed serious enough, or the appearance of three goofy assassins for hire who call themselves the Four Brothers (you’ll see). But basically: Black Lagoon 10 is much like 1-9, only you really get it rubbed in your face here what a scummy, amoral world this is. Even Gangsta seems lighter and fluffier in comparison. Despite that, it’s still a good read, especially for action fans. Just… don’t expect Vol. 11 anytime soon.

One Piece, Vol. 74

By Eiichiro Oda. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

It has to be said, Oda is perfectly fine with repeating himself provided that it makes a good story. And as long as we’re still highly entertained, I think that’s fine. Certainly the Usopp sections of this volume were my favorite part, even if their basic shape felt a little familiar. We see Usopp in over his head, talking about how he’s a hero while having no idea what to do. We see him attempting to run away, only to return because of his guilty conscience. and we see his “victory”, as it’s a truly grotesque face that makes miniboss Sugar pass out and save the day – not unlike what happened with Perona in Thriller Bark. But of course this is how Usopp grows stronger, and I expect big things from him soon. He’s not allowed to start beating up bad guys or anything, due to Oda’s desire to always have that basic ‘type’ on the crew, so you need moments like this.

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Meanwhile, you absolutely need Sugar to pass out, because the danger has been ramped up as Robin was turned into a toy. It actually happens so casually amidst the chaos that it’s a surprise when we see her Raggedy Anne body, and we see her desperation as she realizes that her fate is totally in Usopp’s hands now, even if he doesn’t remember her. The concept of the toys in general, and who they used to be, is a grotesque sort of horror even for Oda, and it’s almost a relief when we finally learn what we’ve suspected for some time now, which is that the Tin Soldier who’s tried to protect Rebecca is in fact her father. As I said, the beats may be similar to other storylines, but they’re good beats.

On the lighter side, Oda has occasionally done mild shout-outs to other Jump artists in the past – I’m thinking of the big giant ‘shock faces’ he’s used from Enel on down, which are a straight rip of Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo – and so I have to think that the minor villain whose minions go on about him being too hardboiled is a reference to Gintama, which sadly I think most readers will miss given its cancellation here in North America. Other than that, though, there’s not a lot of room for humor in this volume. Things are turning even more deadly than before, and our mystery savior who’s helping Luffy by taking his place in the arena can’t even stop to reveal who he really is (we all know who he really is, but let me keep up the pretense.)

This is not a perfect volume – Scarlet’s backstory was rather sexist, something Oda’s at least made attempts to avoid in the past, even though he’s been backsliding a lot lately. And of course, being in the middle of 11 chapters that are just ‘a giant fight happens’, the plot moves forward only incrementally. Still, now that Usopp has scared the bejabbers out of Sugar, we should start to see things get cleared up. Unless of course it leads to even wider chaos. But this is One Piece, what are the chances of that happening?

Accel World: The Twilight Marauder

By Reki Kawahara and Hima. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen Press.

This was a good volume of Accel World, though I think I enjoyed it a bit less than the other two. It can be exhausting to read for extended periods. Kirito may rub people the wrong way, but at least in game he’s fairly matter of fact and confident in himself. Haruyuki’s issues – his self-hatred, the bullying he’s endured and can’t reveal, his desperation to keep his friends safe and keep their friendship, and his tortured love for Kuroyukihime, who he still holds up on a giant pedestal – permeate his narrative voice, and while that’s excellent in a realistic way – are visceral and explain the actions he takes, and you understand why he despairs or does seemingly stupid things. But as escapism, you’re left wanting a bit. Particularly as this book has a cliffhanger.

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It doesn’t help that Kuroyukihime is conveniently absent from this volume, off to Okinawa and sending Haruyuki adorable videos of herself in a bikini. (I do like that her friends whipped off her hoodie to reveal the bikini, showing that they seem to be supporting the love between the two of them far more than the rest of the school – or indeed Haruyuki himself – might.) So the new threat is dealt with by our trio of childhood friends, one of whom is brand new to Brain Burst, and given this is volume one of a two-volume set (something that Kawahara is very fond of, as SAO fans are aware), they fail rather miserably. (The cliffhanger involves the seeming betrayal by one of said friends, but I suspect that absolutely no one is actually fooled by this. (checks TV Tropes page) No, wait they were. Sigh.)

As for the new characters, Nomi will hopefully gain more depth in the fourth book, as he’s very much the sneering, posturing villain here, determined to bully Haruyuki (who is very quick to accept this, as if nothing else it must feel familiar) and keep Chiyuri as a “pet” (more casual sexism, though given Nomi is about 11 years old at least there aren’t any rape threats like in SAO.) He’s there for readers to hate and root for our heroes to destroy, that’s about all. I liked Sky Raker a lot better, who gets to be the one who trains and inspires Haruyuki in Kuroyukihime’s absence, but who also seems to have an intense backstory involving trying to rise above a disability – and how it can fail despite all your best efforts. I’d like to see that scene someday.

Of course, much of her story is there to give inspiration to Haruyuki – he’s the hero, and that means that most of what goes on is for his benefit. This can be tragic, like with everything that happens with Nomi, but it can also be hilarious, as with the return of Ash Roller, who will not stand for this meek, uncool and despairing Silver Crow, and proceeds to take him on the bike ride from hell just to pep him up. I suspect I’ll enjoy this volume more, though, once the next one comes out and completes it.

(Also, can we get an embargo on any story involving a boy trapped in the girls’ shower? Even if it’s for dramatic reasons?)