Stealth Storytelling: Black Lagoon

It’s basic that every story has a beginning, where the characters and setting are introduced, a middle characterized by conflict, and an end, where the conflict is resolved.

Sometimes that’s not how the story goes. We can talk about that some other time. Right now I’m thinking about stories that fit the basic narrative structure.

Beginning.
Middle.
End.

It’s really simple to say. The cool part is that there are a zillion ways to get from A to B to C, and some of them are pretty clever.

One of my favorite animes is Black Lagoon. If you’ve seen it, you can skip the next two paragraphs.

Black Lagoon is the story of the Black Lagoon Trading Company, a strictly illegal group operating out of Roanapur, Thailand, on a World War II surplus PT boat. The team…Dutch, the leader, Benny, the computer whiz, and Rebecca “Revi” Lee, the gun-toter…are in the midst of a quasi-legal deal with a Japanese company when Revi decides to take the Japanese rep, Rokuro, or Rock, to be a hostage, or boy toy, or whatever. Revi doesn’t need reasons…she’s nuts.

Rock joins the team and they have numerous adventures through two seasons, an OVA, and two further volumes of the manga (the second is in production now).

I like it because it’s adult, and because some of the characters are people I can relate to from my own life…I grew up during the Vietnam War, where Dutch served, and lived through Afghanistan, where Balalaika got her scars. I like it because there are no good guys, just people getting along doing what they have to do. And I like it because when you think about it as being a narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, they actually do something very clever.

Have you ever watched Penn and Teller do magic? The trick to stage magic is always misdirection, and Penn and Teller have that nailed.

First of all, they’re both fine magicians. It wouldn’t work if one of them was just a straight man. They have a take on the old “hidden ball” trick…you know the one, three cups, one ball, which cup is the ball under? They do it with a half dozen balls and a dozen cups, and keep things moving around and around, with cups on top of their heads, and picking each other’s pockets, and both of them swirling cups all over with both hands…and it turns out that at the end the ball is in Teller’s mouth.

It’s a great schtick because they both have great moves and great hands, but also because of the Penn and Teller dynamic. Teller is a great magician. If you get the chance to watch them in the various reality shows they’ve made, watch Teller. He does have a voice. But watch his hands…they’re always in motion, always practicing. I haven’t seen faster hands since Keith Moon.

But Penn Jillette…You can’t take your eyes off him. He’s literally larger than life, a huge man with a huge personality. He’s intelligent and articulate and he talks constantly, and your eye goes to him just as though he’s a seriously hot member of your preferred gender orientation doing a striptease on the screen. Oh, baby!

When Penn is onstage, Teller can do whatever he wants, and No One Will Ever Know.

Revi is the unquestioned star of Black Lagoon. She’s beautiful, deadly, loud, profane, sexy, and downright sociopathic. Everything about her shouts, “Look at me! Look at me!” from the manic grin as she blows someone away to the unbuttoned short shorts she wears that must be glued to her ass, because no way those pants stay up on their own. She dominates the opening credits of every episode…including a Harley Quinn-esque “Kill” painted on her face…and is the sole focus of the closing credits, where her footprints are surrounded by abandoned weapons until…surprise!…she’s pointing a shotgun at your face.

You can’t take your eyes off Revi.

When you try to figure out the narrative, though, the only question about Revi, after twenty-four episodes, is how come she hasn’t laid Rock. Revi is Revi. She will be Revi until hot lead eats her guts.

They want you to look at Revi, but the story is about Rock, how he changes from an inoffensive salaryman to a member of the gang, not just the Black Lagoon Trading Company crew, but the whole Roanapur scene. At the end of the series it’s clear he can’t go home again – he tries, and he can’t; at the end of the OVA he’s gotten to be outright calculating and devious. He’s full-blown hood by then…I look forward to the final volume of the manga hitting here, whenever it does, to see what’s happened to Rock.

That, my friends, is stealth storytelling. They told you Rock’s story right in front of your face, but you didn’t see it because you were looking at Revi. It’s still A to B to C, but it looked like A to D to E. That’s pretty damned clever. Props to the writer, Rei Hiroe.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

3 thoughts on “Stealth Storytelling: Black Lagoon

    1. I found the manga to be a good adjunct to the anime, but awfully talkie for an action series. The exceptions are volume 10 and the future volume 11, which continue the story past the end of the animated stories.

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