Character Analysis: Roanapur

It seems a little odd to describe a locale or setting as a character. I mean, in college, it could get your paper marked “-5 Anthropomorphism” or something like that.

If your professor was feeling nice, that is. And could spell “anthropomorphism,” which I couldn’t until I looked it up.

But let’s stop to think about conflict, which is the essence of drama, right?

The sources of conflict:
Person versus person
Person versus self
Person versus nature

Hmmm … Person versus nature. Doesn’t that sort of imply that in some way the environment is a character?

It’s probably not a character in the sense of having intention. The fact that climbing Mount Everest might get you killed doesn’t mean that Mount Everest is trying to kill you, despite what mountain climbers say. Now THAT’S anthropomorphism. -5. Mount Everest doesn’t give a damn about you.

At the same time, though, there are locales can kill you. I am working on a book set on Venus. Venus can kill you. Or how about The Martian? If Matt Damon doesn’t “Science the shit out of this,” Mars is going to kill him.

How about Girls Last Tour? The enemy in that one will eventually kill off the whole human race, and it’s the world, right?

Black Lagoon is one of those stories that went off the tracks a looooooong time ago, but people loved it so much that it’s still there, churning along. Sure, right? The original story was “Rebirth,” Rock turning from salaryman into hoodlum. That’s the essence of the first two seasons of the anime and the first five and a half volumes of the manga.

But by the time of Roberta’s Blood Trail Rock’s already a hood. He’s done developing. There’s no meta-plot anymore, unless you’re waiting for Rock and Revy to fall in love.

Yeah, that could happen. 🙂

People like the characters, Rock and Revy and Dutch and Benny and Johnny Chang and Balalaika and … I have a weakness for Greenback Jane, personally, and I’m dying to see the Sawyer the Cleaner spinoff.

But people like the setting, too, and the setting, Roanapur, plays as much role in the story as all the other characters combined. They can be the way they are because it is the way it is.

The entrance to Roanapur. The Black Lagoon motor past it daily

First of all, it’s exotic, right? Just about no one knows too much about that particular section of Thailand, not Tokyo teenagers and not Connecticut professors. But being what it is, it’s inhabited by strange and wonderful characters. See the list above, and then throw in the Mafia, the Tongs, the local cops, the Rip-Off Church, Eda with her CIA contacts, and a dozen various contract killers. They’re all there, pursuing their own ends for their own reasons.

Second, the place is almost totally corrupt. What do you want? Drugs, murder, sex, sanctuary, cars, guns? We got it. Cash on the barrelhead, preferably in U.S. dollars. That means any prop you want to tell your story can reasonably be coughed up. Sure. Rocket launcher, anyone?

And third, the place is totally amoral. Not immoral, amoral. The only basic rule of life is, “Don’t make such a mess that the cops have to notice.” Beyond that, there is no loyalty beyond the Holy Buck. Your best friend could try to kill you tomorrow if the price was right, and with no hard feelings on either side, because it’s just business, right?

Roanapur reminds me of an old Mafia story. Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, before he became the Don, was a hit man, and he was given the contract on Frank Costello. Well, Vince blows the hit and gets charged with Attempted Murder, but Costello, the main witness, says he can’t say for sure it was Gigante. ‘Cuz that’s the Mafia code, right? After his acquittal Gigante goes over to Costello RIGHT IN THE COURTROOM and says, “Thanks, Frank.” Because it wasn’t personal; it was just business.

See? Today Shenhua is on your side, because that’s the side she was paid to be on. Tomorrow, who knows? Who paid her, and how much? Same for Sawyer. Same for Lotton the Wizard.

One of the coolest things about Roanapur is that it’s an outstanding place to tell a story. Because of its corruption and amorality, you can do ANYTHING there, so long as you play by the rules and clean up after yourself (or get Sawyer to clean up after you). What kind of story do you have? Love? Betrayal? Treason? Comedy? Drama? You can write ANY STORY in that setting and have it be a rock ‘em, sock ‘em, rip-roaring adventure because that’s the way Roanapur works as a setting.

Sure. How about that romance you’ve been working on. Oh, wow, they’re about to get married … in the Rip-Off Church! Time for a drive-by shooting! Just an innocent driving through? What happens when you get pulled over by Chief Watsup? You mean the fine for speeding is every penny I have? What do I do now?

You know what setting it reminds me of? Oz. Now, Oz is for kids and Roanapur for adults, but they have the same sort of “anything goes” sensibility, except that in Oz it’s magic that makes the world go ’round and in Roanapur it’s violence. But there is room in there for any kind of story.

And when you put your story in Roanapur, Roanapur takes over your story. It can’t stop itself. There are too many characters with too many motivations living there for anything else to happen.

I wonder what would happen if you sent in the Cells at Work! gang…

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.

5 thoughts on “Character Analysis: Roanapur

  1. For me, Roanapur is awesome, because its name is somewhat familiar. The name sounds like some unique city fro m India, and that is a detail which I very much like. Particularly because the anime does not explore this region much.

    Come to think of it, that is exactly why I also liked Black Lagoon on the first place, for exploring the parts of Asia which are often overlooked, or selectively shown.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting idea. If there are characters that are little more than props, why not the opposite? Certainly in poltergeist, Amity house horror the location was a character, but this is more like the impact of DasBoot or Hogwarts… are those characters? How much of a personality does it take to cross the boundary?

    As for Rok, Black Lagoon was always an unfinished symphony where Rok ultimately has to save Revy or die trying. He’s definitely no salaryman anymore, and sometimes when a Japanese escapes the Gulag of Japanese society, they go a long way as they transform into nearly anything….there was one in Rome or Aix en Provence that was running a blues bar … that wrote A Wild Sheep Chase. One of t h e weirdest books I’ve read…point is he was way off the reservation and wasn’t thinking Japanese anymore. Not close, so Roks potential arc is huge.

    But back to your thesis, is Ronapour a character? Does it have consistent personality traits that makes ita character? I’m not sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think it certainly goes in that direction, more than just a setting that provides color and background. At the very least, its a growth medium for all sorts of organizations and characters to compete or cooperate, changing alliances at the drop of a hat. Was it set up that way, or did it organically develop?
    The city is an organism in the way a mountain isn’t. Maybe like a shark, or a hive of angry bees?


    1. I like the bee hive analogy, but I think it lacks an element of aggression. The bees will leave you alone if you leave them alone, but Roanapur will bite your ass no matter how little you bother it if someone gets paid to do it 🙂


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