Manga-ka: Osamu Tezuka
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: December 2008
Synopsis: “Black Jack is a mysterious and charismatic young genius surgeon who travels the world performing amazing and impossible medical feats and refuses to accept a medical license due to his hatred and mistrust of the medical community’s hypocrisy and corruption. This leads Black Jack to occasional run-ins with the authorities, as well as from gangsters and criminals who approach him for illegal operations. Black Jack chronicles the travails of an enigmatic surgeon-for-hire who is more good than he pretends to be.”
It was all in truth when I was told you don’t need to read Black Jack in order to enjoy the story. Each chapter sits alone as its own episodic medical tale. Volume one does have a lot of explanatory material to it however, such as the ‘birth’ of Black Jack’s assistant Pinoko, and more about the doctor’s disfiguring past. Truth be told though, I was actually a little disappointed in a way by the new information since I found the added mystery of not knowing, which again causes no boon to the story, was much of its allure when I initially took volume five as my starting point.
Pinoko’s beginning is something I was eager to read, however, having been third party to a variety of discussions regarding her bizarre origins (and bizarre they are). Her mere existence in the form of a young girl is a literal living testament to the kindness that Black Jack’s cold exterior tries to hides from the world. With her well-rendered speech impediment and spunky attitude, along with a firm self-proclaimed status of Black Jack’s wife, I can’t help but find her adorable even if she was a… well, read and find out.
As I had begun the series several volumes in, I wasn’t surprised to see some familiar faces here in the first book making their initial appearances. Most prominently, aside from the lead duo of course, is a female doctor who had been nicknamed ‘Black Queen’ because of her cool likeness to the unlicensed surgeon Black Jack. As endearing as Black Jack’s acts of kindness always are, though often enacted in very strange ways, I love most of all seeing a bit of a romantic side to the character, mostly because it’s one of the few moments where he seems to lower his defensive disposition. Two chapters, this one included, had just such moments, though the other, staring a love from his schooling days, had a scientific-based finiteness that seemed a bit harsh and also a tad betraying of the story’s age (these chapters were first published in the mid-70s).
Some of the greatest fun I have reading these stories is trying to figure out what twisted way the good doctor with warp a situation to be beneficial to both him and the often innocent parties caught up in the medical mishaps. So far Osamu Tezuka has me pretty beat and even after so many different stories spanning just two volumes, I’ve yet to find much predictability to them, short of having faith that the ‘bad guy’ of the story will usually get what’s coming to them eventually.
The artwork here isn’t as polished, for lack of a better word, than the series has become later on and you can tell the character designs are missing the more solid and consistent characteristics that they hold in later volumes. Readers may find the cartoon-y art style off-putting in general at first, as can be said for any of Osamu Tezuka’s work really, but don’t for a moment let it be a deterrent. He uses his art to great effect, whether he’s making you laugh at the crazy Pinoko spiralling beneath fireworks or tensing up as you watch Black Jack carve into a person’s skull.
Vertical’s work is well worth mentioning as well, sporting Black Jack with a nice larger-than-average cut size, solid binding that makes for a pleasant weight and an even more pleasant squared spine. The translation is easy to follow and seems to suit each character, while the typesetting is tidy and visually fits in well with the artwork. Though I like the graphical set-up of the cover, I still have the same qualm I did with volume five which is that I would’ve liked the title and author to be more prevalent on the front cover.
Still, Black Jack continues to prove itself a read I’m glad I didn’t miss another day of. I wasn’t as enthralled with volume one as I was with my first exposure of the series in volume five, but with a story that’s just getting started and already so full of winning features, I’ll chock that up to a loss of first-time impact. Vertical’s done good work bringing over this medical marvel and I greatly look forward to enjoying each coming volume.