Black Jack 17

August 13, 2012

Osamu Tezuka – Vertical – 2011 – 17 volumes

It’s happened! The last volume of Black Jack! Actually, I’m covering this way late, as this came out in December. But that doesn’t make it any less sad.

The most interesting story to me in this volume was The Phoenix, which involved the titular character from one of Tezuka’s other major works. Longevity is the theme here, as Black Jack is called out to a very remote area to save an allegedly 200-year-old man. The woman who hires him tricks him into killing the Phoenix for its blood, which he could use to save any patient. She drives him away and goes to collect the blood herself, only to be bitten by poisonous snakes. Turns out the “Phoenix” glows due to some sort of luminescent bacteria.

So, this was another one of those stories that had me scratching my head. The 200-year-old man didn’t actually drink the blood of the phoenix, he just had the tenacity to stay alive just in case he ever could. Also, getting the blood in order to save all his patients strikes me as an incredibly out-of-character motive for Black Jack. And the phoenix… wasn’t really a phoenix? Except the ending is confusing, so I’m not sure if it’s meant to be that Black Jack is trying to rationalize it with science, and it really is a phoenix? It’s drawn like the Phoenix, and the ending is strangely rushed (it’s not even clear if he’s saving the woman from the snakebites). So… I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be taking away here. But I liked it anyway.

Another story that had me puzzled was one where a boy and his horse get hit by a car, and Black Jack is hired to save the boy. The boy’s brain can’t be saved, so Black Jack surgically implants the brain of the horse in his body. Yeah. Then the boy/horse seeks vengeance against his murderers. And is good with horses, despite not being able to read or speak.

This raises the specter of the stories that are too morally reprehensible to republish. I don’t have a problem with this sort of thing in the context of a comic, especially one as off-the-wall as Black Jack (I’d go so far as to say I encourage this sort of thing, because it’s the type of absolutely crazy story I like to read since it is so divorced from reality). Nobody’s putting a horse brain in the body of a little boy in real life. But it seems like if you were the type to take offense to something, this would be it. I’ve read some of the “sealed” stories in the Black Jack hardcovers published in English, and I’m still not clear as to what line those cross that others do not. I suppose it’s just a matter of taste.

Morally and/or generally ambiguous stories inside, there was a lot of other stuff to like here. Another good one starred Dr. Tenma, aka the creator of Astro Boy elsewhere. He’s running for director of a prestigious hospital, and neglecting his poor daughter Uran (elsewhere, Astro Boy’s sister) in the process. He takes out a loan from Black Jack at the risk of being blacklisted at the hospital for associating with an unlicensed surgeon. When an accident happens to Uran, he throws his chances of being elected away to hire Black Jack to save Uran. The story ends with some very un-Tenma like panels of the dour man savoring life. Then again, we know that Tenma loves his children (alive), if nothing else.

Other strange ones include a story where Black Jack turns a woman into a bird, one where the woman with the teratoid cystoma that turned into Pinoko came back (an appropriate way to end the series, I think), a story where Black Jack tries to have Pinoko adopted into a loving family, and a strange one where Pinoko “holds down the fort” during a typhoon while Black Jack performs a thankless operation elsewhere.

Basically, lots of the same stuff I’ve loved about it all along, including lots of cameos from Tezuka’s regular cast of characters. I’ve said plenty good about this series over the years, but basically, it really is worth reading. The highly unusual short stories sometimes make you think (although sometimes that’s just to find reason), they sometimes teach you things, and they are always completely weird thrillers the likes of which you will not find in any other comic. Seriously, if you have any interest at all in the subject matter, or even really good comics, it’s worth picking up.

Black Jack 16

July 17, 2012

Osamu Tezuka – Vertical – 2011 – 17 volumes

One more Tezuka volume tonight! I’m trying to catch up to the English releases. I’ve got one more volume of Black Jack to go, then it’ll be back to reading Buddha for me. But Barbara will be coming soon, as will Message to Adolf. I’ve already talked about the latter quite a bit, it’s one of the best manga I’ve ever read. I’m curious to see the new translation, though. The Viz edition was really quite good.

But Black Jack! This volume was a little more subdued than its predecessors, but still good. The highlight of the volume, for me, was the lengthy story at the end of the volume introduced by Tezuka himself, who claims that there were several documented cases of this in the US. It’s a story about a young man who seems to gain sympathetic injuries, and his symptoms act up again when he happens to pick up Black Jack as a passenger in his cab. His life takes a turn for the worse when the symptoms cause him to mimic other illnesses and he can no longer hold a job. He goes after Black Jack, blaming him, who then has to help him when bullet wounds on his back start to bleed. The youth claims that they are birth marks, but utterances in his sleep that the boy has no recollection of take Black Jack to the Americas to investigate. The boy apparently had a skilled surgery performed on him at some point, and Black Jack wishes to meet his equal in the medical field. The story takes a turn for the (even) weirder when we begin to learn about the revolutionaries in the area, that the boy may be experiencing memories passed from a savior, and that the surgery may have literally been performed by the hand of God. It’s all sorts of weird, and goes into a lot more depth and detail than any other Black Jack story. It’s a bit less about Black Jack as a character though, and I tend to like the stories that hinge on what he will and can do, rather than something like this where he is more of an enabler. He still gets to perform his miracle surgery, but it’s not quite as spectacular as it usually is.

Other stories include one about saving the son of a soldier who is pressured to uphold the family tradition of dying a proud soldier’s death, one about a pair of star-crossed lovers that has the kind of creepy “good” ending that only a Black Jack story can pull off, one is a spectacular revenge story where a man gets youth and a face change to do something outrageous to a man he hates (this is almost on par with Black Jack’s insane methods of revenge), one about a tokusatsu performer with a case of elephantiasis, one about a Black Jack lookalike that is also bent on revenge, one about a little boy with glaucoma that wishes his eyes were alien eyes that scare off bullies, one about Black Jack having to perform surgery as an ostracized outsider in an Italian village, one where he digs a body out of a basement, one with a high school boy that has a crush on Pinoko’s voice (!!!) from hearing it aloud in the public baths, one about a Hollywood director that tries to trick Black Jack into letting him film a surgery, and one about a doctor that desperately wishes to save face when a famous cancer treatment fails.

So, you know. The same old mundane Black Jack stuff.

I’m joking, of course. The stories run the gamut once again, and they are all wonderful. None were stand-out favorites, but this was still an awesome read, and you won’t be disappointed if you’re looking for more. I’ve already talked at length about the finer points of Black Jack, and my favorite parts are still the crazy plot points anyway, so there you go. Still fantastic. One more volume to go, then I’ll need to get my Tezuka fix elsewhere.

Black Jack 15

February 11, 2012

Osamu Tezuka – Vertical – 2011 – 17 volumes

The last volume of Black Jack has come out since the last time I talked about it here. I need to catch up. Writing these up is difficult, and for very good reason.

There is a story in here about a little boy that sprouts green buds all over his body. His brother calls Black Jack, and shortly, the little boy turns into a full-on cactus man. Black Jack removes a parasitic Brazilian cactus. The little boy is okay.

The story after this is about a girl suffering from anemia. Her teacher is concerned, so she goes for a home visit to see her parents. At the mansion they live in, the teacher runs into Black Jack, who insists the family is after her blood. There is an elaborate medical reason for this. The head of the family is staked at the end of the story.

The next story is about medical cadavers. Where they come from, who they are, how they wind up at medical school. There’s a story about a medical student struggling over why he should be a doctor, and another one about a thankful prisoner on death row.

What am I supposed to say about that?! I mean, the stories are all good. Every single one of them is a great read. The bizarre cactus boy. The vampire story. The sensitive story about medical cadavers. All of them are amazing reads. Every single one of them is bizarre in its way, whether because the story is outlandish in any context, outlandish in the context of Black Jack, or outlandish because it’s a sensitive story that followed two completely insane ones. Reading every book in this series is an amazing roller coaster ride, and you literally have no idea where any of these stories are going or what the turn of a page will bring. It’s truly an experience.

And that’s about all the elaboration this volume needs, I think. Black Jack is pretty much a must read for anyone, whether you read manga or not. It’s just great.

Black Jack 14

November 10, 2011

Osamu Tezuka – Vertical – 2011 – 17 volumes

I am behind on my Black Jack reviews! And my Tezuka reviews in general. I’ve got two more volumes of Black Jack to talk about, plus the new Book of Human Insects. And I should probably talk about the last of the bilingual volumes of Princess Knight before I get my Vertical volume one in the mail, so that I can pretend for just a little longer that the one I’m getting is one of the other two versions of Princess Knight and not the one I already own.

But admittedly, what can I say about Black Jack that I haven’t already? It’s pretty consistent all the way through. Then again, it’s consistently awesome, so every volume is worth reading.

Why is this volume worth your time? Well, Black Jack gets married, he saves Dr. Honma’s daughter from a really weird swelling disease, and he delivers a baby on a raft that has run aground on some rocks in the middle of a river during a flash flood. That story’s almost as great as the one where he operated on himself with dingoes bearing down on him. One of the stories ends with a bad man getting sucked into a jet engine.

Sometimes, Black Jack morality still bothers me, though. There’s a Kiriko story. At the beginning, Black Jack is brought in to operate on a patient who has been vegetative for 55 years. He says he can do it, but he only has a 3%-5% chance of success, and he would have to charge the hospital. The hospital can’t afford to pay him, and he says he doesn’t want to do a useless operation, so he leaves. On the way out, he runs into Dr. Kiriko, who has been called in for euthanasia on the same patient. The hospital can’t afford to keep the man alive anymore, since it costs them $6,000 a month and the man has no living relatives. For some reason, Black Jack decides to do an operation, one that lasts 18 hours and gives this man a 95% chance of dying, gratis when he learns that Kiriko has been called in. Maybe he wasn’t told the hospital couldn’t afford to keep the man alive anymore? Is euthanizing him via Dr. Kiriko less humane than shutting off his life support? And at the end of the story, the man wakes up for a second, cries, ages rapidly while asking why they even woke him up, and then dies.


The last story in the volume is another interesting one, where Black Jack runs into another doctor just like himself. He champions the cause of a young girl who attempts suicide over her grandmother’s care, but finds out the treatment is being handled by a doctor who deals with the reality of their situation: the grandmother is terminal, and the family can’t afford any treatment. Black Jack is devastated to hear his own lines from another mouth. I was a little puzzled by this. He is frequently compassionate, of course, but just as often he does deny treatment to normal people, or charge an outrageous fee to people who can’t afford it, but agree to it anyway. Often the money has a moral price tag as well, but just as often it does not. So why is he so shocked that someone else is acting this way?

But the puzzles are part of the fun of Black Jack. Every single one of the stories is worth reading, and every volume of this series is an absolute pleasure when it arrives. It’s interesting, bizarre, and educational, and I can’t recommend it enough to those looking for an interesting, somewhat literary read.

Black Jack 13

June 15, 2011

Osamu Tezuka – Vertical – 2011 – 17 volumes

Another round of Black Jack stories! I actually read this volume some time ago and put off reviewing it, but since I got the new one in the mail yesterday, I figured it was about time.

My favorite this time around was “Move, Solomon!” about a boy that Pinoko befriends who is very interested in animation. But the studios don’t want to pay him for quality animation where the characters really move. The boy gets sick, Black Jack saves him, blah blah blah. In addition to being just as charming and interesting as any other Black Jack story, this one also had Pinoko making faces in the corner of the left-hand pages, so that when you flipped the chapter it was an animation. Genius!

Another one of my favorites, purely for the sweet adolescent romance factor, was a story about a little boy who lost his arm to gangrene, and needs to find a fresh perspective on his life when he can no longer do the gymnastics he was so good at. A girl that watches him from afar is there to help.

Actually, a lot of the stories were about Pinoko. One story features the good doctor operating on another cystoma. Pinoko “bonds” with it in various ways, and by the end of the story, it looks like Black Jack is going to have another tumor-child to take care of. The first story in the book is about a somewhat despondent boy that Pinoko befriends that needs to be helped adapt to his ataxia (a degenerative brain disease, and apparently one the good doctor can’t fix). “Move, Solomon!,” one I already mentioned, is also about Pinoko befriending a boy and helping him with an illness.

Does all this story time with Pinoko make her less creepy?

No, no it doesn’t. She’s still a walking tumor that looks like a little girl and insists that she’s Black Jack’s wife. There’s not a whole lot to do about making her less creepy. But Tezuka does do a good job, through various stories, to show us that she’s still just a regular 18-year-old girl. Or as regular as an 18-year-old girl can be when you spend 17 years of your life as a parasitic tumor.

On the “bizarre stories only Black Jack can pull off” front, there is a story about Black Jack operating on an alien. It is both cute and very, very wrong. Does it top the dingo story for extreme-ness? Well, the aliens do knock a building down on a man and force Black Jack to operate and save the man’s life before they let him in to work on them. That’s pretty extreme. As extreme as the dingoes? Maybe.

All in all, Black Jack is still a magical read every time. Almost any kind of short story works for this series, and the volumes are always full of different, interesting, and truly bizarre stories. Doing the header for this article, I just realized that there are only a few volumes left, and I’m a little disappointed that we’re coming up on the end. It’s been a wild ride so far, and I am looking forward to what the rest has to offer.

Black Jack 12

August 11, 2010

Osamu Tezuka – Vertical – 2010 – 18 volumes

Ooh, I think this has been the best volume of the series I’ve read yet. There were lots of stories that put Black Jack into difficult situations, most not offering any explanation as to what he may be thinking. Leaving Black Jack’s emotions up to the reader is one of the things I love about this series.

My favorite by far was “Prone to Laughter,” the last story in the volume. I was immediately won over because it featured Kuro’o, the tall bully, and a shorter classmate who stayed cheery no matter what happened to him. Bitter over what had happened to him, violent and dangerous, Kuro’o eventually takes comfort in Guffaw, his classmate, who is in a similar situation to his and takes it much better. Eventually Guffaw is in an accident that Black Jack blames himself for, and years later the surgeon seeks him out to try and save his life. There were lots of good things in this chapter, some of which I don’t want to spoil. It’s safe to say that Guffaw was a good character, though, and it was interesting to compare and contrast him with Black Jack and see everything he brought out in the other as a boy.

The other Kuro’o story was “The Second One,” about a man with cancer whose daughter eventually must beg Black Jack to save his life. Later, its revealed that the dying man is one of the five responsible for what happened to Black Jack and his mother, only the second that Black Jack was able to find. Considering the elaborate and sadistic revenge he sought against the first man, there’s no telling what he had planned here. He is bitter in the end, but for what reason it is unclear. It’s likely because his revenge remains unfulfilled, though, which is an interesting and ugly emotion to shed on your main character.

Another very Black Jack-centric chapter featured a young boy who was in an accident and couldn’t walk. Black Jack has to bully him and show him his own scars, telling him his difficult story, before the young boy agrees to treatment and therapy. Strangely, and very out-of-place, the boy is a user of PK psychic powers, something Black Jack acknowledges as fact. The supernatural doesn’t have much place in the series… but seeing science and the paranormal clash is interesting when it happens occasionally. It happens a couple more times in this volume alone.

In another chapter, Black Jack has a doctoring-off with an unfortunately-drawn gentleman who can heal and save lives just by laying his hand on/in people. The moral of this story is not to trust the supernatural, but to trust the doctor’s intentions. A very unfortunate birth defect is discussed at length.

Later, Black Jack must do a surgery on a boy who is possessed by a ghost that believes it needs an operation. He brings up the operation he did on the invisible patient of the airplane crash several volumes ago, and goes to work after charging his usual fee.

There are lots of other happy, sad, and pun-filled stories, and even a guest appearance by Golgo 13. But it was the interesting takes on Black Jack that made me like this volume more than the others. There was a little bit more to chew on here, even with all the varied medical conditions and outlandish stories that appear in the other volumes and make it so much fun to read.

I don’t expect more of the Black Jack-centric chapters next time, but I expect I’ll still love it all the same. Every volume is a treat. It really is a unique and extreme read. There’s just nothing like it out there.

Black Jack 11

July 25, 2010

Osamu Tezuka – Vertical – 2010 – 17 volumes

I’m late to the party with this volume. Normally I read these as soon as I take them out of the box, but this one got set to the side and forgotten. For that, I am sorry, because Black Jack deserves better.

It is consistently good, and this volume is no exception. My favorite story this time around was probably “Showa Shinzan,” about the volcano that appeared in Japan in 1944. This was my favorite purely for personal reasons, since I recall reading an article about this in a magazine in third grade and it scared me so much I never forgot it. The story is good too, about Black Jack riding up to help a man who has his arm stuck in the rock face. The locals complain about the constant parade of tourists who scale the mountain despite warnings about the active volcano. Black Jack has to operate amidst the hot rocks and sulfur clouds, and has a great deal of difficulty for what turns out to be a simple problem. He gets angry when he finds out the real cause of the man’s problems, but responds in a wonderfully Black Jack-like manner.

Childhood trauma aside, “Whispers of a Dog” was the other winner for me this time around. A man, grieving after the death of his lover, asks Black Jack to implant a tape of his lover’s voice into the throat of a dog they loved, so that whenever it barks he can hear her voice. Black Jack reluctantly agrees, then the man’s life plays out over the course of a year with this dog. He gets over his lover and begins seeing other women, but of course he has a dog that says “Tadaaki I love you” whenever it barks, which tends to scare people off. The implications of this, and the climax, were most uncomfortable, but the love the dog had for its owner conveyed in such a creepy way was one of the most touching things in this book.

There were lots of others. Black Jack operating on a boy with a spinal chord problem in a war-torn country, Black Jack operating on a boy with muscular distrophy, Black Jack helping a skilled doctor get his groove back, so to speak, and the last story was the original end to the series in the 70s, though more stories were published after that. There’s an interesting essay about it in the back of the book, although it’s not hard to guess by the content of the story itself (a kind of “This is Your Life” Black Jack-style), I was pretty sure it had served as some kind of conclusion before I read the essay. There’s even a story about a man with amnesia getting his memory of World War II back, with disastrous results. There’s a little something for everyone.

It’s slightly more tame than other Black Jack volumes (the dog story was probably the strangest, although there was another where Black Jack was accused of murder and eventually saved by a pocket monkey), but there’s still plenty of strange stuff in here. Perhaps I’m slowly being desensitized to Black Jack weirdness too, I don’t know. I do know that every volume is uniquely satisfying, and while it doesn’t have Adolf beat for my favorite Tezuka work, it’s pretty close to the top of the stack at this point.