Manga Review: Blackjack

Black Jack was published between 1973 and 1983 by legendary mangaka Osamu Tezuka.  Tezuka wrote other great works like Kimba the White Lion and (of course) Astro Boy prior to this series and it is a great representation of his awesome storytelling powers! 

I found two volumes of this popular medical manga at Book Off in Gardena last week and it didn’t take me too long to figure out that it was a story of an unlicensed doctor, named Black Jack, that performs medical miracles for the rich and poor alike.  From the richest, most corrupt people, he charges outrageous sums in order to force a sense of justice on the corrupt and sometimes, the medical miracle he provides isn’t exactly what people are looking for from him.  The two volumes that I found were published by Viz Communications in 1999, but they are no longer in print so they were $15.99 new and I paid $11 for them used (which is a lot higher than the usual $5 for manga there).  Also, they are formatted backwards (ie. the English way, from left to right).  It should also be noted that the Viz versions are not in order and contain special stories from later on as well as some earlier stories. 

Vertical, Inc. began reproducing the manga in the normal Japanese format in 2008 and they are still continuing the series.  I haven’t seen any of the Vertical, Inc. versions, but I would assume that as long as the translations are pretty good, they are a good read as well.  You can also see “Black Jack” the anime which consisted of 62 episodes shown between 2004 and 2006 and a second anime of 17 episodes called “Black Jack 21” which was released in 2006.

The story is more episodic than serial, with each chapter being fairly self-contained, except for a few key points, like his child-like assistant Pinoko.  I really enjoyed the stories since they were fantastical, but believable.  Tezuka didn’t want to be too technical and so the medical jargon is sparse.  We are supposed to believe that Black Jack is superhuman, and he is definitely that. 

Sometimes, it looks like Black Jack shirks morals altogether, but you will have to read the series to see how that comes out.  I love that the stories are short, sweet and to the point.  The art is typical Tezuka so expect to see some Astro Boy look-alikes and the extreme medical closeups are pretty detailed (sometimes, it is kinda gross).  This is definitely an old manga so some of the art may seem outdated.  The writing, on the other hand, is excellent and edgy, I felt like I was on the edge of my seat wondering how things were going to wind up at the end of each chapter…How is he going to save the day this time?  I was pleasantly surprised each time since it seems like each ending is more of a twist that the last.

Altogether, this manga is great…unless you are squeamish.  But if you aren’t, I definitely recommend it!!  Good luck finding the original Viz translations, but I am sure the Vertical, Inc. ones are pretty easy to find at your local manga retailer.