Monday, July 6, 2009

Black Jack, vol. 6

This is a preview of sorts of my upcoming review of Black Jack, vol. 6, for MangaCast. If you haven't been to MangaCast before, just know that it's a great website for manga news and rankings, with reviews from yours truly and other great writers across the manga-verse!

The story: The good doctor, Black Jack, has quite a few adventures in this sixth volume. I think a quote from the first chapter describes this volume all too well — in reference to Black Jack, “Is he a god…or some machine?” Like a surgical machine, Black Jack bounces from locale to locale, saving lives and being fairly compensated where he can. He performs surgery on a variety of people -- from another doctor caught in a landslide to a boy with lion's face disease to a wife hit by a stray rock that bounced off a bullet train! Of course, he's a genius, but can Black Jack save everyone from their fatal fate?

Reaction: While this is my first read into the world that is “Black Jack,” there was no sense of being lost as a reader. These are encapsulated stories that illustrate the fragility of human existence — something Tezuka had a steady hand at doing and a theme he explored through most of his work. I enjoyed the episode-by-episode, open-ended format of the stories herein. My favorite story is probably “Nadare,” where Black Jack helped a fellow doctor’s pet deer by transplanting its brain and allowing it to have higher thought. By doing so, the deer goes on a murderous rampage and it calls into question the relationship between man and the animal kingdom.

Deep thoughts: Again, Osamu Tezuka takes the opportunity to explore themes of life and death, love and man’s power over nature. Tezuka’s specialty is exploring what exactly “humanity” is and there is no doubt that Black Jack illustrates both the large and small moral questions that have plagued man throughout time. While Black Jack seems cold and callous through his pursuit of high fees, he does have a heart and sticks to the Hippocratic oath as much as he can while running from the law. While he understands his precarious perch as a surgical genius, he nonetheless has the confidence to save others’ lives, no matter the supposed gamble. Much like “Nadare,” Tezuka shares a moral question in each story, but he never seems to explicitly direct the reader to an answer.

Artwork: Tezuka does a great job of relating the story without extensive dialogue, never running into the too-easy route of “telling” the story instead of “showing” it. As it is Black Jack’s nature to keep to himself, even the silent responses he shares with others are telling. Whether it’s disgust or surprise, Tezuka simply illustrates Black Jack’s restrained response, never exaggerating it as he might with other characters. Well-done scenery and grand vistas are peppered throughout this book, in both urban and rural settings.

Additionally, the surgical close-ups are methodical without bordering on the grotesque like other manga and demonstrate Tezuka’s medical experience. Throughout, the large cast of secondary characters are easy to tell apart and kept unique in their own way; Tezuka never “recycles” character design, giving a fresh look to every story in this collected volume.

The verdict: Highly recommended. I truly enjoyed my first foray into “Black Jack” and am dismayed that it took me so long to get into this series. For those who enjoy episodic manga, intriguing characters and one man’s determination to save lives because of the cost involved, “Black Jack” is highly recommended. But, I know others will enjoy it, too. Black Jack is available in the U.S. from Vertical.

Review copy provided by Vertical.

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