Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka

I read all the entire Black Jack manga in ten days. @_@ Well, not all all of it. I have not read the “sealed chapters”. But that’s still 17 manga volumes! And considering that Black Jack is episodic, so every chapter is a short story of its own, with its own plot and characters … well, I shouldn’t have read so much in such a small time frame, it’s too much input and not enough time to digest! Originally, I just meant to read the first volume, because I had not read any Tezuka and my manga expert friend Alicia recommended this one. Yeah, I wanted to read one volume and move on with my life.

But Black Jack is the equivalent of a bag of chips. You don’t just eat one.

In other words, yes. I really liked it! There were obviously some stories I liked less, but that’s the beauty with strictly episodic series: the weaker chapters are over before you know it and you’re never stuck with it for ten or more volumes. Funny, now that I try to think of one such “weaker chapter”, I can’t come up with anything. I find it much easier to focus on the positive, on the cool stuff. At least for now. Ah, the sweet honeymoon phase of a new fandom.

Anyway! As we all know, Black Jack is about … well, it’s about Black Jack, a sort of vigilante surgeon, or to put it less favourably, an unlicensed surgeon whore mercenary who does all kinds of crazy and difficult operations against exorbitant fees – which has earned him the reputation of being a greedy, cold-hearted asshole, though also a brilliant doctor.

The chapters vary widely in tone, structure and even genre. There’s medical mysteries, character-based drama, heart-warming comedy, horror and even science-fiction … There are amazingly over the top scenarios, like Black Jack operating on a cursed mummy! Black Jack operating on himself! In the Australian outback! While surrounded by dingoes!  At other times, the surgery itself isn’t that important compared to the human drama, and may not even be shown. Sometimes, BJ barely shows up.

But there are some relatively consistent themes: firstly, the value of life – what you do to save a life, what you do with the life you got, how much is a life worth … This latter issue comes up a lot, of course, because Black Jack will ask for crazy amounts of money, often more than any normal person can pay comfortably. Because of this, BJ’s insane demands really work as a kind of test of conviction. He might even waive the fee in the end or give the money away to someone who needs it, if he thinks it’s appropriate. One time, he decides to save a girl’s life because her parents say that nope, she’s NOT worth 20 million yen (or whatever the exact amount was). He’s a rude asshole with questionable behaviour, but he’s a rude asshole who can tell right from wrong and always sort of comes down on the side of justice. Just … sometimes in ways that are ethically very wrong.

Honestly, Black Jack is a great character, and – what’s even better – a great anti-hero. That’s rare! I mean, even if I am 89% sure that in the end, BJ will find a satisfying and morally OK-ish solution, you can never tell what the fuck he is going to do, because he’s a capricious bundle of issues, and he can be amazingly mean and vindictive.

Like, one of the things he needs all that money for? To finance his vengeance. (BJ has a super tragic past that is revealed gradually in all its multi-layered awfulness.) Now, it’s not that rare for manga heroes to be on revenge quests, but Black Jack goes about it in a manner more fitting for a psychopathic villain. He bought a small island, rigged it with landmines, kidnapped his target, released that man in the middle of the island and told him to try and reach the coast. That’s insane. Elaborate death traps to torture your enemies, that’s a villain thing! That guy has issues.

But it’s clearly wrong actions like this which make Black Jack interesting. His medical procedures are often ethically questionable, and sometimes he deceives a client – for their own good or as punishment. Basically, Black Jack is a kind of trickster figure.

Oh, which doesn’t mean he’s always in control. He does fail sometimes, or he fails to foresee the outcome of his surgeries. Because no one can really predict or control what a healed patient is going to do with their new chance. Then he can be found sitting by himself in the last panel, his head in his hand and ~despairing~. The other classic final panel pose is Black Jack ~walking away~ into the sunset.

  • But I must reread this series one of these days.
  • There’s one chapter set in a remote Sicilian town where the entire population is extremely against any outsiders coming to their town. IF THAT’S TRUE, WHY DO YOU HAVE A HOTEL?! WHY?!
  • I didn’t really think I had Pinoko feels, but then I came across several reviewers who all called her “creepy”. How dare you. =_=
  • Searching for “Black Jack” yields so many irrelevant results, it’s a little bit hilarious. The card game, the Outlander character of the same name, and of course the actor Jack Black. And Young Black Jack, the modern manga/anime prequel that apparently retells Black Jack’s early career as yaoi bait. Of course!
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