Comparing Osamu Tezuka’s Nanairo Inko to Black Jack (because why not)

I actually haven’t read all of Nanairo Inko, but I’ve read a decent chunk of it, and while I don’t feel like I can (or should) give a final verdict on the series, I don’t think I’ll dramatically revise my opinion based on future chapters, or based on the ending? The chapters are stand-alone and there isn’t much in terms of overarching plot threads.

Nanairo Inko is about an amateur actor / master thief whose real identity is unknown – even his actual face, because he mostly appears in disguise, and even his usual get-up is more like an absurd costume than real clothing! Anyway … despite being an extremely skilled actor, the protagonist only works as a last-minute replacement, getting called upon whenever an actor has fallen ill, gotten arrested or otherwise can’t make it, and the play is about to be cancelled. His payment? That you kinda, sorta, look the other way should some of the audience members’ valuables disappear!

Every chapter of Nanairo Inko is named after a famous theatre play, which is either the focus of the episode or shares some themes or other parallels with it. I really like this idea! But … I don’t think I liked the execution in all cases? The connections were sometimes a bit weak?

There are actually a number of similarities between Nanairo Inko and Black Jack, and this is what I want to talk about. Of course, any manga can only lose when you compare it to Black Jack, which is the best manga ever. But let’s do it anyway!

Aside from the episodic structure, where every chapter is a stand-alone story, the similarities mostly concern the two protagonists. Both are:

  • eccentric geniuses in their field who operate outside the law,
  • have big egos,
  • have, erh, complicated morals or ethics,
  • like money,
  • have daddy issues,
  • have strange sidekicks that strain suspension of disbelief,
  • are prone to angst,
  • and prone to getting kidnapped.

Well, that’s just off the top of my head.

What’s more, both series vary in tone, from drama to comedy, from realism to touching on the fantastical. But still, Black Jack generally veers to the more serious, darker side of things, while Nanairo Inko tends to be (and feel) more whacky. Like I said, I haven’t read it all … but I’m also not basing this on exact numbers or anything, it’s just an overall impression. Maybe the more dramatic plots of Black Jack just left a stronger impression than its comedy bits, while the Nanairo Inko chapters with BIZARRE STUFF overwhelm my perception of the series. Because it really is bizarre stuff.

That’s not a huge surprise, since Black Jack deals with life and death – it’s about a surgeon, after all, and therefore lends itself very well to stories about hope, the meaning of life, the worth of life … all sorts of existential stuff.

Nanairo Inko isn’t about life-changing medical operations, but about acting. It’s more low-stakes and less dramatic by default, I guess. Then again, when you think about it: the manga does touch upon issues of identity, which is an interesting, fascinating field, ripe for drama. I thought it was interesting (although … really oddly executed) that the protagonist’s constant pretending-to-be-someone-else would result in psychological issues – and the idea that he’s a limited actor because he can only imitate (like a parrot) but not create a character. You could possibly create an awesomely deep and angsty drama based on this concept, but Nanairo Inko isn’t really trying to be that, from what I’ve seen. Which is OK, but it does make me wish there was a manga like that, an unholy hybrid of Black Jack and Nanairo Inko … Hehe, don’t mind me.

Assorted thoughts:

  • I said that both characters are prone to getting kidnapped. The funny thing is that they even get kidnapped for more or less the same reasons: because criminals are after their money, or after their unique skills. The chapter about the mafia inheritence could easily work as a Black Jack chapter, too. Someone’s face got disfigured in an accident? Yes, you could kidnap/hire an actor to impersonate him … or you could kidnap/hire a doctor to restore his appearance or give someone else his face. Heck, you could do both. Crossover time!
  • One type of story that’s absent in Black Jack, but has been done at least twice in Nanairo Inko is: “… scary weird horror sci-fi shit happens, but in the end it turns out that it’s an elaborate joke played on the hero”. Nanairo Inko is a trip.

That’s totally my preliminary assessment, not a definite opinion that I’ll never ever change, because I still have to read the rest of the series. Thoughts?

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2 thoughts on “Comparing Osamu Tezuka’s Nanairo Inko to Black Jack (because why not)

  1. Yes, they ARE super similar! :D (You forgot about them both being tsundere woobies, however.) Also I don’t think reading the rest of Nanairo Inko will change your opinion; if anything it only gets more bizarre, haha.

    I love Pinoko but I love Tamasaburo perhaps even more; a gay genius thespian dog!!! How do you come up with this shit.

    • Does it get more bizarre than “hallucinating weird annoying creatures”?! But HOW?

      I guess it’s not just a matter of “how do you come up with this”, but also “how do you go through with turning this batshit idea into an actual manga?”, because that’s hours of work!

      (You forgot about them both being tsundere woobies, however.)
      How could I have forgotten! Shame on me.

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