Original version posted August 7, 2013 on Geek la Femme
In order to maintain some semblance of sanity during the July edition of Camp NaNoWriMo, I bribed myself with anime. Every 500 words, I could watch an episode. But which anime to watch? I decided on Black Jack, an anime based on the Black Jack manga series by Osamu Tezuka. I was bumbling around on the internet and stumbled across a site that had a very nice fansub by #Frostii @ Rizon and thought, “You know, Charles Dunbar showed us the opening of this at a con ages ago and it looked really cool. I should watch this now that I have the chance!”
So I did. And I loved it.
Black Jack is a medical drama mixed with horror with a pinch of sci-fi revolving around the title character, an unlicensed black-market surgeon for hire who charges exorbitant fees for his services. However, if you have a nigh-incurable ailment or injury, Black Jack is the man you want working on you. He might look like the offspring of Frankenstein and Cruella de Vil who made off with Count Dracula’s wardrobe, but he’s a freaking genius in surgery. And despite his often cold, abrasive manner, there are times and situations when his good heart shines through.
Osamu Tezuka wrote Black Jack from 1973 to 1983, but the anime wasn’t made until 2004 (and can only be found subbed at this point) and the 17-volume manga didn’t arrive in English until 2008, courtesy of Vertical Inc. (There are also 12 OVA episodes, a movie, and a second 17-episode series called Black Jack 21, none of which I’ve watched yet.) The anime does make some changes, although they are not so egregious that one wants to toss it across the room. It update a few things, such as some of the characters having cell phones and adds in a few characters or give some side characters more prominence, which I actually liked. The only place where both adaptations show their age a bit is in the depiction of some female characters, notably “the Black Queen,” as being rather frail and too overly emotional to handle certain situations. (That was the only episode I didn’t like at all.)
In the manga, Black Jack is pretty much a lone wolf, except for Pinoko, a small girl he saved and cares for, while in the anime Pinoko is not only present in more of the stories, but Black Jack himself seems to have a more steady support network of friends. Also, the manga is a lot darker than the anime. There is more death in the manga and while it isn’t gratuitous, it shows that Black Jack’s medical prowess can only go so far. He can’t always heal people, and even when he does, sometimes it isn’t enough. Sometimes those he heals do stupid things, or he makes an error in judgement and it has a price. For that reason, I’m glad I watched the 62-episode anime first because it eases you into the world and can be enjoyed by itself if you so chose. So far, I’ve enjoyed both the anime adaptation and the manga source material.
So, if you’re looking for some awesome old-school manga with an interesting premise and great characters, I highly recommend Black Jack! (Also, the music from the opening themes of the Black Jack anime are pretty good! My favorite is the third opening, “Fantastic” by Ami Suzuki. (I wish I could find better videos of them on Youtube… although like most anime openings and endings, the video that goes with them has pretty much nothing to do with actual events in the show… ^_^;;)