Reviewby Chris Fey, May 18th 2004
DVD 1: Infection
Black Jack is an enigmatic doctor whose skills are rivalled by none. Possessing no license, he roams the world as a mercenary doctor, his skill available to anyone, anywhere, provided the price is right. The rich, famous, and powerful seek him out to cure them from diseases and conditions every other doctor has given up on. His jobs take him from the jungles of South America to the Urban Jungle, with only Pinoko, his adopted daughter whose life he saved, as an assistant. Despite his mercenary nature, he has been known to do free work for the poor and animals, sometimes even returning payments when he fails. In his efforts to save his patients, he is reckless, so much so he will defy all laws.
There are some great anime out there that simply get lost in the shuffle. Black Jack, based on the manga created by the late, great Osamu Tezuka is one such anime. Tezuka, known as the god of manga, created Black Jack as an alter ego. Before he was a manga artist, Tezuka was a doctor; Black Jack is all he wished he could be. When Black Jack was originally created, he was supposed to be a Hitchcock-like self-insertion character for Tezuka's 30th anniversary manga. There were supposed to be five parts, with Black Jack appearing in the lives of all Tezuka's characters. He would function as a commentary on Tezuka's life's work. The popularity after the initial adventure proved so great that it went on for five years, and is still one of his most popular works.
Using his full knowledge as a doctor, Tezuka created a detailed and engrossing medical thriller. While there is a dash of fantasy, like surgeries completed at record speeds, mysterious diseases with mystical causes and an ease of transplanting we can only dream of, Black Jack remains otherwise grounded in reality. One of Tezuka's protégées, Osamu Dezaki, is the director and screenwriter, keeping the anime faithful to the vision of Tezuka.
Black Jack's name refers to his attitude as doctor, a pirate flying the Black Jack, rather then the card in a deck. As such, the journeys of Black Jack are independent of each other. One does not need to see them all to understand or enjoy them. Two episodes are presented on the first disc-subtitled “Infection”. Don't despair; the two episodes are each 50 minutes long, giving a total length equivalent to 4 episodes per disc. Episode one features a CEO dying of a dehydrating disease in his castle estate, while episode two features a group of teenaged girls who are linked by growing insanity, suicidal tendencies and the means to pay Black Jack. The character development is focused on his clients and their associates. Black Jack is effective as a mystery man, and that seems to be the way the producers liked it. The episodes deal with many issues, stretching from war, drugs, and chemical weapons, to anorexia, anxiety, and insanity. Much of the titular character's development is shown only through how he deals with each issue. We gain knowledge of him only through his actions, rather than exposition. This requires a superior storytelling style that is deftly done using stills during key moments. Some may dislike this, as it is often a minimalist approach, yet the rich art used for the stills does not detract from the quality of the anime.
In dealing with an anime we must stop for a second and deal with its transition from manga. The most obvious changes are in the character designs. Sugino Akio's designs replaced those of Tezuka, and it shows. Compare these two images from the Tezuka museum, the manga had a very simplistic quality, making the characters seem warm and open. The designs in the anime are much more hardboiled. The producers put an edge on the anime that the manga lacks, in order to heighten the drama. Whether or not they should have, the edge does work. The drama is paced well, and the more realistic designs make the graphic medical scenes more meaningful.
The music of Black Jack is fitting and rich. There are several opening and ending themes thru out the OVA, and they fit well. The first theme, "Just Before Sunrise," feels like an 80's rock ballad, which fits the feel of the art and stories on this first disc. The dub quality is alright, even outstanding for its age of seven years. Still, it is not perfect. The dub sounds hollow and a bit muffled. Comparing it to tapes of the original release, there is no difference. The DVD is a straight port from the video, with the sub track added on in its first US release ever. The sub doesn't seem to have the same audio issues as the dub track, and comes across much clearer. There is a slight difference between the scripts of the sub and dub, but the dub changes don't go beyond grammatical correctness and lip flap matching.
CPM currently has plans to release at least the original six episodes they released in 1996. There were an additional four episodes never dubbed. It is unclear if CPM is going to release it all in a full set as of now. This would require the final four to be dubbed, which may not happen. Still, the odds are pretty good because only the actors who play Black Jack and Pinoko would have to recommit, unlike a series such as Tenchi, which needs to gather many more people to dub episodes with the same main cast. Thus, for Black Jack it seems doable. The manga has a release through Viz, though currently only the first two volumes have been released. The first movie can be obtained from CPM. The second movie and live action series currently have no plans for Western release.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : B
+ Beautiful art and sole medical drama in anime compressing one of the master's stories
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