Young Black Jack
Episode 6

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 6 of
Young Black Jack ?
Community score: 3.4

Young Black Jack surprised me a little bit this week. All my criticisms of how it mishandles the complexities of this conflict still stand, but it did inject some genuine human drama into the proceedings. We've now spent two episodes with the characters involved, so their fates are powerful stuff that tugs at the audience's heartstrings. It's more strange that this episode's tragedies don't affect the rest of the cast much, particularly Hazama.

Steve is recovering, but he's delirious when he wakes up and doesn't recognize his surroundings. He goes wandering out into the fields, with everyone calling after him. They tell him he's not in battle anymore, so he can come back and wait to be picked up and sent home. It takes a while, but they eventually get through to him, and he starts running back—only to step on a landmine and be instantly blown apart.

That's bleak stuff for a show that's felt afraid to engage with reality for a while now. For once, Hazama's work isn't magic. He and the other surgeons could heal Steve, but nothing can prevent a moment like that. Everything he did for the past two episodes is rendered completely futile in that moment. This deeply affects Phan, and Bob even moreso—he loses his mind, starts seeing enemies everywhere, and insists that Steve is still alive. One of the "enemies" he sees is Phan, even though it almost seemed like the show was setting those two up for a romance. Whatever they might have had, it's destroyed when Bob sees her recognize a wounded Viet Cong soldier as Anh, the friend from her village who gave her the key to escape. Phan reassures Bob when he insists that Anh is suspicious, but the dude's lost his mind and can't be swayed. He declares Phan a secret spy and calls the army to bomb the village—while Hazama, Yabu, and the American doctor (revealed to be named Kiriko) are operating on Anh. The episode does an admirable job in its portrayal of Bob, depicting him as mentally unsound and a threat to the group, while still keeping him sympathetic.

I didn't talk about Hazama much in that description for a reason. For all that happens this week, our hero largely stays out of it. The same is true with the other doctors. They are the center of the concern at the end of the episode, because they're still in the village, but they play no part in its setup. Bob is frustrated to see the doctors insist on helping everyone, but that isn't what makes him snap. He loses it when he sees Phan reunite with her friend from the Viet Cong. Hazama and friends are apolitical—even Kiriko, who is actually working for the American army.

Yabu is the one doctor whose experiences with Vietnam obviously traumatized and changed him. So I was waiting this whole arc to get some answers about what Yabu saw and did, and how that led to him losing his fear of blood. Other than a brief mention of his change last week though, we've still got nothing. Why? For that matter, shouldn't all this affect Hazama in some way too? Shouldn't he be curious about what happened to his friend? We never find out. There are so many possible threads like this in the episode: whatever happens to Bob once he escapes into the jungle with his bloody bag? These are smaller qualms; I figured that Young Black Jack didn't have room to cover every part of the journey for its bit players, and we don't need to know Bob's fate for this arc to be satisfying. Yabu's a major character though, and his plight brought Hazama out to Vietnam in the first place. Shouldn't we at least get something? Young Black Jack declares his arc unimportant, and now that the Vietnam storyline is over, it will likely never come up again. Apparently, it's way more important to just watch him work with the other two doctors while the narration tells us how they're the best people in Vietnam.

The final, climactic scene of them operating on Anh is basically a long tribute to doctors, particularly medics on the battlefield. They never even waver in their conviction to stay the course and heal their patient, even at the cost of their own lives. That's admirable, but the show's presentation comes off as troubling instead. For one thing, would anyone really blame a doctor if they tried to rush out of there and save themselves? I'm sure at least some did in this situation, especially an American doctor who might get caught healing the enemy. We just saw how Hazama and Kiriko could put in all the effort possible to save a guy, and it doesn't matter if he's blown up by a landmine right afterward. I expected at least one of them (obviously not Hazama) to be gravely injured. Or maybe they would get out safely, but their patient would be killed by one of the blasts. But everyone and everything comes out of this fine. In Hazama's case, he comes out unfazed completely.

That's the strange thing about this arc and the show in general. Hazama does see genuinely harrowing things throughout the three Vietnam episodes, yet he remains the same person through all of it. He doesn't really have any convictions outside of his duties as a doctor, and this experience does nothing to shake that. Even when the man he's spent the past two episodes healing is instantly killed by a mine, it barely affects him. This series is supposed to be his gritty backstory, the one that turns him into the Black Jack of the manga, someone who does very deeply care about the people he works on beyond just professional duty. When is that going to happen?

Perhaps even more than any of the "escapist" elements I mentioned in last week's review, this is what bothers me about Young Black Jack. These serious historical events are nothing more than dressing to make the show look more "serious." They don't bring anything new to the war-drama table, but more importantly, they don't even affect the hero in any notable way. Not only does he not gain any emotions, but his lack of emotional involvement is hailed as a virtue.

I'm not sure what Young Black Jack's purpose is yet. It seems like the creator missed the point of the original manga—or they were deliberately disappointed by Tezuka's character and wanted to turn him into a completely different character. This Black Jack is more like a modern anime hero: in possession of special and unnatural talents, but stoic and unaffected by anything beyond his goals. It doesn't help that the conclusion of this arc chooses to emphasize this; the "real tragedy" is that two geniuses like Hazama and Kiriko will never meet again outside of Vietnam. Not the horrors brought upon everyone around them? Not how those horrors might have affected the doctors themselves?

Next week, it looks like they'll use American racism as the vehicle for Hazama's non-angst. Even if this episode stuck the landing in its Vietnam plot, it still centered the whole story around Hazama's professional achievements, so I can't say I have high hopes for the storyline to come. Anime has an odd track record with racism in general, so I'm not sure what to expect from the already-rocky Young Black Jack.

Rating: B

Young Black Jack is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a music Ph.D. student who loves overanalyzing anime soundtracks. Follow her on her media blog Rose's Turn.

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