Manga of the Month: Black Jack

 Black Jack (ブラック・ジャック) by Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka has an incredibly diverse body of work. There are his high-profile children’s works like Kimba the White Lion, Astro Boy, and Princess Knight. While they don’t talk down to their audience they are clearly for children. You then have his strictly seinen works like MW, Adolf, and Swallowing the Earth. They are clearly for an adult audience with mature themes. But Black Jack sits firmly in the middle of these two extremes. It ran in a shonen magazine but it reads more like a seinen title. It has a fine balance between that make in an extremely accessible but weighty classic.

Black Jack is not just a genius surgeon. He is the quintessence of a genius surgeon. When you have a medical issue that no one else can handle you go to Black Jack. There are only two catches. He is an unlicensed surgeon and therefore his services exist outside the law. The other is that he is astronomically expensive. He charges millions of dollars for his services. While he is not a complete bastard, as he often waves his fee for people honestly in need, he hardly advertises that fact. The manga is mostly episodic tales of Black Jack’s strange cases with everything from operating on terrorists in the sewers to dealing with ectoplasmic patients.

The best Black Jack stories have a bit of two-fisted action along with some serious moral contemplation. They will tell a story that delves into issues of medical and moral ethics but still have gun battles and wild animal attacks. There are some stories that are just straight high adventure and some that are just contemplative narratives or character studies but they are often a mixture of the two.

Osamu Tezuka had a medical degree so when the stories want to be realistic they are extremely detailed. But Tezuka was always about story first and realism be damned. So when it would be interesting for Black Jack to befriend a dolphin or make a little girl out of tumors than so be it. But at the same time when the story would be enhanced more by actual science than the medical action feels very realistic. But like every doctor Black Jack is not infallible. Some times he misdiagnosis things, sometimes he makes mistakes, and sometimes he even loses a patient. He may be the best but even the best can’t always do something for some patients who are too far gone.

Tezuka stories can sometimes feel like a reading assignment. You learn a lot and grow as a person for completing them but you only get that reward at the end of the tale after some meditation on the work. Black Jack on the other hand is always just fun as soon as you tear into it. It can be an adrenalin rush and a sugar high at the same time. But like any Tezuka manga if after your done you ponder the tale you get that wonderful reward as you contemplate the lesson you learned. Truly the best of both worlds.

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