If the current American television market is anything to go by, everyone loves a good medical drama. And why not? So much action, all the tense scenes of surgeries and human conflict, not to mention those terribly attractive doctors, especially that Hugh Laurie – err, moving on. Surprising enough, Japanese animation doesn’t really reflect this trend in dramatic entertainment; not a lot of anime series in the past ten to twenty years show any influence from the hospital serial, even though there are many J-dramas that do. And – cue blushing of your blog host – a lot of them are of the hentai variety in which naughty nurses and doctors get busy in the hospital using surgery equipment in ways that would turn the officials at the department of health green in the face.
However, out of the anime that does take place in a medical setting, one manages to rise above the ranks due to its unorthodox lead who travels from country to country, only performing surgery on the most extraordinary cases for the most outrageous amounts of money, accompanies by an adorable little girl who acts as his nurse while in the operating theater. Yes, you can probably imagine who I’m talking about – the epic Tezuka character, Black Jack, rogue surgeon and international man of mystery.
The Black Jack manga so far has been a runaway success, currently being published in English by Vertical Inc. – and may I say, the covers they made for each volume are stunning. Like, wow. Many years ago, the OVA anime and film was also licensed for North American release, US Manga Corps the ones behind the licenses (also known as the anime arm of Central Park Media), but they have since folded, their releases swiftly going out of print with it. But I’m not here to argue for the OVAs or the (admittedly ridiculous) feature film, but one of the newer additions to the Black Jack canon: the 2006 anime series, Black Jack 21. At seventeen episodes, it’s fast paced, explosive, and filled with the wacky medical mysteries that the series is known for, as well as a whole lot of drama around the scarred scalpel-wielding man himself.
The attractive thing about the Black Jack 21 series is that it ditches the episodic nature of the OVAs and goes for actual plotlines that run through each episode, all centered on Black Jack and his history as well as the organization determined to do him in. Lest you assume BJ21 is all action and nothing else, there is rarely an episode where Black Jack’s legendary surgical skills are not put on display. This mix-up of mystery and medicine would certainly appeal to any Tezuka fan, especially if they are fans of Tezuka series like Dororo and Metropolis.
The animation is pretty solid, especially when illustrating Pinoko’s hilarious facial expressions (I will never not laugh at her multiple cries of “oh my gewdness!” during the series, complete with exaggerated face pulling and leaping into the air). Plus, it was pretty fun trying to spot where Sharaku was in every episode, one of the more amusing Easter eggs I’ve ever seen in an anime. It was interesting to watch Black Jack, someone I was used to watching in an older art style, updated and drawn 'cleaner' for a new audience - although, thank goodness, still maintaining his signature style.
Black Jack 21 is, in one word, fun. It may anger some series purists because it isn’t 100% focused on the medical cases of the week, but it’s hard to not get some degree of enjoyment out of watching it. It manages to keep a serious storyline while still maintaining a playful tone through all of the danger facing Black Jack and Pinoko. And at a otal of seventeen episodes for the entire series, it wouldn’t be a huge investment for North American companies to package up for DVD release, unlike the 2004 series which clocks in at over sixty episodes. With the revival of Black Jack fever thanks to Vertical’s releasing the manga, aren’t we due for another Black Jack anime to reach our shores? More importantly: will the world ever get the awesome Black Jack-themed Operation game we’ve all been waiting for? Err, or just the anime, that’s fine too.
You can check out more information about the English language release of the Black Jack manga on Vertical's site.