Black Jack is an "unregistered" doctor with a clouded, mysterious past. He works with his little assistant Pinoko (who has a massive crush on the doctor), dealing with medical cases not very well known, which can be strange, dangerous, or not known at all. But he is a genius, and can save almost any of his patients' lives (as long as they have the money for it, that is), and is known to many around the world, especially to those of medicine and science. He's a man of science himself, and does not believe much until he has seen it, yet it is many times he is surprised by love and nature often overpowering the science he bases his life in.
Black Jack won the 1st Kodansha Manga Award for the shounen category in 1977.
The series was first published in English by VIZ Media, who released select chapters in their manga anthology magazine Manga Vizion, and later released those chapters in two volumes in 1999. Vertical Inc published the entire series in English based off the 17-volume shinsouban reprint from September 23, 2008 to November 29, 2011.
Dr. Black Jack looks and acts like a gruff ol' doc from some cowboy town. An old surgical scar runs down his face; part of his hair has turned white, and he goes about wearing a big black coat thrown over his shoulders. By the way, he doesn't have a medical license, and charges an arm and a leg (sometimes literally) for his services. Yet still people come to him at his weatherbeaten shack on the hill. Whether hopeless cases that need his incredible skill, or criminals who can't go to a normal hospital.
"He'll only cure you if the price is
right!" many scoff. Despite his crusty, ugly outside, might he possibly be a good person?
The drama is quite rich. And we cover every type of emotion possible, from comedy to tragedy and in-between. In each new encounter between the Doc and his patients and their families/friends/associates, we wonder which side of his face he is going to turn. Will he be cold and impassive, mercilessly demanding 30 million yen? Will he take on the case for free, or will he do it for some bizarre exchange?
As you might guess, Black Jack isn't as cold-hearted as tries to seem. Sometimes he has to give "tough love" style treatment. The patient may hate what he asks of them, but things turn out for the best in the end. And occasionally, he helps people for no apparent reason. Maybe he really has a heart of gold. He just buries it as hard as he can. Maybe it seems like he can't understand what it means to be chopped up and sewn together, and go through painful years of rehab. But he does. Because he has. After all, that's what that scar on his face, and many more all over his body, are from.
Several stories made me tear up. Like one where he saves a patient, and thereby causes the death not only her, but her entire family. You wonder if his cold outside is to protect himself from those kinds of outcomes. After all, how do you emotionally deal with that kind of responsibility?
Most of the light comedy in the series is carried by a girl (woman??) he essentially saves from the trash heap. In the body of a little girl, and treated like one, Pinoko insists that she is 18 years old, and is Black Jack's wife. Well, that's because they live together. A hopeless case that the Doc adopted to be his own daughter. The Doc would adopt someone!?! Yes, he must be a good person after all.
Each chapter is a self-contained story. At the end of each chapter, I had to pause, and decompress. Most endings are climactic, often with some unexpected twist, whether a tragic turn, happy ending; maybe bittersweet, or something to make you ponder.
The series began publication in the 70's. Lots of social issues from the time are brought up, from racism, women's rights, gang violence, and euthanasia, to animal rights, gender identity, and drug abuse. And other things from dirty politics to artificial intelligence.
Tezuka used his typical art style. It's much more rounded than I usually like for my comics. But I didn't notice it after the first few pages. I was too engrossed in the stories. More annoying was that many of the character designs are repeated for different people. It's like, "Wait, that looks exactly like the guy from two chapters ago!" but it's a different person.
Like any medical drama, it shouldn't be used as a reference for real medicine. Some procedures are impossible even now. And on that note, there are quite a lot of realistic close-ups on body parts that are being surgically worked on (including cut up flesh, knives slicing skin, innards). They don't look gory; mostly like black and white drawings out of medical textbooks. But if you get queasy around that kind of stuff, consider yourself cautioned. Sometimes more gory are the bodies of accident victims. We sometimes see mauled and burned bodies; some of that was a bit disturbing.
A rich and satisfying series about the fascinating character called Black Jack. A tad mature, very engaging, and highly recommended.
I've seen all the Anime adaptations, and read all the Volumes to the Manga, and from what I've witnessed in both the Anime & Manga and Kuro himself has gone through a lot which is what brought about his overall philosophy as a Doctor.
However no matter the circumstance Kuro always goes the extra mile for each patient, whether it be because of a promise, the pay, or because Pinoko insist that he help he'll never give less than his 100%.
Although in actuality it's his moral code and the fact that he owes his own life to a Doctor who took risks that he himself has
become what he is today.
His goal is to save and preserve life, because nobody ever truly wants to die...
Finally, if that's not enough to convince you to read, the show House is also inspired by the eponymous hero of Osamu Tezuka's manga Blackjack. You can easily note this in how similiar both these cynical, dark, lonely doctors (Althou BJ is without a medical license) perform medical miracles throught the series!
This influence is confirmed by House himself, who said in an episode, that his medical vocation comes from his encounter with a marginal Japanese doctor...
What's funnier though, is how there[s even a short cross-over between Dr. House and Blackjack in the two promotional and official ads for the release of season 4 of Dr. House in Japan.
Black Jack can be a good choice if you'd enjoy some dramatic stories, even if sometimes they really don't nail it or you'd want to observe how manga used to be written back in the 70's and what was the mentality of the writers back then. As Tezuka touches on a range of subjects, you would easily observe some things about his own mentality and even the industry's back then. Black Jack is a collection of stories from the life of Black Jack, some dramatic, some attempting to be dramatic and becoming comical, some with questionable content, but most interesting and still enjoyable.
were rearranged and released in an optimal rather than chronological order. Sometimes this will create some problems for the story, but it will make the story more optimal as the manga wasn't exactly released with a lot of the continuity in mind, but rather some of Tezuka's random ideas. The manga itself started as a horror manga, rather than a drama, so it also helps establish the drama side better.
Back to what I said about drama, some of the chapters nail their drama really well do this really well, but some really fail on it, ending up as silly instead. I assume it's because Tezuka tried to be overlydramatic and illustrate his point through too many coincidental events in the stories or he simply had an idea but he was pressed on time and couldn't come up with any better idea or couldn't hold up well with it. Sometimes you'll even found repeated themes. I think as a result of the fact that at times he tried to take the manga too seriously, he sometimes likes to get the manga to break the fourth wall, either through his own characters or by including himself in the manga.
As for the questionable content I specified earlier, it's pretty much a result of aging. I'll say that some things were different back then and just leave it at that. It's pretty much things you would expect which I doubt could be found offensive, at best you'll find silly, except maybe for the chapters that were removed from the volumes for questionable content themselves. Which I couldn't find and I've heard that they are only in japanese, so, if you know japanese, you might have better luck unraveling exactly what's the peak for questionable content.
Overall the story goes in a lot of places and it can best be summed up as a collection of the more notable stories of the unlicensed surgeon Black Jack. As it goes into a wide variety of themes, the best way I can describe the story is dramatic, as most of the stories are that or are aspiring to be dramatic. Also keep in mind that the story is a collection of stories about Black Jack, so don't expect the manga to have a conclusive ending and be more than just a collection of stories.
The art style is from when manga took great western influences but, for instance, the surgical parts of it are drawn in a moredetailed style, so if you're afraid if there's anything medical that would suffer as a result of the art, do not worry a bit, it won't. If art style is not a big yiff for you but you still dislike it, keep in mind that the overall style of manga was under development. So if you don't generally care much about the art, don't weigh too much on Black Jack's. At the time there wasn't much differentiation in between art styles.
Now, character wise, there's not a whole lot of characters to talk about, as some even if recurring won't be memorable, while some will be. The most developed character in the story is Black Jack, of who's development is best shown inside the chapters themselves, but just in case you might have the wrong idea of what kind of character Black Jack is, he is a medical genius which does not own a medical license, who will operate on you only if you can meet his outrageously high demands. While he does value money, quite a lot, he also does value honesty and integrity and he shows that through his work. There are plenty of layers to Black Jack's character. So don't lose sight of that. Talking about any other characters would be spoilery, but note that they generally aren't bad. They usually are means to an end but some of the recurring characters will be interesting. Just don't expect TOO much from them. Most of the focus is on Black Jack & the drama surrounding his operations and real issues of the time that do apply even today, to some extent.
The stories are very enjoyable even when they don't achieve the purpose they try to set for themselves and what I mentioned as questionable only ends up as silly at best, by no means offensive or disturbing. If you're ever in the mood for a bunch of short stories that travel a great deal of themes, Black Jack is a good choice.