zine, [zeen] noun. 1. abbr. of fanzine; 2. any amateurly-published periodical. Oxford Reference


Friday, March 20, 2009

Black Jack Volume 3


Sent to you by Jack via Google Reader:


via Comics Village Reviews by John Thomas on 3/1/09

D-Doctor? Are you...God?
Heh Heh. Never had dealings with him.
I was a little saddened to hear Vertical Inc. was not announcing any new manga releases for 2009. Over the past few years Vertical has really raised the bar for quality choices, presentation and translation. The majority of their manga releases are by the godfather of manga, Osamu Tezuka (Ode to Kirihito, Dororo), and while many of the recent releases may not have been so well known in the West until their English releases, the Vertical treatment of Black Jack, now Vertical's only manga series, was highly anticipated. However, this release is not the first time Black Jack has made its way to this side of the Pacific. A decade ago Viz released a few volumes of Black Jack. These were selected stories, not in the order as Tezuka originally intended. New Black Jack translator Camellia Nieh recently talked about the pressures of translating a previously translated work, especially one that was expertly done. In the interview ( http://anime.advancedmn.com/article.php?artid=5348 ) Nieh describes how the goals of this translation were a little different than they probably were in the late 90s. To be sure, manga readers of that generation were looking for readability and highly localized text, where readers today are looking for more authenticity, keeping as close to the original Japanese as possible. Doing this without being distracting is Nieh's forte, and without having read the original Japanese, I can attest she has maintained a very easy to read medical and moral manga drama. (There are sparringly few footnotes included.)
Announcing a 17-volume high-end manga series is an ambitious endeavor, especially in this economy, but after reading just a couple of episodes you will see why this commitment is a solid investment, and why Black Jack is one of Tezuka's most popular characters ever.
The title character is a rogue Japanese doctor. I like stories that start with some mystery rather than a lot of explanations, and Black Jack is the epitome of this style. Dr. Black Jack has no license, he has severe scars across his face which are half covered by his mop of two-toned hair. On top of that he is the most skilled surgeon on the planet. Maybe that is why he has the audacity to charge outrageous prices for his services... only that those prices seem less outrageous when he reminds his desperate patients their other option.
To leave it at that over-simplifies the appeal of Black Jack because despite the originality of each medical episode, the real pull is the ethical struggles of our morally-ambiguous (?) hero (?) and how he applies them to his subjects. From the first chapter of the first volume we are thrust into the fascinating life of the forest cabin-dwelling and globe-trotting doctor. (Dr. Black Jack is as full of more walking contradictions than any manga character I have seen...but even as his mystery unfolds, they hold together.) Over the course of each volume (12+ chapters) we are given hints to the background of our maverick physician. These are doled out carefully and thoughtfully, making each morsel that much more satisfying.
Before going into Volume 3 a little more, I will say what I like about Black Jack is that each story is completely different from the story that preceded it. These are all stories of a medical miracle-worker, but elements come in from out of left field quite often, keeping the reader on his toes, even if Dr. Black Jack is prepared for anything. He globe-trots from major metros to deserted islands. He treats famous kings and sea-life. An episode might cover a few days or several years. The chapter titles are only the slightest hint as to the tale that is to come.
Like Volume 2, I felt that Volume 3 started off a little weak, but boy, did it pick up steam soon after. One thing I liked so much about the first two volumes were the select stories giving us insight into Dr. Black Jack's background and motivation. I was a little disappointed there wasn't a story in this vein here, but what made up for it was Black Jack's more open struggle with the morality of his livelihood. We have seen him charge enormous prices to "evil" people, and the same prices to "non-evil" regular folks. That makes him a hard-to-love hero (apparently on purpose) but in this volume he struggles with that stance more than we have seen in the past.
One of the most interesting (and ultimately frustrating) tales is how Black Jack enacts "revenge" on a distracted doctor who blames his nurse for a fatal mistake. (Another frustrating thing was the amount of "people run over by trucks" in this volume. It happened at least three times, each for a different effect, but if the stories are read in a row it felt a bit contrived.) Another moving tale is of how he "encourages" brazen medical students fed up with their attending surgeon. One of the most touching stories involved a benefactor of the fine-feathered kind.
Over the course of these tales we begin to see more sides of Dr. Black Jack than even the flashback episodes reveal, and we are left with a dark hero seemingly in a state of flux by the end. Black Jack is an episodic, not formulaic tale, so how each episode relates to each other (if they do at all) isn't always crystal clear. What we do know is that Osamu Tezuka has seemingly no limit in his arsenal of approaches with Black Jack, and as each volume ends it becomes easier to see how this formal medical student turned manga writer must have enjoyed giving this character the life Dr. Black Jack himself relishes in giving back to his patients.  


Things you can do from here:


No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog