Title: Black Jack
Companies: Tezuka Productions
Format: 10 OVA
Dates: 21 Dec 1993 – 25 Jul 2000
Synopsis: Kurō Hazama holds no license to practice medicine anywhere in the world. He also happens to be the world’s greatest surgeon, known to the underground as Black Jack. Working outside the medical establishment, he travels the world with his assistant Pinoko to treat any patient, for a price. One’s willingness to pay being the only prerequisite for treatment, Black Jack encounters patients varying from powerful tycoons to wanted fugitives suffering from conditions ranging from pedestrian to unexplainable by any science.
Leads: Black Jack never ceases to be engaging. Pinoko never ceases to be grating.
Patients: A cavalcade of tragedy
Animation Style: Rich in detail and heavy on on illustrated stills.
Atmosphere: Unworldly, anachronistic, and at times supernatural.
Medical Accuracy: Spot on when it wants to be. Totally negligent when it needs to be.
For better or for worse, the success of the OVA in the late ’80s and early ’90s can probably be best attributed to its license to gratuity, making the format a production Mos Eisley for the holy trinity of gore, gratuitous tits, and general misanthropy. But thank the anime gods the format exists exist, for the sheer quantity of Violence Jacks out there can’t do anything to diminish the accomplishments of Dezaki Osamu’s adaptation of Tezuka Osamu‘s Black Jack.
A character penciled and inked by the God of Manga himself, Black Jack’s place in the anime world ascends above mere icon. Drawn from Dr. Tezuka‘s own views on medicine, Black Jack embodies a sort of ideal for surgeons in his passion for life, his maverick professionalism, the breadth of his knowledge base, and of course his near superhuman technique with a scalpel. But Black Jack is hardly Superman. Pride, or perhaps a need to project pride, often conceals the great value he puts on life. Just as well he is more than aware of his limitations, as the quest for life is seldom as successful as the pursuit of death. The mystery of his past, embedded in his character design, makes for a character who is impossible to take ones eyes off of. Then there is his assistant. I am not a big enough man to bash any creation of the man who made anime and manga what they are today. But I am an honest enough critic to say that there is not a scene where Pinoko is neither clingy nor obnoxious. And her Seiyuu makes me wish that the Black Jack had tossed the tumor that is her brain into a tub of medical waste.
Black Jack isn’t just built upon the strength of its lead. This in an OVA with atmosphere so thick, it’s condensed into fog. Most of this comes from the patients themselves, who don’t merely suffer, but are consumed by the very essence of suffering. Virtually everyone is a caricature with their physical and emotional anguish playing their role in establishing and feeding the mood. The resolution of each case is for the most part inconsequential, even as it may be paramount for Black Jack himself. Nothing is to get in director Dezaki‘s way of setting the atmosphere, whether upping the drama to histrionic levels or mixing anachronisms for a tailor made setting. The mood is further intensified by the evocative artwork. Both disease and the inner workings of the body are given due diligence, portrayed as simultaneously clinical and theatrical. Violence and even the fantastic are portrayed in very much the same way. Given how evocative it can be, the art direction finds its own way of going overboard. Dezaki’s obsession with climaxing scenes with freeze frame is in overdrive here, intensifying the situation while at other making then comical with the technique’s frequency.
Tezuka‘s credentials as a doctor played heavily into the graphic detail of both diseases and medical practices in the manga, and this holds over into the OVA. Also much like the manga, it doesn’t let a little thing like medical accuracy get in the way of drama with borderline to flat out supernatural cases taking up half of the stories. By tone alone, this is an over the top anime even at its most strictly scientific. Nevertheless both stories have their place with more grounded cases highlighting Black Jack’s skill and devotion while the more fantastical test those qualities, forcing him to reevaluating his world view.
As an anime, Black Jack is defined primarily by its style, but manages to elevate itself above its graphic contemporaries. The presentation of the great maladies afflicting Black Jack’s patients generally take greater hold, especially as the anime eschews reality more and more. Oftentimes it is absurdity wins out as the core of this OVA. But it’s never absurdity for its own sake. Rather, the audience, like Black Jack himself, are faced with a world of morbid awe, impossible to take one’s eyes off.
The Rating: 7
Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx