First Impressions – Young Black Jack

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Once again, let’s start this dance…

The parade of the new starts with something old – or at least, something new based on something really old.  That would be Tezuka Osamu’s Black Jack, the story of a patchwork quilt of a rogue surgeon named Hazama Kuroo, which Tezuka began in 1973 and which ran for 17 volumes over ten years.  Young Black Jack is not canon Tezuka material – the manga this series is based on began in 2011 and is written by Tabata Yoshiaki (Ninja Slayer), and chronicles the life of Hazama before he became the legendary surgeon portrayed in his manga.  I don’t know if updating Tezuka is a good ideal in principle, but the pedigree behind this series is fairly solid, and so is the premiere.

Tezuka wrote Black Jack late in his his career, and is reflects where his politics were at the time.  Always tough to pin down ideologically, Tezuka was at this point hugely critical of American adventurism in Vietnam (which he equated to Japan’s militarism during World War II).  Young Black Jack kicks off with a ringing condemnation of student unrest in Japan in 1968.  Some might see that as evidence Tabata and Tezuka are on opposite sides of the political divide, but while he didn’t focus on the civil unrest movement much in his writing, I think Tezuka’s views would mesh pretty closely with what we see here.  More than anything I think at that point Tezuka was contemptuous of anyone peddling an ideology, and skeptical of mankind’s ability (especially when acting as a group) to move beyond self-interest and jingoism.

Be that as it may, I think the premiere of Young Black Jack is a pretty good one.  The look (Tezuka Productions is in charge) is deliberately old school, and suits the setting well.  One could certainly pick apart the story over its feasibility, but Tezuka himself never seemed overly concerned with realism.  He wanted to explore the intricacies of human behavior and morality, and he usually chose to do so through fantastical settings.  I doubt there were any guys looking like Hazama running around Tokyo, and the procedure he performs in the episode is medically dodgy even now, never mind for a student 47 years ago.  But that really isn’t the point.

Hazama is played by Umehara Yuuichirou here, while the story is narrated by his older self (played by the great Oostuka Akio).  Hazama is a loner of the highest order, but he answers the summons for help by intern Omamoto Miko (Itou Shizuka) when she goes looking for any able hands among the protesters at their medical school after a train-bus crash overloads the hospital with wounded.   Among the most critically is a boy who’s had his arm and leg cut off by the train, and the surgeon in the E.R. tells the parents the boy’s limbs are beyond saving.  For them, maybe…

This storyline is obviously here primarily to establish Hayama and his place in this world, but it works pretty well.  There is not a cast of goody-twoshoes, includimg Hazama himself – who asks for ¥5,000,000 to reattach the limbs (though he only gets 500K).  Part of the crucible for Hazama’s journey, it seems, is to have what remains of his naïveté stripped way bit by bit.  The idea of a rogue surgeon has some appeal, and Tezuka’s moral musing always have the potential to be a keeper.   But how well this material is going to hold up over a full cour is very much an open question in my book…

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  1. K

    I enjoyed the first episode but the fact that he is a Rouge Surgeon is what bothers me the most (and yes I know that is the point of the original character). But despite it being fiction I keep thinking how dangerous and deadly black market health is in real life.

  2. F

    Tbh the thing I liked the best about the first ep is the potential of the setting the series is in. Color me interested to get a window into how the series will present the events of the late 60's.

    A helpful intro post in general btw – I am unfamiliar with the franchise, and the background material helped explain things a bit.

  3. K

    Yeah also really liked the 1960's backdrop

  4. G

    The procedure to reattach the missing limbs was LOL terrible. It was like it was a Science Fiction or Fantasy story. Its just crazy to even consider a medical student operating on a child under those circumstances.

  5. E

    Wow, didn't know Tezuka Productions existed, the only Osamu Tezuka work I've read is probably Hi No Tori. I found the episode pretty good too, I like that the main character seems to be developing but the employing of different art styles inside is pretty weird imo…

  6. e

    The YMMV bad out first: I thought this was supposedly a Black Jack prequel rather than a Magic Mike spin on the character? With thorns. And handcuffs. I had to pause the video and wipe tears of hilarity while rolling my eyes at the same time. Not sure this is the reaction and mood they were aiming for here XP. I consider myself a fangirl of the rogue doctor since his Dezaki OVAs (not-so-subtle-hint-nudge here: go watch them) and they occasionally showed some flesh too, but please. This also ties into the tonal shift issue I have with this episode. Never mind the visuals, a certain degree of disconnect between MC vs supporting charas and look vs content, plus a penchant for borderline caricature can be found in the source and in Tezuka's manga in general – most of the time he managed to use that to its best advantage – but here instead of a transition felt like I was presented with mood flip flop with immersion break. And that hurt any feeling of tension I was supposed to experience for a good part of the episode. Plus the dramatic flourish fell quite flat.
    Love or hate Dezaki's direction but he knew flair and when to push the grit and the gore when the situation called for it on screen. A watered down version of his style is not really, you know, cutting it.
    The good: the resolution of the surgery with the parents blackmailing Hazama into a compensation cut and his reaction are a believable step on the journey that would shape him into Black Jack. So while the buildup and the wtf fanservice didn't really hit the mark with me and the surgery sequence in itself felt rather flat I was on board with its aftermath.

    Recap: mixed bag beginning and middle, LOL kinky OP, not won over by the attempt at poor man Dezaki's visuals, worrying preview (shirtless? AGAIN?), but a strong end to the episode itself and I have no qualms about the ED. I'm tuning in next week and hope for an upward trend. The chara in general seems to be both a nod and an update of the original manga as much as of the Akio Sugino's one (Dezaki OVAs again). Kuroo especially is much closer to Sugino than Tezuka, with less of a jaw and a lot more yaoi seme-flavoured steroids that is :p.
    Possibly unintentional side effect: it left me craving for a rewatch – and purchase. Yay for Italian boxset timely bargains – of the 10 Dezaki OVAs. Oh my 99% running time fully clothed* yet much smexier gritty Doc here I come.
    *with dark cape/trench of power to boot. Romantic to the max.

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