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Black Jack Volume 1

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Black Jack Volume 1 by Osamu Tezuka, a medical manga graphic novel published by  Vertical Inc.

Black Jack Volume 1

© Tezuka Productions

The Bottom Line

Almost everyone who loves manga knows about Osamu Tezuka -- but many Western readers find his mix of cuteness and stylized drama to be a little hard to swallow. While Astro Boy is more iconic and Phoenix is more epic in scope, Black Jack is arguably Tezuka's best and most enjoyable work.

Black Jack is a rogue doctor who cures the incurable and heals the gravely injured, but for a price. But beneath his scarred face and reserved demeanor, Black Jack serves up justice, often in unexpected ways. A winning mix of drama, humor and suspense that stands up well to the test of time.

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Pros

  • Tezuka finds the right mix between serious and silly moments with an anti-hero worth cheering for
  • Engrossing drama that sucks the reader into Black Jack's world of high stakes life-and-death drama
  • Clear and creative visual storytelling with inventive, entertaining plots
  • Interesting and educational, as it humanizes and explains unusual medical conditions
  • Excellent translations that capture the context of Tezuka's humor and culture

Cons

  • Tezuka's attention to medical accuracy can make some surgery scenes a bit stomach-churning
  • Black Jack's medical abilities are sometimes so far beyond any plausible reality, it's bizarre
  • While well-meaning and sincere, Tezuka's focus on promoting peace and justice can be a bit preachy
  • It's a shame that only the hardcover edition has the "The Two Jans" story

Description

Guide Review - Black Jack Volume 1

Anyone who loves Japanese comics knows that Osamu Tezuka is the godfather of modern manga. His boundless creativity and intense work ethic is the stuff of legends, but for many Western manga fans, Tezuka's storytelling can be a tough pill to swallow.

The quality and inventiveness of Tezuka's artwork is undeniable. However, his cute characters and his tendency to insert a silly joke or self-indulgent cameo in dramatic scenes can be off-putting. Over his 40-year career, Tezuka wrestled with exploring the dark side of human nature and feeling obliged to tell uplifting stories.

I've read several Tezuka tales that careen wildly between being overly cute (Astro Boy) and darkly disturbing (MW), which made me wonder if he ever found the right balance. Now I know that he did -- in the pages of Black Jack.

Black Jack is a rogue doctor who cures the incurable and heals the gravely injured -- often at a steep price. But despite his cold demeanor and scarred exterior, Black Jack is a doctor with a strong sense of right and wrong, who metes out his own brand of justice with his scalpel.

Before he became a manga-ka, Tezuka got his M.D. degree. While he never practiced medicine, Tezuka's attention to anatomical accuracy gives Black Jack's adventures a dramatic weight that makes them both educational and engaging. The surgery scenes are graphic, but not gratuitous as they emphasize the life and death stakes that Black Jack faces.

Tezuka also injects humor into his stories, often thanks to headstrong child-woman Pinoko who provides an emotional counterpoint to Black Jack's reserved demeanor. Some stories veer into preachiness, but for the most part, Black Jack hits Tezuka's sweet spot where his heart, his head and his sense of humor meet in perfect harmony. This is Tezuka at his best, and with 12 more volumes to come, it's sure to get even better.

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