Black Jack: Vol. 1, by Osamu Tezuka

An English translation of Osamu Tezuka’s award-winning manga Black Jack is available again, thanks to the fine people at VIZ Media. The first two volumes of this enjoyably bizarre medical drama, which was serialized in Japan from 1973 to 1983, have already been released, with the third scheduled for later this month.

The titular character of Black Jack is a brilliant but unlicensed surgeon, who spends his days performing medical miracles for a hefty fee. In the first volume, Black Jack transplants an injured artist’s heart and brain, attaches a fresh pair of hands to an armless sushi chef, and assembles a new body for a woman’s parasitic twin. He has a few non-surgery-related adventures, too—he chats with a polio survivor, “cures” a supercomputer, mourns his mentor, and catches a couple of murderers.

While Tezuka trained as a doctor, and his medical expertise is visible in the series’ graphic depictions of human body parts, few of the surgeries in Black Jack are even remotely plausible. (Seriously, this series makes House look like a PBS documentary.) Instead, the chapters range from standalone horror/sci-fi tales to moralistic, almost fairytale-style stories, with the occasional detour for a chapter devoted the background or ongoing development of one of the primary characters.

A few of the stories in Black Jack show the title’s age. [Spoilers ahead!] In one particularly jaw-dropping scene, a woman with cancer undergoes surgery to remove her uterus and ovaries—and announces, decisively and with Jack’s full agreement, that she is no longer a woman. (Apparently, women who can’t reproduce might as well be guys. Who knew?) I didn’t find these storylines particularly offensive, considering when they were written, but more politically-correct readers be warned: your eyebrows are going to go up.

Black Jack isn’t for everybody. The detailed medical drawings are gross, the storylines are gory, and even the (infrequent) happy endings aren’t really all that cheerful. However, this series is so dazzlingly inventive, and Tezuka does such a wonderful job of blending horror, humor, science fiction, and romance, that it’s totally worth checking out. Just don’t eat anything first, okay?
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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