Everyone’s favorite renegade doctor, Black Jack is back for more in Volume 4. Black Jack is probably Osamu Tezuka’s greatest hit among adult readers and you would be hard-pressed to find Japanese citizen over the age of 25 who wasn’t familiar with the skunk-haired hero of the long-running manga series. Vertical Inc. has committed to bring all 18 of these huge volumes to English over the next three years. Any question about Tezuka’s ability to keep the stand-alone stories fresh and interesting will be dashed after setting down this fourth volume. There is a reason he is called the godfather of manga, and Black Jack is a clear expression as to why.
Black Jack is a non-licensed physician who performs his medical procedures under the surgical table for outrageous fees. People come to him for two reasons: either because they want discretion, or they want the best. Dr. Black Jack can provide both, but it comes at a price. (His incredible fees seemed contradictory to his humanitarian nature, and although Black Jack is full of interesting contradictions, the reason for is prices is explained surprisingly clearly in this volume.) What is interesting about the Black Jack stories is not only the medical drama (though written by an actual medical school student adds to the authenticity) but is the human drama and moral questions.
The reason for the long-term popularity of Black Jack is testament to the consistency of quality of these volumes, and Vertical’s presentation is, as always, second to none. The translation by Camellia Nieh is also tip-top and the occasional translation note comes in handy for non-Japanese readers under the age of 50. That being said, the stories were written for weekly publication, and as it is in the Japanese system, the writer must fill a set number of pages (20 for Tezuka). Tezuka is terrific at making epic-feeling stories fly in the short 20 pages, but occasionally he bites off a little less than he can chew. This seems to happen about once a volume (in Volume 4 it is “Pinoko Love Story” for me). However, if only one in 14 of your stories falls a little flat, you are doing something right.
Dr. Black Jack gets mixed up with a host of baddies in this 4th volume and besides the above-mentioned Pinoko story, the action and tension is gets ramped up. But now that we are getting accustomed to Dr. Black Jack’s personality, it is fun to guess (often wrongly) how he will solve the ethical dilemmas forced upon him.
Five volumes of Black Jack are available now.