Review by Win Wiacek
In a creative career that produced over 700 hundred different series, Osamu Tezuka captivated generations of readers with tales of history, fantasy, romance and startling adventure. Perhaps his most intriguing creation is rogue surgeon Black Jack, who overcame horrendous injuries as a child, and although still carrying many scars within and without, roams the globe, curing any who can pay his deliberately daunting, exorbitant prices. This is usually cash, but sometimes more exotic or metaphysical coin. He is the ultimate loner, except for Pinoko, a little girl he literally built from the scraps of an early case. Unlicensed by any medical board on Earth, he holds himself to the highest ethical standards possible… his own.
Volume 5 begins with a biting satire on Japanese medical ranks and hierarchies. ‘Hospital’ sees the Director’s chosen favourites (all from his old university) riding roughshod over other staff with no thought to the patients in their care. When a young surgeon is ordered to amputate a concert pianist’s arm, irrespective of objections or medical necessity, the harried neophyte consults the ronin Black Jack. The sample spread is split as presented in the book, Tezuka exaggerating the pomposity.
‘Quite a Tongue’ is a heart-warming parable about Japan’s attitude to disabilities set against the backdrop of children’s national abacus competitions. ‘Asking for Water’ poses some searching questions about family and the care of the elderly and ‘Yet False the Days’ tragically compares little Pinoko’s penchant for adopting strays with the outlaw surgeon’s frustrating attempts to cure a media star’s impossible quadriplegia. THREE TISSUE ALERT!: this story contains sick kittens!
A chance journey on ‘The Last Train’ finds Black Jack travelling with the woman called the Black Queen (see Black Jack Volume 1). Married now, she faces an impossible quandary, but reckons without the renegade’s tendency to extreme and unpalatable solutions.
‘There was a Valve!’ is a superb nut-and-bolts medical mystery, featuring the return of the mercy-killing Dr. Kiriko (see ‘Two Dark Doctors’ in Black Jack Volume 3) in a startling tale of ethics and conscience whilst the Blind Acupuncturist from Volume 1 returns with more unwanted lessons for the maverick medic in ‘Two at the Baths’.
‘Pinoko’s Mystery’ is a delightful comedy of errors featuring a mad bomber, whilst more secrets from Black Jack’s sordid past resurface in the gangster thriller ‘Imprint’, before he’s placed in an impossible situation by Dr. Kiriko in the tense viral-killer thriller ‘99% Water’.
An aged doctor being forced out of his job comes seeking assistance in ‘The Helper’ whilst in ‘Country Clinic’ Tezuka shows us a different side of the profession through the inspired works of a simple rural practitioner.
‘Wolf Girl’ finds the O.R. outlaw trapped behind the Iron Curtain (remember that?), and rescued by a hideously deformed outcast. Fixing her face proves simpler than remedying her soul, and in Black Jack’s world no good deed goes unpunished. ‘On a Snowy Night’ ends the volume with an out-and-out yarn of supernatural wonderment, as the renegade doctor performs the greatest achievement of his life, and one nobody will ever know of.
All the troubles and wonders of this world (and sometimes other ones) can be found in medical dramas, and in Black Jack elements of rationalism, science-fiction, kitchen sink drama, spiritualism, criminality and human frailty are woven into an epic of Magical Realism that rivals the works of Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez.