Review by Win Wiacek
Osamu Tezuka’s rogue and supremely talented super surgeon Black Jack 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. All the troubles and wonders of this world (and sometimes other ones) can be found in medical dramas, and here elements of rationalism, science-fiction, kitchen sink drama, spiritualism, criminality, crushing sentimentality and shining human frailty are woven into an episodic epic.
The drama begins with another challenging exploration of duty and honour in ‘Teacher and Pupil’ wherein a schoolboy attempts suicide rather than face one more day with his monstrous bully of a teacher. The reaction and response of the educational martinet truly surprises, as Tezuka once more shows his deep understanding of all aspects of human nature.
By the time of the stories collected in this stunning ninth volume, a strong internal continuity has been established and many of the tales cannot be properly enjoyed without reference to earlier episodes. ‘Pinoko Lives’ is a fascinating sequel to ‘Teratoid Cystoma’ (Volume 1) wherein the scalpel-wielding ice-man moves Heaven and Earth to hunt down a mystery patient he once operated upon. With the surplus organs he removed from her he constructed his assistant Pinoko, but now this faithful, flighty friend is dying from the need for a highly specialized blood transfusion.
‘Eyewitness’ is a startling tale of sacrifice as a blinded survivor of a bombing has her sight restored just long enough to identify the culprit, ‘As He Wills’ sees the surgical samurai fail to save a criminal’s life but perform a minor miracle with his soul, whilst in ‘The Promise’ Black Jack defies the authorities and destiny to save the life of a desperate Muslim terrorist. As ever, however, please don’t assume that you know what’s really going on.
‘Three-Legged Race’ is a poignant tear-jerker about fathers and sons that incorporates terror, blackmail and patricide into a stirring feel-good tale (!) ‘A Question of Priorities’ is a taut, satirical eco-fable wherein Black Jack is sued for the order in which he treated a politician, a baby and a cat all injured in a shooting incident, and ‘You Did It!’ is the most extraordinary dissertation on the drives and repercussions of revenge you will ever read.
The usual tables are somewhat overturned in ‘Gunshot Wound’ when the rogue surgeon is shot and has to talk a medical charlatan through an operation to save his own life, whilst in ‘Mistress Shiraha’ Black Jack battles his greatest foe: religion and mysticism. ‘Gift to the Future’ is a sad and gentle romance in which he plays a pivotal yet peripheral role, finding a potentially happy ending for two lovers who are both terminal patients.
‘Sun Dolls’ is a delightfully human tale of hero worship as Black Jack temporarily joins a family practice, and in ‘Third Time’s the Charm’ he has one last chance to fix a race car driver’s heart. The last story ‘Guinea Pig’ virtually defies description as a boy dying of kidney disease develops an almost supernatural – and relentlessly tragic – attachment to the lab animal that will be dissected to diagnose his condition.
Thrilling, heart-warming, bitterly insightful and utterly addictive, these magical stories of a medical wizard in a cruel, corrupt and ultimately mysterious world will shake all your preconceptions of what storytelling can be.