'Black Jack' testifies to Tezuka's work


POSTED: Monday, November 10, 2008

Eighty years ago last Monday, a god was born in Toyonaka, Osaka, Japan.

More specifically, it was a person who over time would be revered the world over as the “;God of Manga,”; the father of manga as we know it today, Osamu Tezuka.

While Tezuka left this world far too soon—he died of stomach cancer in 1989—his work in manga and anime remains his lasting legacy. His “;New Treasure Island”; helped launch the contemporary manga revolution in 1947. Another of his creations, Astro Boy, is Japan's equivalent of Mickey Mouse, an animated icon known around the world. His manga have covered subjects ranging from Dostoyevsky's “;Crime and Punishment”; to Buddha, Ludwig van Beethoven, even Adolf Hitler.

As part of the celebration, Tezuka Productions last week launched a three-year project in which all 700 manga series and 100 anime created by Tezuka will be posted on the Internet for free. Don't go rushing online to look for it quite yet, though. ... it's all in Japanese at the moment. Web sites in English and Korean are in the works.

But that news isn't the primary focus of this portion of today's column. Rather, it's more to share my thoughts on one of Tezuka's manga series in particular: “;Black Jack,”; being released stateside by Vertical.

In short, BUY IT NOW. To expand on that thought, BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW.

That alone ought to persuade you to track the series down somewhere. I'd recommend it for mature readers only, due to some violent scenes and graphic depictions of internal organs. Some of you might need a bit more convincing, though, and I'm more than happy to oblige.

“;Black Jack”; is about an anti-social doctor, known only as Black Jack, who operates outside the boundaries of the mainstream medical establishment and charges exorbitant amounts to people who wish to employ his services. By no means is he a corrupt doctor, though—he has his motives and methods, and his patients often get what they deserve.

Tezuka's trademark cinematic art style, in which the panels look like individual frames from an animated sequence, is showcased in fine form here. And watching Black Jack work—a brain transplant here, a bunch of partially formed body parts molded to form a fully developed girl there, even an operation on a mainframe computer—makes for compelling reading.

Vertical's translation of the series is not the first time an English translation has been attempted. Back in the 1990s, Viz released 18 installments through its now-defunct Manga Vizion monthly anthology, selected from various points in the manga's 10-year Japanese run. Those installments were later collected in two long-out-of-print graphic novels, “;Black Jack”; and “;Black Jack: Two-Fisted Surgeon.”;

A quick check on the Internet on Friday showed that both Barnes & Noble stores on Oahu had it in stock, while a special order is in order at Borders. It's also in stock at online retailers including Amazon and Right Stuf.

Still on the fence? Check out free samples from the first two volumes at http://tinyurl.com/3wpyxc ...