Black Jack Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: C+
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Central Park Media
  • MSRP: 24.99
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Black Jack

Black Jack Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     February 08, 2004
Release Date: February 10, 2004

Black Jack Vol. #1
© Central Park Media

What They Say
In a world where the grim reaper can strike at any time, a brilliant renegade surgeon known only as Black Jack operates outside the law. For the rich and dying, he performs miracles of a macabre medical nature. Unafraid of mysteries that verge on the paranormal, Black Jack is the one man with the power to cheat death... for a terrible price!

Contains stand-alone episodes 1 and 2!

The Review!
Black Jack is an unlicensed surgeon traveling the world to deal with cases where people will pay for his huge fees. With its origins in mind of Osamu Tezuka, there?s something really neat going on here.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The two OVAs here feature a good sounding stereo mix that?s mostly center channel based for its dialogue but provides a fairly well rounded stereo mix for the ambient effects. This is mostly noticeable in the first episode with the sounds of the crashing waves. Most of the show is dialogue and a few quick bursts of sound effects, so it?s not problematic with the format. Dialogue is nice and clear throughout and the show simply sounds good.

Originally released to video back in 1993, each of the fifty minute OVAs here look very good and hold up well with their quality animation. The transfer lets a lot of the detail really shine through, particularly the black folds of the leads jacket/cloak. The majority of the colors are fairly dark and subdued with only a few bright vibrant areas coming through, but the look in general is excellent with no noticeable over saturation or cross coloration. There?s some minor shimmering of aliasing during some panning sequences, but nothing that?s overly distracting. The materials for this have held up well in the last ten years.

With a dark stormy clouded sky in the background with a hidden moon, the front cover provides a good looking set of character headshots with Black Jack the most prominent of course. Only artwork from the first episode is on the cover here and on the back, but the shared pieces flow well together. The back cover provides some creepy shots of the opening case with very brief three or four lines of summary. The discs features and technical information are all quick and easy to find. The reverse cover goes with the black and white nature of the good doctor with a shot of him down the center while each panel is separated into black and white. The two episodes have their chapter listings and a fairly useless English language cast list with no match-up to their characters are here. And in the continuing poor trend, none of the Japanese actors are credited since ?no information is available? for it. This is one of those cases where you wonder why CPM continually has this issue but none of the other studios do when they work backwards on their catalog or deal with older shows.

The menu is a catchy little piece (which we got sucked into listening to for about thirty minutes while doing some other things) that uses some good imagery to go with the theme of the show. With the medical and surgical aspects of it, the screen is made up of ?sewn? patches with animation from the show playing underneath it. It looks a bit creepy once you realize that it?s all over the menu. The selections are lined down and across the screen in the usual format we get from CPM. Access times are all nice and fast and we had no issues with the menus.

The only extra included in this release is a two minute video gallery of art pieces from the show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The story of Black Jack has always seemed to have problems making any ground here in the states. CPM brought over the six OVAs a few years ago and Manga Entertainment went and snatched the movie. Even Viz went after the manga releases, but essentially canceled the release after only two of the twenty volumes came out. The anime has been under the radar unless you knew about the show previously and its manga origins are nowhere to be seen these days.

And that?s something of a shame, because Black Jack is an engaging show. Originally created by Osamu Tezuka, he who created just about every genre for manga out there, it was filled with the mysteries of medical science and of the human mind and heart as both intertwine together. With his own background as a doctor, Tezuka was able to create the kind of believable scripts similar to top rated US medical shows that allowed his doctor to become something that all other doctors he ran into to be either jealous of his abilities or want to learn under him. The down side for the Black Jack is that he?s an unlicensed doctor, so no matter what he does in the end, he can?t get the recognition for it. Not that it seems to matter to him anyway.

This release has two standalone fifty-minute OVAs that don?t really illuminate on his past for the new viewer, but essentially jump right into things. The opening tale has him taking on a job for a three million dollar fee in Northern Ireland. Once there, he finds that a former patient of his, Sayuri, is married to his new patient, the very elderly Crossword. Crossword was one going to build a huge oil refinery here and make it the best in the region, but upon seeing the view that he gets, he opted to have a castle rebuilt there with all the modern amenities inside and live out his life there with Sayuri. Unfortunately, he?s contracted a disease that pains him deeply and the only thing that eases it is regular water, something like fifteen liters a day. Scores of doctors have looked on him and operated on him over the past few years but none have found out what the problem is.

So Black Jack takes on the case, in addition to helping Sayuri a bit and a local village boy, spending the bulk of his time deep in research and trying to understand what?s going on. From that perspective, it?s not exciting visually but it?s highly engaging mentally, as you try to see if you can get a step ahead of his analytical process to see what?s needed to solve the riddle of the mans illness. There are a few subthreads that come into play, such as another suitor to Crossword?s wife and one about the village doctor and her brother and others who have the same illness. All of it ties up into the other though and provides a very well thought out story.

The second story isn?t quite as engaging, where the good doctor find himself passing through a city and stops to help a young girl who injures herself ice skating with her friends. He does a quick bit of skilled surgery and then heads off once again. When he?s passing through there again a few months later, he?s surprised to see the same girl, albeit with a different haircut to hide her stitches, waiting for him in the same place. In the time since the doctor left her, it seems like her friends have been dying, and now her friend Yumiko is in the hospital and in a near comatose state. While he usually demands a large fee, he does have some concern for those too young to be losing the prime of their lives, so he opts to take a look at her.

The president of the hospital and apparently the surgeon in charge of Yumiko, tries to stop him from being involved but almost from the start Black Jack has something on him. The few tests he performed before anyone realized what was going on is enough to get the president from interfering and allows the unlicensed doctor to perform a rare surgery on her that may free her from this. With a record of having brought two people back from a similar state, his reputation is definitely earned and becomes something that others want to see. Before the president knows it, much of his senior staff either want to view the surgery or take part in it. While the surgery is a huge point to the show, there is much more going on around it as Black Jack gets to know the parties involved and tries to figure out if there?s a link between all the deaths.

In addition to the stories being engaging, the animation is quite good and definitely on the level of many other early 90?s OVAs. Black Jack himself comes across well, partially with that trademarked 70?s style of the overhanging piece on the front, but also with his own multi-stitched skin. His manner of speech and the near-cold nature to how he interacts with most people is amusing, especially in this day when the doctors manners are sometimes more important than their skills. Much of the cast that walks through this show comes off looking great, unless you?re a victim in which case you?re looking particularly grisly.

In Summary:
I wasn?t sure what to expect going into this since I never made it to the VHS releases a few years ago, but I found this to be a surprisingly engaging and entertaining show. With its medical side being something of a twist (since you often don?t see doctors in anime outside of hentai) and doing it up in a detective style feeling as he tries to understand their cases, this show feels aimed more at the somewhat older set instead of those who make things popular on TV. There?s some great pacing in here and very little action which is balance with some very well done dramatic moments of revelation. I don?t think this will please everyone, but there?s definitely a market of people out there who will eat this up fast and be demanding more.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Art Gallery

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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