Black Jack -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe
  • Released By: Manga UK
  • MSRP: £17.99
  • Running time: 90
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen Letterbox
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Black Jack

Black Jack

By Dani Moure     May 03, 2004
Release Date: May 12, 2003

Black Jack
© Manga UK

What They Say
Black Jack is an underground surgeon who, although he has no licence, has God-like skills which enable him to perform operations that are impossible for even the finest surgeons. Charging millions for secret operations, he is a man who is alone and full of mystery, appearing in operating rooms to fulfill his tasks, only to vanish into thin air. Black Jack now faces his biggest challenge. An extraordinary number of intellectual and athletic "Super-Humans" have the world caught in awe, wonder and excitement. However, little does the anyone know about the hideous conspiracy lurking behind the phenomenom. Black Jack soon comes face to face with a dark secret that is about to endanger the existence of mankind...

The Review!
Based on Osamu Tezuka's manga series of the same name, Black Jack is an engaging movie that features an intriguing cast of characters in a story that's surprisingly well-crafted and remains interesting throughout.

For review purposes, I listened to the Japanese language track. It's a pretty standard, solid stereo mix and the nice music really comes across well, with no dropouts or distortions. I enjoyed a lot of the voice actors on this track (who, unfortunately, go un-credited at the end of the movie, since it would seem the VHS dub-only credits were used). Black Jack may come across as a little too removed at times, but I liked his reserved nature, and the changes in tone depending on the situation and its emotional impact. Granted, he doesn't change too much, but then, to work in the medical business would seem to require an essence of detachment. Jo Carol is also well performed, with sinister tones subtly placed behind some of her dialogue. Pinoko is the only character I really had an issue with, and that's only because she comes across as a little annoying on several occasions.

I only spot-checked the English dub, and for the most part it sounded quite impressive. Black Jack was quite charismatic, Pinoko sounded a little older (and as a result, a little less annoying), and all the characters in the parts I listened to sounded well played. This is one dub I will definitely revisit in the future.

The video on this release is a little disappointing. Obviously the print doesn't look as good as more recent movies, but even so the print is good and there's little in the way of nicks and scratches on the print. The show is presented in letterbox format, as I'd assume no anamorphic print exists given the age of the movie. Unfortunately there are a few issues with the transfer. There's a fair bit of cross colouration present, often in the hair and clothes of some of the characters, and the whole movie doesn't look quite as sharp as it should.

It's not terrible by any means, and I didn't notice any aliasing or pixellation, it's just not particularly great looking, especially for a movie.

This release comes with a slipcase, like many recent Manga releases, although this one is fairly superficial, given that it does nothing but replicate the keepcase cover. The front of both is a basic image of Black Jack himself, which is actually very grainy (it's zoomed in on part of the art used for the VHS covers). The logo is rather plain, though I admit the tagline of "A surgeon with the hands of God" had me intrigued. The cover certainly fits the tone of the show and is heavy on the blacks, it's just unfortunate the image used is low quality. The back cover features a few screenshots, with a description of the movie, and a few credits. Features are all listed, albeit briefly, for instance it simply lists "widescreen" with no further details.

The main menu is fairly simple, mostly red in tone and giving off a nice medical look. The show's logo, with the Japanese logo underneath, is in the top left, with the submenu options nicely integrated, and some heavy breathing and a heartbeat plays over it. The rest of the menus are all similar in style, except they have no sound. Access times are nice and fast, it's just there's nothing particularly special about the menus at all. They fit with the show, they're just a little bland.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Black Jack was a strange movie for me. I knew little about the series' history before watching it, other than it's about a surgeon and is based on a manga by Osamu Tezuka. While I thought it might be something that appealed to me, I just wasn't really eager to watch it. So colour me surprised to find that I actually really enjoyed it.

Being made in 1996, a few years after the debut of the ten episode OVA series, the movie is extremely well-animated, and has a more mature feel than a lot of anime that's currently doing the rounds. The movie centres around Black Jack, an infamous surgeon who is unlicensed, so will work for whoever pays him. He's extremely sought after because his skill far surpasses the vast majority of his peers. He travels with a young girl called Pinoko, his daughter and assistant of sorts, who seems to get him into a lot of trouble!

The story of Black Jack opens at the Olympics, where contestants in several events are breaking world records over and over. The media proclaims them "super humans", pondering if these are the people of for the 21st Century as they're surpassing what were thought to be human limits. Despite Pinoko's enthusiasm, Dr. Black Jack is pretty uninterested, and heads off to perform surgery to remove a tumour from a young girl.

Flash forward two years, and Black Jack is being called constantly by a random woman, but refuses to call her back as she doesn't leave her name or medical history; a prerequisite for him to return a call. Since the Olympics, super humans have gone beyond sports, and entered other fields like art and entertainment. Black Jack journeys to the home of the patient whose tumour he removed two years earlier, where she dies. Examinations show she had a relapse, despite the tumour not being malignant, and all her internal organs were like a 90 year-old woman's, even though she was only 14.

The doctor visits New York, where Jo Carol, the woman who's been constantly phoning him, manages to finally catch up with him. Using Pinoko as leverage, she persuades him to join her in finding a cure for the super humans, who have all fallen victim to an unknown disease, which they've called Moira Syndrome. However, Jo is not the innocent scientist looking for a cure that she seems at first; she is the adopted daughter of the owner of the Brane Pharmaceuticals company, whose reach in the medical world extends far beyond the one research centre Black Jack is working at. Not only that, but as Black Jack begins to uncover the cause for the Moira Syndrome and the reason people became super humans, he also makes some startling revelations about some of Jo's old research.

As Black Jack continues, its story becomes more layered with mysteries, and begins to involve corporations as well as an ethical group which gets involved to stop illegal research. The story plays out at a very natural place, never seeming to move too fast or too slow, and it really is quite thought provoking. It helps that the series is depicted in a realistic fashion, with some excellent life-like character designs. The entire storyline is also firmly rooted in medical science, with well-crafted operations and use of real terminology, and it all helps add to the believability.

In its depiction of the super humans who have fallen victim to the disease, Black Jack is also brutal and graphic. From the scene of the girl who runs into a wall and kills herself, to the man who is constantly losing blood, it all looks so ruthless and quite graphically depicted that it gets the point across without seeming to go too far and becoming gratuitous. It's done in such a way that I found myself feeling extremely sorry for the fates of these people, and it made it all the more easy to empathise with Black Jack as he desperately searched for the cure.

The characters of Black Jack are very interesting, all with their own unique personalities and agendas. While it's initially a little confusing jumping in to the relationship between Black Jack and Pinoko, who both clearly have a lot of history in their characters, the creators of the movie did a good job in explaining just about enough so we don't feel lost, but can see how much the characters mean to each other, and also their motives and traits, which is no easy feat for a 90 minute movie. Black Jack is a particularly endearing character. There's an essence of mystery and uneasiness about him, given that he practices unlicensed, in an underhanded fashion, but even from those dealings it's clear that he is honourable and a good guy, with morals that won't often be called in to question.

Jo Carol on the other hand immediately comes off as somewhat deceptive, and her ulterior motives are obvious from her first appearance. Nevertheless, watching her story unfold is extremely interesting, and it all works very well. The creators even managed to make her somewhat sympathetic. While the focus of the movie is definitely Black Jack and Jo Carol, and their quest to uncover the super human mystery, the supporting characters generally get a good showing, especially Pinoko and Eric, the American brain surgeon (who is actually far more than that).

The movie is directed extremely well, really getting inside the feelings of the characters and their states of mind. It's all presented in a dramatic fashion which works, with a very good and fitting score. When you add in the great animation, it's a very good package for a very good film.

In Summary:
Black Jack took me by surprise and turned out to be a very enthralling medical drama. While it's a little overwhelming if you don't know the Black Jack character, they do a good job of setting him up through the course of the movie. With a good cast of characters and an unraveling plot that becomes more interesting as further layers are pulled off, it's a great way to spend an hour and a half. The DVD might not be anything to shout home about, but overall it's definitely worth a buy.

Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (5.1 and 2.0),English Subtitles,Portuguese Subtitles

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.


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