Black Jack Vol. #5 (of 7) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, November 04, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, November 09, 2004
What They Say
A sinister tree lurks over a village, sheltering the inhabitants for a terrible price. Victims are plagued by voices, then driven to madness and death. When renegade surgeon Black Jack operates on the latest casualty, he discovers a horrifying parasitic plant. Does the tree?s spirit seek to possess a human host? Now the doctor who plays at being god must defy the ancient fury of nature! Contains Episode 8.
A new standalone tale brings Black Jack to deal with sentient plant life.
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 in 1999, the single fifty-minute OVA is presented here in its original widescreen aspect ratio and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. 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 such as the glowing green plants, 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.
Similar to the previous volume, the cover here looks pretty good considering that there doesn't seem to be much in the way of good artwork to use for this series. The close-up shot of Black Jack set against the tree with Pinoko looking on is decent but Pinoko's presence just makes things look odd. The back cover provides only one piece of artwork with a full body cut and paste shot of the good doctor set against a dark backdrop. The discs features and technical information are all quick and easy to find. The reverse cover goes for a simple shot of a smiling Black Jack. The episodes chapter listings and the voice actor credits fill out the main panel. Unlike previous volumes, the Japanese cast is included here and linked to their characters while a paragraph listing of the English voice actors is next to it.
The menu is a rather simple little piece that uses the same artwork as the cover but reworks the sizes of the characters a bit to make it fit better with the selections. There's no music or animation associated with it like there was in previous menus. 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 disc also correctly read our players' language settings.
The extra included in this release is a video gallery of art pieces from the show.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As CPM continues to bring out the OVAs they never released before, we get them in single episode fashion with brand new dubs commissioned for it. This particular volume also brings a new twist to the game as this episode was originally a widescreen episode and the box set that came out a few years ago in Japan had created anamorphic masters for it. CPM managed to secure the new print with the license apparently and we get a really good looking release as a result of it.
This episode continues to push the strange and almost supernatural side of the show out into the limelight, which means it's not one that I like as much. I think the Black Jack property is a really interesting one and has a great number of possibilities, but whenever they shift away from a real world problem it tends to lose some of its charm since it puts him up against things he can't really explain properly or without dealing with something just too strange. That happens several times in this episode and it made it hard to get into at times since you just want to roll your eyes.
The story centers around two young brothers who are at a boarding school in London. Andrew's taking care of his younger brother Lawrence who is just in his first year at the academy while he's in his fourth year himself. Lawrence hasn't made too many friends and relies on Andrew a lot, so much so that he hasn't stepped outside of the academy at all since his arrival. Their parents are at work in the country of San Ferna where their father is someone of note in the United Nations and they're on a multi-year project there. Rather than keep their kids with them and not get the education or socialization they want or deserve, they're kept in the academy after they reach a certain age.
For Lawrence, things have started to go horribly wrong through. He tries to hide it but Andrew eventually discovers the awful truth; that there are plants growing out of his brothers body. Andrew decides that he needs the help of Black Jack, someone he learned about while spending time in the world with his father, and uses his fathers materials to get into contact with him. The case is fascinating enough in itself so Black Jack makes no qualms about taking it on nor making sure that the brothers pay properly. With Pinoko in tow, he starts his examinations in London of Lawrence only to discover that the plants veins are coursing through the boys entire body, but are moving well enough to ensure that no vital organs are damaged.
All of this is played out alongside another story in San Ferna where an old man is doing his best to defend a massive tree outside of a remote village from being torn down. A new road is coming through the mountainous area to where they are and the tree must be removed so that it can go through and bring civilization to the village. But the old man tries to convince them otherwise, showing how the tree has saved them in the past from both floods and earthquakes but also its darker nature where people come from afar to hang themselves here. The tree, he claims, is something more as it has spoken to him in the past, back in his youth when he was a pure lad before turning to crime.
The bulk of all of this is pretty apparent from the first few minutes of the show and it's really just the details and exposition of it all that follows. The episode plays out well but there aren't any real surprises to it since it's all so projected from early on. Once the two different locations are made clear and you see what's happening in each, you can make some easy leaps to get the gist of it. There are some good parts throughout it, from the surgery scenes to the way the old man deals with the boys father, so that helps make the show flow well enough. But simply enough, there aren't any real surprises here. It's just solidly predictable.
What I found amusing with the show in technical terms is that while the episode itself looks great in widescreen and it gained a larger canvas with which to display itself and it used it well, they took the shortcut when it came to the opening and ending sequences. They retained the original sequences from previous episodes but instead just zoomed in on them. This resulted in a number of moments where you'd have the characters almost awkwardly cut off along the top or bottom. I had hoped that a new opening sequence would have been created with the shift to widescreen but alas.
With the shift to the supernatural for this episode, my attentions waned a bit since I like them less than the more realistic or psychological episodes but also because this episode was telegraphed from pretty early on what it was all about. It's competently told, though as Pinoko continues to be a mystery, part of it didn't flow too well there, but it's not something that will completely engage you unless you've never seen a story like this before. The shift to widescreen is very welcome though as it looks great here and kudos to CPM for getting the anamorphic print for it.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Art Gallery
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: C+
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Central Park Media
Running time: 50
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Black Jack