Junichi SuwabeShizuka ItouMamoru MiyanoYuichiro Umehara
Young Black Jack
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2015: X-Z
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2015
Director: Mitsuko Kase
Writer: Ryousuke Takahashi
Actor: Yuichiro Umehara, Junichi Suwabe, Koji Yusa, Mamoru Miyano, Shizuka Itou
Keywords: anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=17057
Website category: Anime 2015
Review date: 7 April 2017
I only loved it in ep.10. I watched the whole series and thought it was fairly good, in its way, but it didn't particularly grip me. I might have a problem with the title character.
It's a prequel series by other creators to Osamu Tezuka's second most famous manga, after Astro Boy. Tezuka died in 1989 after basically inventing anime and manga as they exist today. He's really important, although by modern standards his character designs look cartoonish. Young Black Jack, though, is a manga (started in 2011) about Black Jack in the 1960s while he was still a medical student and going under his real name, Kuroo Hazama.
Maybe Black Jack isn't for me? I've tried watching some of it before. (Proper Black Jack, not this prequel.) It can be good when it's telling dark stories about the Patient Of The Week, but I think there's a hole in the middle of the format. I don't think I'm that interested in Black Jack himself. He's a cold but brilliant doctor who's determined to save every patient, although he charges astronomical fees. As a person, I think he's fine. You couldn't call him cuddly and the money angle is a bit unsettling, but he's definitely on the side of the angels.
In drama, though, I don't think a surgeon is inherently interesting. The only successful take I've seen on the concept is Franken Fran and that's a gore horror-comedy where being operated on by Fran is a fate worse than death. Under normal circumstances, though, my problem is that a surgeon's defined by carrying out surgery, which is dramatically impersonal. There's no antagonist. You've just got a patient on a table, with the surgeon doing abstract things that don't lend themselves to conflicted motivations. Inner conflict is a character who doesn't want to do what they're doing. However to be conflicted about surgery would imply that you actually want to let the patient die. Now in fairness it would be perfectly possible to tell such stories and they'd probably be terrifying, but that's not Black Jack. He wants to save lives. The audience wants to see that too. Furthermore there's no dramatic reason why saving lives is bad and the stories you can tell on an operating table generally boil down to "medicobabble medicobabble blah blah THE PATIENT'S SAVED!!!!"
The traditional solution to this is to make the surgeon more of a pivot than a protagonist. Most episodes would really be about the patients, not their saviour. However that's not so here, with Hazama definitely being the focus. The show's about him far more than I'd expected. Firstly, he's still a medical student and not officially allowed to practise surgery. If he gets caught, he'll lose his licence. This provides a certain amount of conflict, but not that much. Hazama's enough of a single-minded bastard that he doesn't really care about the regulations and he seems to think he can get away with anything. (He's right, too.)
Admittedly one episode here manages to find a way of turning surgery into drama. (Two patients, but only one healthy heart. Do you operate? Who do you choose?) Broadly speaking, though, I think Hazama is quite a compelling person who nonetheless doesn't manage to make this series soar. It's not bad. I watched it. However my anime-watching friend at work dropped it halfway through and that seems like a reasonable reaction too.
The show's at its best when it's dark. Happy endings, no. Patients getting killed shortly after Hazama's saved them, yes. There's also a ton of cynicism about people in power and the factions in the medical hierarchy. It's set in the 1960s, so we have the Vietnam War, the American Civil Rights Movement and hardcore student radicals who beat their friends almost to death. The history is detailed and cool, actually. I enjoyed that.
My favourite story arc was "The Gruesome Chronicle" (eps.9-11) and the title isn't kidding. It's a "what if" pseudo-crossover, with a quadruple amputee called Hyakki who's a loose equivalent of Tezuka's Dororo. Whoah. That one got awesome.
In short, I'd say it's quite good if you like this kind of thing. The character designs are schizophrenic, usually being modern but occasionally lapsing into full-blown Tezuka (born 1928). Those were freaky, but I approve. As for the storytelling, though, I remain ambivalent. This series was reasonably good, in its way, but I still don't know if I'd want to watch more Black Jack or not. I even have a couple of DVDs that I've had for years and haven't got through yet. Will I be digging them out? Dunno. Not any time soon, anyway. I stuck with it partly because of Osamu Tezuka, even though I know he didn't write these prequel stories. Maybe I should just go watch Astro Boy? Young Black Jack, though, is a competent, sincere series that isn't going to set the world on fire, but I still appreciated in a slightly abstract way.