What They Say:
Black Jack is an “unregistered” doctor with a clouded, mysterious past. He works with his little assistant Pinoko (who has a massive crush on the doctor), dealing with medical cases not very well known, which can be strange, dangerous, or not known at all. But he is a genius, and can save almost any of his patients’ lives – as long as they have the money for it, that is.
Known to many around the world,especially to those of medicine and science, Black Jack’s a man of science himself, and does not believe much until he has seen it. Yet it is many times he is surprised by love and nature often overpowering the science he bases his life in.
Contains episodes 0-12.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track only in stereo encoded at 256kbps. The series is one that works largely with dialogue and a few dramatics along the way so it’s got a simple stereo design to it that doesn’t really stretch itself that much, though the opening and closing sequences have a bit more overall warmth and feeling to them. The dialogue itself is generally center channel based with a few places where it uses some decent directionality but nothing that really makes it stand out in a big way. There’s a lot of general drama with the dialogue at times, and a touch of overacting, but the show as a whole has a decent if mostly unexceptional mix that comes across cleanly and clearly with no problems such as dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The set contains thirteen episodes to it, starting at episode 0, and is spread across two discs with six on the first and seven on the second. With production done by Tezuka Productions, the series is like a lot of those from this time period where it’s using CG more within the show and with the camera direction to do exterior location zooms and the like and that always feels a little off with how it’s done since it’s not a smooth blend. That leads to a bit of line noise during some of those panning sequences but even that’s fairly light overall when you get down to it. Beyond that, the show has a good and high bit rate to it that allows the show to look very solid overall with clean colors and little in the way of background noise in general.
The packaging for this release comes with a limited O-Card slipcover that basically replicates what the keepcase uses, so there’s no differences there. The front cover does a nice split with Black Jack along the top looking serious while underneath the logo that runs through the middle we get the rest of the supporting cast that filters into the show. That’s a little more bland with the background since it draws down from Black Jack’s cloak, but it works well enough overall. The back cover is pretty busy as we get a decent shot of the lead along the top with a strip of shots from the show. The middle section is broken into four quadrants where two break down the show by episode number and title while the other two work out the cast and staff for it respectively. Add in a few more shots from the show along the bottom and a very minor technical grid along the bottom. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is pretty good and I’d pretty much want to see the artwork from the first volume used as the front cover. With a blue sky background that has a navigation menu along the left that overlays it, we get the main static image of Black Jack with the kids in the foreground as they stand in front of the house on the cliff. There’s some good colors to it and it has a clean look that’s definitely appealing. The navigation strip along the left has the basics with top level subtitle selection. Scene selection is easy to navigate overall though there’s a quirk to the second disc in that when you do play all, it stops at episode eleven when it ends and goes back to the menu and you have to navigate to episode twelve to finish out the set.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With a pretty good history to it as Black Jack was originally a seventeen volume manga series done in the seventies into the eighties by Osamu Tezuka, there’s plenty of material to adapt into an anime series. We’ve had a few OVAs and a few movies and some spinoff material and it can all get kind of confusing at times, especially as an OVA series began in the 90’s and ran until 2011, even amid this TV series kicking off in 2004. Black Jack is one of the more iconic characters of Osamu Tezuka that was brought to life over the years, both because it’s a medical drama but also because of the characters appearance. I’d experienced a smattering of it over the years with some of the pieces that were brought over, but I always had some difficulty with it, in both anime and manga form, as medical drama material tends to kind of creep me out.
With this set that brings us the first thirteen episodes of the sixty two episode series, it’s a very episodic work that takes us into the characters world, builds up the main cast quickly and just rolls into the stories that showcases how people deal with difficult situations – Black Jack included. The good doctor is one that is highly skilled, exceptionally so, in the field of medicine and surgery, but he’s an unlicensed surgeon because of his ways and the kinds of clients that he deals with sometimes. He’d put in his time in the hospital world formally and got the education the normal way, but his intensity took him down some darker paths as well. A lot of it stemmed from his childhood where he ended up coming across a land mine on a beach and had his body wrecked. But with the help of Dr. Honma, he was rebuilt and patched back together, which made him look disturbing to outsiders. But his skill carried him forward and he made a vow to take on the stranger and more complicated cases at times – but he’d charge exorbitant fees for it, largely because you suspect that he’d be sued regularly by someone and wants to have a comfortable stash of cash.
With this established later in the show, we get to see how Black Jack operates early one when he’s on his way back from an Iriomote island with a number of other tourists and the boat ends up crashing, stalling out and putting a few people in a bad situation. With him being the only doctor on the boat, he has three patients that come into play with a congressman, a baby and an Iriomote that a poacher swiped from the island. While he’s throwing out huge costs to perform any work on them, he does get it but he chooses who to help first based on a variety of factors, including the actual level of threat to them. That gets him working on the child first, then the Iriomote cat and then the congressman, which in turn causes him to sue Black Jack since he was upset about the whole experience, believing himself to be among the privileged class who should be catered to at all times. Black Jack’s craftiness and skill comes into play here to settle it out, but we get a good look at his ethics and approach to dealing with clients, since they’re hard to be called patients with the way he handles it.
Over this first set we get introduced to a variety of cases that involves kids and old men and people in between, coping with elephantiasis with one patient to another who lost both his limbs and ends up getting a dual arm transplant that’s just disturbing. We get kids that are in trouble and a mysterious situation with a man who may be two hundred years old. There’s a lot of interesting things that comes with all these situations, though it’s all generally neatly resolved by the end, occasionally with a bit of moral issue that comes into play as well. But it’s also amusing to see how he ends up dealing with a few animals along the way as well. The Iriomote kicks it off, there’s a dog that he ends up adopting and later one he even deals with a killer whale. And let’s not even talk about the glowing poisonous snakes or the phoenix that is brought in as a story point during one of the weird and less grounded episodes in the series.
Generally, there’s a lot to like with the show but it does have its off putting areas as well. In particular, it’s the other regular in the show that lives with him, Pinoko. Her origin is not delved into in this set, and it’s a doozy, but mostly she comes across as a child with her own issues, a love of Black Jack and plans to marry him some day. While she looks like she’s a grade schooler, she’s actually eighteen, but that’s from the manga and I’m not sure what they’ve done with it here. She provides the comic relief and does it fairly well to break the tension, but something about her just leaves me cringing because of the combination of the way she comes across and her diminutive side. We do get an actual kid in the show with Sharaku, who also looks grade school level but is in junior high, and he spends a lot of time with Pinoko and helps to keep her distracted. Add in the pup as well that they rescue and you get a decent little cast, though not exactly a traditional one.
Black Jack has always been a difficult series for me since I get the creeps from medical shows and do my best to avoid them. This set throws us right into his world with little background but it’s a quick and easy one to pick up since it’s an episodic series. There’s plenty to like with it as it does its own form of morality tales and gives us a lead that’s definitely someone who lives deep in the gray as opposed to a black and white world. The stories are enjoyable, though they tend to work with a familiar structure, and it provides a lot of different medical issues to be dealt with and different threats. Black Jack’s background is explored a bit in one episode, one that does humanize him a lot more than you’d expect, but mostly it’s the story of the week with the character that’s either in distress or trying to help. This set comes across well and is essentially problem free when it comes to enjoying the material, so fans of the show definitely make out well here and it’s great to finally be able to own some of this show once more.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Anime Sols
Release Date: February 18th, 2014
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78;1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.