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 13-25.
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.
So, after over two years, I finally put in the second Black Jack collection from Anime Sols into the player. I had it since before release date but always had a lot of other things to get to first. In cleaning out what I have before the end of the year, I’ve delved back into the medical world once more. Black Jack is always something of a tough title for me because I really enjoy Osamu Tezuka’s works and their adaptation into anime form but I also really, really, hate medical shows. That makes for a real conflict because this stuff, as light as it is at times, tends to wig me out a fair bit. With thirteen episodes here we get more of that but it’s a bit less than some other iterations, which is a plus for me.
With this set we get the usual round of mixed types of episodes where sometimes there’s a stronger focus on the medicine than others. What’s interesting is that there’s less of the darker back alley type material that I always felt was strong with the character and instead it focuses on kids a whole lot more. The premise of him charging the fees he does is what complicates things and that he does it no matter what is an interesting angle to play with, one which he sometimes handles better with some patients than others in how he orchestrates it. But the simple truth is that even when he does have that heart of gold that we know is there, he’s still a mercenary in the end and is looking out for his own well-being. And ensuring that his reputation doesn’t get altered because of it since he can be taken advantage of a lot more if he did a lot of free surgeries.
The tales we get here are decent and we do often see that the patient tends to make it worse, such as the opening case with a high school gymnast who has ended up with gangrene in his arm and has the potential for it to be fixed but keeps competing instead. You want to smack him since he’s so poorly focused on the big picture, a trait of young and old alike, but I had to enjoy where it goes as Black Jack ends up giving him a prosthetic claw hand and he has to rediscover life in this new way. Black Jack is creative in how he helps the kid to see there’s more out there for him than just his gymnastic career and while it does come across as an after school special it does hit the right notes overall.
Another episode has Black Jack very involved with things with a teenage girl that’s dying of cancer and he ends up caught up in her plan to marry the next person that walks through her hospital room door. She wants to have something like this in her life, problematic for the man that does want to marry her, and Black Jack has to go through it because she won’t have the surgery he can provide otherwise. It’s fun watching him coping with some of the rituals of it all and the surgery itself but also because Pinoko’s unaware of much of this and she gets pretty incensed until she realizes the truth. It’s a nice bit for her overall, but it’s Black Jack that really wins the episode in what kind of hurdles he has to go through.
Pinoko’s still very much a character I struggle with in how she’s presented and her personality. I certainly don’t mind a sidekick character for him but making her eighteen so it can get somewhat saucy, contextually speaking, at times just makes it weird. She spends plenty of time being possessive throughout these episodes and declaring her undying love for him while she attempts to win him over even as he seemingly becomes more and more oblivious to it. We do get an episode where she gets to “play lovers” with a boy named Tink, who is the same age as her but looks like the same as she does, and it’s all manner of awkward. Especially for poor Sharaku as he’s watching from hidden areas so as to protect her, not realizing that she’s both playing and has absolutely no interest in Sharaku. The relationship dynamic all around with Pinoko is a trainwreck for me and just detracts from the show on a regular basis.
Mostly, however, Black Jack focuses on the various cases that he gets involved with. An idol that’s losing her voice and struggling with what life may be like has its moments. Another deals with a boy that has to be patient in getting older and stronger to handle surgery, but he wants surgery now so he can play baseball. A somewhat complicated episode involving a pickpocket that Black Jack knows comes into focus as it deals with the detective that he’s engaged in an amusing dance with over his illegal surgeries. But there’s also really weird episodes such as the second to last one here involving a scientist/doctor named Daigo that has genetically altered a deer so that it’s highly intelligent. There are a lot of episodes that stretch boundaries, but ones like this crop up from time to time and simply leave me rolling my eyes more than they should.
I’ve had a contentious relationship with Black Jack since the first time I saw the movie as it’s a property I’m fascinated and repulsed by at the same time. This particular series is a bit lighter in tone, not as heavy on the moral quandaries and the dangers for our title character to face, and it’s a little more all-aes in a way. Even still, it’s a property that’s very much an acquired taste and not a mainstream one, at least among Western fans. Tezuka has his adherents and rightly so for such a broad and intriguing range of works of which this is definitely one of the crown jewels of. This incarnation of the series fits into the “It’s all right” middle ground where it’s not bad but it’s not great. It has some good moments, some weak pieces, but feels like it’s just playing around a bit without digging into what makes Black Jack who he truly is.
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: July 21st, 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.