Post Reply Review: Young Black Jack
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Posted 11/12/15 , edited 11/14/15
By: Zerogouki

Let's get one thing out of the way off the top: I absolutely adore Black Jack. The original manga ranks as one of my all-time favorites, and my perennial answer to the "If you could take only one book with you to a dessert island ..." question. The good doctor himself is quite possibly my favorite individual manga character. I can't get enough of it. So, going into Young Black Jack, I was both excited and skeptical. Any new anime of such an enduring character was a thrill, but prequels have their drawbacks. Who knew it would manage to dodge just about every one of the enduring obstacles of origin stories, and add brand new layers to the original series?

The first thing that jumped out to me was the setting. Rather than go along with the assumption of most Black Jack adaptions and set it in a vaguely modern setting, it goes hyper specific, taking place in 1968 Japan (sensibly, given the original manga was published starting in 1971). It's not necessarily Mad Men or anything, but it gets topical and political in a way that anime doesn't always seem interested in. Just within the first couple of episodes that have aired, the series has dove into topics like the first heart transplants, Vietnam, and student protests. The combination of Japanese ad global history and the history of medicine is a great one, especially for this character.

The second thing anyone is sure to notice is the art. The anime goes for it admirably, not feeling the need to abandon the roots in Tezuka's cartoony style but not being beholden to it either. The best Tezuka adaptions have drawn from his art and synthesized something new out of it. Young Black Jack does the same, pushing things in a much more realistic and detailed direction while keeping obvious Tezuka inspirations, including appearances by (slightly redesigned) Star System characters. it has most everything you could want from an adaption while still telling new stories, and crucially, the types of stories that couldn't be told with a standard adaption.

In addition to the topical elements mentioned before, it's invigorating seeing Black Jack -- or rather, Hazama Kuroo -- build up his skills. It's not that we see him rise from nothing. In the first episode, it's clear that he's already a medical genius and a brilliant surgeon, but the things we see him do are a bit more held back, a bit more reasonable. Part of that, I'm sure, is just that few modern authors would dare to reach the heights of Tezuka's audacity in times when more "realistic" fiction is fashionable.

It's easy to look at Young Black Jack as a "modern reboot" or some such, that takes a series from the past and updates it and pares down the excess, but it avoids (almost) all the negatives of such a thing. It makes perfect sense that we'd see less fantastic exploits from our doctor, because he's still growing in skill. Later on, of course, he'll be the Dracula-caped mad scientist who can operate on himself while being stalked by dingoes and wears prosthetic arms over his real arms just on the off chance that he needs to hold his arms up when held at gunpoint. For the moment, in this show, merely performing brand-new (at the time) and extremely difficult procedures like heart transplants at 22 is the extent of his medical powers. Watching Black Jack become Black Jack is more entertaining than I expected, based on other, similar shows, and I'm happy to report that it's worth watching. For everyone else, who isn't quite as committed to him as I am, I think it's only a matter of time. If you let Young Black Jack into your heart, I suspect you, too, will have a new favorite doctor.
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