Welcome back to MangoBot, a biweekly column about Asian futurism by TokyoMango blogger Lisa Katayama. Mad scientists. Beautiful women who specialize in amputations. Supercomputers that threaten to starve an entire hospital full of patients. Tumors that take on human form. Sounds like a freakish B-list horror movie, right? Actually, these are all seminal elements of a classic cult favorite manga by Tezuka Osamu. Black Jack is one of his darkest yet most appreciated works, but it hasn't had much exposure in the US market until now. This fall, Vertical Inc has started publishing this entire series, volume by volume, in English. It's some of the best science fiction to ever come out of Japan.Black Jack is a mysterious, intelligent, unlicensed doctor who can cure anything, even if it's technically humanly impossible. His patients often have crazy demands-replacing a damaged body with a freshly murdered one, or getting an injection needle of a dying person's bloodstream. He'll work for anyone as long as they pay up, whether they're corrupt politicians or yakuza. But he's a good guy-and we know that because he only rips off rich selfish people, and he doesn't discriminate (his best friends are a killer whale and a teratoid cystoma). Black Jack's demeanor is slow and dark, yet he mysteriously arrives at places faster than an airplane could take him, and his hands are quicker than a sushi chef's.
Black Jack has a sidekick, Pinoko, a tumor/parasitic twin-turned-living breathing doe-eyed plastic doll that he uncovered from a patient's body. The bizarre combo of her sassy manga cuteness and the blood-and-guts that spill out throughout the pages of the book somehow makes perfect sense in the strange landscape created by Tezuka. (In Japan, cute and grotesque often go together. Tezuka recognized this decades before high school girls started matching chalky white lipstick with their Hello Kitty cell phone straps.) I put together a list of four fun episodes from the new English volumes for you to preview:
Episode: Dirtjacked The problem: A school bus full of elementary school kids gets trapped in a tunnel. Some of the kids get their heads chopped off by rubble; others are in critical condition and are about to die. Black Jack's solution: He takes the richest kid in the class hostage and makes him climb through a tiny crevice to get medical supplies. He saves the rest of the surviving kids, but the teacher accidentally burns to a crisp. Cost: Black Jack plans on getting a hefty reward from the rich kid's dad. Episode: U18 Knew The problem: U18, a massive supercomputer that single-handedly operates a 1000-patient strong cybernetics medical center in South Dakota, claims he's sick. After a few minor errors-some temperature changes in the wards, a half-second response lapse in the oscillograph-it completely shuts down and threatens to destroy the facility within 45 hours. Black Jack's solution: He performs surgery on the Brain using tweezers and his surgical expertise. Cost: $3 million Episode: The Face Sore The problem: A mystery man shows up with a gnarly mucus-filled face sore covered with carbuncles and subcutaneous fat. The face sore possesses him, too, and occasionally mouths off for no particular reason. Black Jack's solution: After determining that the face sore is a psychological side effect, he shoots the patient in the shoulder to "kill" the other personality. It's "almost like third stage syphilis," Black Jack says as he tears through the guy's face with a scalpel. Cost: $5-30 million Episode: The First Storm of Spring The problem: After a corneal transplant, a pretty young girl sees a handsome man standing in front of her every time she closes her eyes. Black Jack's solution: In addition to having performed the eye mystery, he ends up saving her life from a brutal rapist/murderer. Cost: A month's worth of free drinks from the girl's dad, who runs a bar
Black Jack was first serialized in a manga weekly back in 1973. Since then, it has inspired an anime, a TV series, and even traditional Japanese theater. The kyogen version of The Disowned Son, one of the episodes from the original manga, will debut at a Takarazuka theater in Hyogo prefecture on December 19. (Kyogen is a comedic form of traditional Japanese theater-similar to kabuki, but a lot less intense.) Black Jack Vol. 1 came out in September; Vol. 2 comes out mid-November, followed by Vol. 3 in January and the rest of the 17 volumes over the course of the next year or two. Don't miss it!