Black Jack: The Movie
Another old manga series from the highly respected Tezuka gets the manga treatment. I saw this at an MAS meeting years ago, long before I even though of doing an anime review page, but it left me with a very strong memory. So I was interested to see if my memory of it remained valid... oh, and get a review of it up of course.
This anime is squarely centered around one man, who shares his name with the title, being known only as "blackjack". He's a moody, somber, slightly gothic, rogueish and rebellious mercenary .... surgeon. Yes, I said surgeon. His number is well known in the medical community and if you've got a problem the normal doctors can't handle, and the money to hire the very best, then he's the doctor for you. The fact that he's not actually a registered doctor, that his face is scarred indicative of some interesting past, being as nothing when compared to his immense medical knowledge and operating room skills.
And this time he's confronted with a very special case, a case that is going to get him and his ward involved in something much more diabolical and dangerous than he has any reason to expect. It seems the world was stunned with the emergence of a sizeable number of "super-men", individuals capable of exceeding the limits of normal mankind. But in the background medical concerns are beginning to rise, are their powers a blessing or a curse and from where did they come? The medical experts don't know, but they're certainly becoming increasingly concerned, concerned enough to call Blackjack in.
My memory, from years ago, was right. This movie is a true classic. By that I mean it's pretentious, leaden and downright boring to watch while at the same time having some impressive content. It's precisely the sort of movie you'll mention, perhaps even recommend, because the degree of depth and the concept of mercenary surgery is so high-brow, but which you wouldn't watch yourself. Since I don't mind looking like a simpleton I'll happily admit that, now that I have a review, I won't be rushing back for a repeat viewing.
The concept is sort of cool admittedly. I can even imagine the manga was pretty good. Blackjack is an interesting character, visually young, intense and practising a sort of quiet rebellion which is quite different from our view of medical professionals. He's so focused on his craft that he's moved beyond the boundaries of a normal practioner. He's rich, thanks to the massive fees he receives, he's constantly dealing with life and death situations and he's tormented whenever he fails to save a life. He also has a young girl as a dependent, although to be honest she's every bit as individualistic and strong willed as he, who serves to soften his reserved personality.
The first problem is that the actual medical stuff is, well, boring. TV medical shows are more clever, they tend to deal with trauma cases, involving people coming off the street with horrible injuries and on the very verge of death. A surgeon has a much more sedate role. The patient is at least somewhat stable, in fact the patient is generally unconscious, which sort of reduces the human element. This is re-inforced by the fact that blackjack, as a mercenary, doesn't tend to have a lot of dealings with the patient as person. He doesn't even really deal with his fellow medical people that much. Finally the actual jargon and operations tend to be obscure and confusing rather than actually interesting because they're only indirectly connected to the action.
Mind you the writing for this title is perhaps even more the culprit. I'm no medical professional (my father is, but I'd never subject him to this) but even I can see holes in the plot. The specific medical condition leads to mastery in art? The assembled professionals manage to completely miss the particular chemical imbalance in the blood, or even guess it from the symptoms. A viral infection can be cured with a scalpel? Heck, for that matter a character taking 5-6 M60 shots to the chest does not get a chance to chat about their life story. For a medical drama the details, other than some ultimately meaningless Jargon, don't make the slightest amount of sense. And lets not even go into the final commentary, where the heck did that come from?
Of course that's not much of an issue if the human story surrounding the medical events is good. And while it's certainly better it's also not nearly enough. Many of the characters are at best half developed and separated from the story. Indeed the story has quite a disconnected and often emotionless progression, as well as an awful lot of the story being narrated by one of the characters rather than connected with the events. And then we get up to the medical soldiers of justice, and learn about the secret plant, and the story just gets silly. Actually, come to think of it, the main problem is that both the lead and his nemesis are strong, silent withdrawn types... which doesn't really give a lot of warmth or empathy to the dialogue between them. And since the plot really only exists in the interaction between the two that's bad.
The animation doesn't help either. I can see that it's been designed to draw some style from the manga, but it manages to injure itself in doing so. Some characters, especially Pinoko his ward, are done in a semi-deformed style derived from the manga. But the minor characters are done in a very realistic modern style, which just doesn't merge. The reasonably complex artwork, designed to show off the character designs and technical detail, leads to problems when they animate it. It doesn't flow at all well, something made even worse by going to "manga page" style close ups. There is a little action in the film, but it's amazing how they manage to suck the energy out of it. The uniformly dark palette they've selected, while certainly cool, also represents another reduction in visual energy. The voices are alright, but prone to over-acting, and the music wasn't actually interesting enough for me to notice it.
The medical mercenary blackjack, a creation of Osamu Tezuka, is brought to life in an anime intended for the big screen. Sadly my doubts about the excitement of the surgical field are confirmed by a silly and poorly executed story leading to an extremely un-exciting experience.