Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Manga: Black Jack - Volume 1

A mixture of the unsettling and bizarre combined with the imaginative and philosophical make this classic manga (Japanese comic) a memorable read. It started running in 1973 and finished in 1983.

What I liked:
- The character of Black Jack – cold and mysterious, but able to save lives, Jack seems to always have a handle on the situation. He keeps people at arm’s length at times by charging the rich exorbitant prices for various made-up reasons – this is a nice touch.
- Each story is self-contained (which means you can dip in and out of the book) and tackles a different problem for the brilliant but unlicensed surgeon to try to counter. Sometimes it might be a demonic boil from Japanese folklore, other times it could be trying to save the amazing ability of a chef when her arms have had to be amputated. Pretty wierd and wonderful. Even the importance of psychological healing is shown in a couple of stories.
- My favourite story comes towards the end and has an artificial intelligence requesting to be treated as a patient rather than being switched off and replaced. It seems to be touching on the idea that the creator has a responsibility to the A.I. being she has given birth to, and rather than rejecting her creation, she ought to have invested in it and tried to help it. The problems of a high abortion rate in Asia due to the sex/disability of a child spring to mind, and this issue is touched on elsewhere. But also the idea of treating a patient with respect is highlighted here and elsewhere, as in one story in which we find out that terminal cancer patients were often lied to back then in Japan about their conditions by their doctors and families. It's quite illuminating to read a manga that wants you to think about ethical issues in the world of medicine and surgery.

What I wasn't sure about:
- Although the art is still praised on the internet for the way it draws your eye across the page into the action, the sensation of reading the story was slightly affected by the small panels and plainness of the drawings and character designs in places compared to modern manga.
- Also the way the book plays around with the human body I found a little perverse, although I stress that the book does not play up the horror of the bizarre situations. But in doing so it makes us consider the amazing nature of the human body as well as elements of the supernatural and fantastic which make this a very unusual world that Black Jack is living in.

Also check out: Monster - a more modern manga series about a brilliant surgeon whose own misfortune and character flaws leads him to have a hand in creating a pyschopath. I only read the first part, but it was a compelling opening, setting up some intriguing characters and showing the pressure to be political in the hospital rather than serving every patient equally, and how the stress of pressure from the bosses can have a bad effect on the individual doctor, pushed to his limit. Go read it, if you can find it.

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