Osamu Tezuka was a pioneer and a legend in the manga industry. Known for such works as Dororo and Astro Boy, he created some of the most recognizable works in history. One of those stories deals with world of underground medicine and the tale of a man who looks to become a promising surgeon. This is Young Black Jack.
The story for Young Black Jack is that of a prequel to the original work. It follows Kuroo Hazama as he journeys through medical school and the things he goes through just for the sake of wanting to save lives. Everything takes place in 1968 so events like the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement are all in full swing. Going back a bit into history adds a nice dynamic to the show! If you’re looking for an in-depth overall story here with Young Black Jack, you’re not going to find it. This series was episodic with many of the episodes being broken down into different parts. The “overall story” here is simply Hazama looking to obtain a medical license, but despite its simplistic goal, the situations that Hazama puts himself into adds the richness and depth to make this show very appealing.
Going into the individual stories would be a bit spoiler-ish since this series heavily relies on these mini-arcs to flesh out the 12 episodes it has to work with so I’ll just jump into the characters and while there are many, there are also very few. You’ll see what I mean about that in a moment here.
He’s our main character and a patchwork of sorts. Hazama was caught in an explosion when he was young and only a miracle would allow him to live. That miracle came in the form of Dr. Joutarou Honma. Dr. Honma saved Hazama’s life with an amazing surgery that caused Hazama to become so inspired that he wished to become a surgeon just like the man who saved him. Hazma’s iron will and determination show the purity of his heart as he wishes nothing more than to save others, but it’s that will that also brings about a darkness in that Hazama will do almost anything if it meant helping someone else. Sometimes that anything, if discovered, would disqualify him from ever receiving a medical license. It’s a nice yin/yang style character because you support Hazama for doing what he can to save someone else, but at the same time, you find yourself questioning his morals and wonder if what he’s doing is really worth it.
She is an intern at Hazama’s university and becomes quite attached to him. Hazama involved her several times in some of his questionable practices, but she’s also had to save him on a few occasions as well by taking credit for his work in order to hide the fact that the work was performed illegally by a student. She tries to be the voice of reason for Hazama, but ends up failing because Hazama pretty much does whatever he feels like. Her character really felt like a third wheel that was only useful when needed. Outside of that, I didn’t really care for the overall personality of the character. In fact, I found her a bit annoying, to be honest.
He’s a doctor with a drug addiction as well as a friend of Hazama. Seeing Hazama’s determination, he decides to turn his life around. He sends himself to the war in Vietnam in order to help others over there. It’s during this arc that Hazama goes to Vietnam to find Yabu after receiving word that the facility Yabu was working at was bombed by the Vietcong. Yabu was an interesting character. He was a doctor, but he was terrified at the sight of blood. Because of this, he felt he was a failure and turned to a life of drugs and then sent himself to Vietnam in an extreme manner of self-rehabilitation. Towards the end of that development, Yabu had redeemed himself and turned over a new leaf and it made you appreciate him as a character more. I wish we got to see more him outside of the Vietnam arc, though.
Yes, that’s his name. He’s a recurring character in Osamu Tezuka’s works. Here in Young Black Jack, he plays the part of an underground medical broker. He lines up surgeries on the black market and then finds skilled doctors to perform these surgeries without the medical world gaining any knowledge of it. Some of his methods are mafia-esque, making him a dangerous individual. He only shows up from time to time and I wish we got to see more of him because it would have really tied into Hazama’s plights just a bit more. Overall as a character, he was really solid and someone you could easily loathe whenever he was on screen. He has the look and persona of a complete sleezeball and it was pulled off to near perfection!
Another character from Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo. In Dororo he sought to take back the 48 organs that were stolen from him by demons. Here in Young Black Jack, Hyakki is a medical genius that was in an accident, losing his limbs. He dedicated his life to the advancements of prosthetics… that is, until, he learns the truth about his accident. He shows up in the final multi-part story arc of the series and his character is one that you want to hate, but just can’t because of the tragic nature of the events that drove him to the brink of insanity. You get a real connection with Hyakki and even though he was only around for three episodes, he became my favorite character of the series just because of the symbolism and the emotions he brought to the table.
The above were the major characters of the show, but each story arc had some one-off characters that were also really good such as Phan and Bob from the Vietnam arc, Tawashi from the Hyakki arc (which is the same Inspector Tawashi from Astro Boy, by the way), Johnny and Dr. Risenberg from the Civil Rights arc, and many others. Each played a small and large part all at the same time and it felt like no character was truly wasted.
Art, Animation, & Sound
The artwork was really hit or miss in the character design aspect. You had this modern looking anime, however, since this series used some characters from Tezuka’s other works, they kind of kept their designs the same while trying to modernize them just a bit. What you ended up with is a bunch of weird looking characters that stood out like a sore thumb. I understand the need to keep them in that style, though, but it just didn’t mesh all that well for me.
I really loved Kuroo’s design, though. The different skin tones, the black and white two-toned hair.. everything about his design made him look unique and causes you to draw attention to him whenever he’s on screen. He was probably the best designed character of the show next to Hyakki.
Bombs over Hazama?
The animation was pretty decent in normal scenes, but when we got to the medical procedures, they opted to go for flashy lines to simulate cutting the body with a scalpel or stitching a patient back together. For a medical show, I was hoping to actually see a lot of the surgical work, but nothing was ever shown. Instead, they went with the light show to give you the feeling that you were watching a surgery.
I’m pretty sure this isn’t what surgery looks like in the real world
The soundtrack was pretty decent. Some songs were reused over and over and the moments where drama was needed, the OST matched it in its intensity, however, despite everything matching up, I have difficulty recalling many tracks because they didn’t do enough to make themselves stand out. The opening theme, however, “I’m Just Feeling Alive” by UMI KUUN was well-done and had a mixture of a medical tone to it (if you’ve seen American medical shows you’ll know what I mean by that) mixed with Japanese pop rock. It was a unique theme that was a pleasure to listen to!
All in all Young Black Jack was a series that took episodic anime and practically mastered it. Every arc had an impactful story, amazing characters, and an overall sense of moving forward. While most episodic anime have difficulty trying to push the entirety of the show forward by just heavily relying on the bits and pieces to make it whole, those bits and pieces here acted in unison and created a sense of flow throughout the whole series. To be able to tell compelling and emotionally charged individual stories while advancing the overall plot of the show at the same time is an amazing accomplishment and Young Black Jack is one of the best shows I’ve seen so far to pull that off.
Despite how good the show is, you may want to restrain yourself from watching this on a weekly basis. I enjoyed the show more by waiting for an arc to conclude then watching the entire arc in full at once. That’s just me, though.
Great stories, amazing characters, and a show that has a constant direction. You can’t ask for much better than this.
Overall Rating: 9/10
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Until next time,
Young Black Jack
100 Units of Awesome, Stat!
A medical drama with a compelling cast of characters and amazing episodic stories that will leave you wanting more!
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