Blackjack: Infection

The fifteenth anniversary of the death of Osamu Tezuka, the oft-proclaimed "god of manga", came on February 9, 2004. If you didn't know that fact, you'd think the man were alive and well by the number of anime released in recent years based on his properties. In July 2003, the romantic film My Son Goku premiered well over forty-five years after Tezuka's manga of the story finished! We were also treated to the stunning Metropolis a few years back, which updated Tezuka's story of humans and robots trying to maintain a delicate balance in a grand city of the future. The most influential comic artist of all time in Japan has experienced a posthumous resurrection through his work, it would seem.

Into this body of work comes the OVA series BlackJack, based once again on an earlier manga about an unlicensed doctor who can work miracles...for the right price. Animated in a very similar fashion to the BlackJack movie I reviewed a while back, these hour-long programs take us back into the world of the brilliantly cold surgeon. Although there are a total of 9 OVAs in the set, each one stands by itself, and so it makes sense to review each of Central Park Media's DVDs of the series individually. As far as this first set goes, some of the problems I had with the film version are still evident here, but there's an underlying layer of humanity that softens the show and makes it into the program I wish the movie had been.

BlackJack: Infection contains two episodes, the first of which takes us into a dark world of an aging millionaire, Crossword, struck by an unknown disease that causes uncontrollable seizures and immense pain that can only be brought under control by drinking massive amounts of water. He's looking for a cure that might give him a few more years with his beautiful young wife. But the mystery of his ailment is only the first of many secrets hidden within the episode. As we learn more about the wife, her lover, and the island on which they all reside, BlackJack realizes that there are some illnesses that must be seen from the inside...and some people whose souls are ravaged far worse than any virus could muster.

Meanwhile, the second episode involves us with a group of young girls that meet BlackJack by accident as he tries to find his way around a new city. One of them is injured not minutes later, and BlackJack expertly aids her. Several months later, his patient finds him to ask his help with a desperate situation. Two of her friends are dead, and a third is lying comatose in the hospital from an accident. Concerned and intrigued, BlackJack decides to help the young woman everyone else has written off...but once again, a dark mystery lies just beneath the surface that will threaten BlackJack and the lives of his new friends.

My complaint with the film version of BlackJack had nothing to do with the sumptuous animation, and the OVAs bear a similar mark. Though the animation itself is a bit lower in quality, the character design and artwork itself is still fantastic--it's just the frame rate that's a bit lower than I'd like. All the technical marks, including the catchy rock tune that opens the show, are hit dead-on.

What soured me on the movie was the lack of characters that were the least bit interesting, combined with BlackJack's dearth of compassion towards anybody else. There was so little soul to the film that I couldn't bring myself to recommend it. I still felt that way through part of the first episode, as well. The mysteries were interesting and the story was well told, but I just didn't feel I was making a connection. However, the second episode really stood out to me as what I always expected BlackJack to be about. There's a good plot, solid questions that have to be explained, and yet there's also a measure of humanity and empathy within. In the case of these teenagers, BlackJack feels an honest concern for them, feeling they are far too young to be experiencing such tragedy. The last minute of the second episode sealed it for me; it's the perfect ending. At that moment, I realized that I had actually really gotten swept away into the story. And for the second episode alone, BlackJack: Infection is worth seeing.

There are still my middling complaints. Pinoco, BlackJack's mysterious child-woman daughter, is still a cipher of a character that the writers would have been wise to leave out. She simply doesn't fit. (Thankfully, she has no more than a cameo in the second episode that exists solely to explain her absence.) There's also a bit of sexuality in both episodes, though there is no actual sex or nudity shown. Frankly, seeing the ancient Crossword with his nubile trophy wife was more than a little disturbing. There's also still a little more graphicness to the injuries and surgeries than the typical person will like. As such, I would recommend this show only for mature teenagers and above.

BlackJack: Infection isn't the perfect collection of the titular character's adventures, but it does a nice job. I'd consider the first episode a B and the second a solid A, so I'll compromise in the middle for my rating. Hopefully, the stories will just continue to improve as the series goes on as I become more and more taken with the physician with a $3 million price tag.

Blackjack: Infection -- realistic depictions of illness and injury, sexuality -- B+