Manga Review: Black Jack 2

Manga Review: Black Jack 2 by Osamu Tezuka

Before Osamu Tezuka became a full-time manga creator, he was  a medical doctor.  He drew upon this training and experiences with Japan’s medical establishment for his work on Black Jack starting in the 1970s.

Black Jack 2

Black Jack (birth name Kuro’o Hazama) is a brilliant physician and surgeon who is unlicensed (reasons differing between continuities) and therefore operates outside the law and the established medical system.   For reasons that are not revealed until late in the manga, Black Jack requires large sums of money and will often charge outrageous fees.  On the other hand, he will also often treat a patient for free or a nominal payment if the whim strikes him.

The stories are mostly episodic, and the order of presentation is not necessarily the order they occur.  Most of them features valuable lessons about life, usually for the patient or another civilian, but sometimes for doctors or Black Jack himself.

In most of the stories, Black Jack is accompanied by Pinoko, a cyborg he created from a parasitic twin that had never fully developed.  Her artificial body makes her look like a small child, and she usually acts like one, but Pinoko considers herself a grown woman and Black Jack’s wife.  This can get pretty disturbing, but Tezuka never takes it in a sexual direction.

The first story in this volume is “Needle”, a thriller which begins with Black Jack successfully completing a tough operation.  But an earthquake causes the tip of an IV needle to break off and travel down the blood vessel.  Now Black Jack and his surgical team must try to locate the foreign object and remove it, before the heart is reached.   Truly, the human body should not be underestimated!

“Where Art Thou, Friend?” is a flashback story that explains Black Jack’s mismatched skin tone.  As a child, Kuro’o was in a horrific accident, and needed a large skin graft immediately.   The only donor available (because the other classmates either chickened out or were forbidden by their parents) was a mixed-race child named Takashi.

Decades later, medical techniques have advanced, and Black Jack could get matching skin and have his facial scars ameliorated, but feels he would be dishonoring his friend by rejecting the lifesaving gift.  This becomes his permanent attitude when Black Jack learns that Takashi died fighting for the environment in Algiers.

“Assembly Line Care” and “The Blind Acupuncturist” both have Black Jack clash with other doctors.  In the first, a hospital director is keeping  costs low by running operations like an assembly line, which is efficient, but gives an impression of impersonality.  In the second, the title alternative practitioner donates his services freely, and dislikes Black Jack’s onerous fee structure.  But he’s a little too hasty to volunteer, and makes a needle-phobic patient’s condition worse.

This volume also contains a “sealed chapter” (one that was excluded from the standard collections), “The One That Remains.”  Sextuplets are born in Germany, one hideously deformed.  The doctor in charge calls in Dr. Kiriko, a specialist in painless euthanasia.  On the plane, Kiriko encounters Black Jack who violently objects to allowing patients to die.

Black Jack gets Dr. Kiriko detained by the police, and shows up in his place.  While the sixth infant is deformed to the point of never being able to have a normal life, it’s also the most likely to survive, as the other five sextuplets are sickly.  Indeed, one has just died!  Black Jack suggests an audacious plan.  He’ll use the organs of the dead sibling to fix some of the mutant’s deformities.

In the end, all the normal-looking babies die, but the sixth sibling is now no longer deformed and will survive.  The public (who had not been told about the deformity thing) cheers, and Dr. Kiriko (finally released from custody) no longer has a patient.

The disturbing images and morbid subject matter caused the story to be pulled from compilations aimed at the original audience of young boys.

Although Tezuka felt no compunctions about just making up diseases for a good story, his anatomy is excellent and the operation scenes look realistic.  This may be difficult for more sensitive readers.

Some physical depictions of other races are done in the then considered okay in Japan burlesque style that is now seen as highly racist.   This translation has left this in place rather than have them redrawn.

Recommended for fans of medical drama.

Here’s the opening for one of several animated adaptations:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQUEZ4kGwMU

Book Review: The Killing Moon

Book Review: The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

The city of Gujaareh worships Hananja, the goddess of dreams.  Their entire culture is centered around the power of narcomancy to draw magical power from dreams to heal and perform other wonders.  The most powerful of these “humors” is dreamblood, which is only produced by a person’s final dream.  Thus a small group of holy men called the Gatherers are dispatched to bring gentle death to the aged and incurable–and sometimes those that would threaten the peace of the city.

The Killing Moon

Ehiru is considered the most skilled of the Gatherers, in much demand to bring surcease to the suffering.  But his most recent Gathering has gone horribly wrong.  He has condemned a man to eternal nightmare, and threatened his own sanity.  Why, Ehiru is even seeing what looks like a Reaper, a mythical corruption of the Gatherers that has not existed for centuries.

Sunandi is the Voice of Kisua, an ambassador from that ancient land to Gujaareh.  She is suspicious of the magic that pervades the entire city; to her euthanasia and assassination are evil.  Sunandi is investigating the sudden death of her predecessor (and foster father) Kiran.  Is the Sunset Prince of Gujaareh up to something even more sinister than she expected?

Nijiri is a faithful follower of Hananja, whose long loyalty and training are rewarded when he becomes a Gatherer-Apprentice under the tutelage of Ehiru, his personal hero.  However, this is not an auspicious time to become a Gatherer, and Nijiri may end up having to do the unthinkable to remain true to his vows.

This fantasy novel is the first in the Dreamblood series by N.K. Jemisin, who recently won a Hugo Award for her book The Fifth Season.  The geographical setting and other details are evocative of Ancient Egypt, but this is very much not Egypt, or even Earth, as is quickly made clear by the existence of the Dreaming Moon.  Ms. Jemisin’s introductory note mentions that one of the difficulties was coming up with names that sounded right, but didn’t mean anything in Egyptian.

Many of the cultural details revolve around Gujaareh’s unique form of magic; for example, the equivalent of temple prostitutes don’t have sex with the worshipers, but instead guide them into erotic dreams from which healing “dreamseed” can be extracted.  The Gatherers are central to this story; they have great power and special training, but must devote themselves to self-control–losing that control makes them vulnerable to becoming Reapers.  Unfortunately, someone has found a way to pervert the system and use it for their own purposes.  Peace is the will of Hananja, but whose definition of “peace” will it be?

There’s quite a bit of world-building, and it’s nice to see a fantasy setting based in ancient African civilizations.  It’s also quite pleasant that it’s not “good vs. evil” as such, either.  Gujaareh’s use of magic does a lot of good for its citizens, but Kisua’s worries about the ethical problems of narcomancy and the dangers of collecting dreamblood are not unjustified.  Is denying a painless death to someone who cannot be cured of their constant pain who might live on for years yet unable to move worth holding to a principle?  But if you allow this “good death”, who is there to stop all deaths that serve Hananja from being declared “good?”

Some of the characters fell a little flat for me, and a map would have been nice at a couple of points to make it clearer why certain journeys had to be made in a specific way.  On the other hand, there’s a glossary, and in the paperback edition I read, there’s an “interview” of the author by the author that explains a great deal of the reasoning behind details of the setting.

Overall, this is an excellent book, well worth searching out if you’re looking for something different in your fantasy worlds.

Book Review: Superheroes

Book Review: Superheroes edited by Rich Horton

Superheroes as we know them more or less started in the comic books of the late 1930s, with the most obvious first “true” superhero being Superman.  And comic books have largely shaped our perceptions of costumed superheroes ever since.  But sometimes prose is a perfectly acceptable way of writing about people with unusual powers and distinctive appearances who fight crime and injustice.  There have been quite a few anthologies of short stories in the field, and this is one of them.

Superheroes

The sixteen stories cover various aspects of the superhero genre, from the superheroes themselves, through supervillains, and to the civilians who have to try to survive in these larger than life worlds.  The lead story is “Sunlight Society” by Margaret Ronald.  A nethead (a cyborg able to interface with computers) is called in to deal with a virus in a superhero base’s computer.  But that’s not all he’s there for, and the information he seeks will cost him dearly.

“Wonjjiang and the Madman of Pyongyang” by Gord Sellar is the story of a South Korean superhero who’s been forced into the role of leader for a multi-national team operating in his homeland and sometimes in neighboring countries.  Unfortunately, politics has freed his North Korean nemesis, budget cuts have gotten Wonjjiang laid off, and our hero’s overbearing mother is pushing him to get married.  (Sadly, the one woman he’s interested in already has a boyfriend.)  One of the more “traditional” superhero stories in the book.

A couple of the stories are of special interest.  “Wild Card” by Leah Bobet is set in the Shadow Unit continuity, about a secret group of government agents that normally battle serial killers who’ve developed super-powers.  Except that this time, the “anomaly” has picked on someone whose personal mythology comes from comic books, and he’s decided to become a full-fledged super-villain.  Somewhat lighter than the usual Shadow Unit story.

Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn) contributes “Dirae.”  Suddenly in the city there’s a woman who appears out of nowhere to save lives like a real-life superhero, then vanishes again until the next rescue.  It’s told from the perspective of that woman as she slowly comes to realize she literally does disappear between those incidents, with no clue where she’s spending the rest of her time, if any.  She tries to work out who she really is and what’s happening to her.  Mr. Beagle is an excellent fantasy writer, and this is one of the best stories in the book.

The weakest story for me was “Secret Identity” by Kelly Link.  A young woman comes to a hotel to meet a man she got to know on the internet; by coincidence (or is it?) there’s a superhero convention going on at the same time.  The secrets she’s been keeping from her prospective lover are compared to a hero’s secret identity.  I didn’t like the main character and found most of the people she interacted with boring.  Overall, a decent collection of 21st Century superhero themed writing.

There’s some vulgar language and sexual situations in the stories, and a couple of them deal with euthanasia.  I’d recommend this to senior high students and up.

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