Black Jack was only an obscure OVA (Original Video Animation) on VHS, before the domestic anime fans were given Black Jack: The Movie, a 90-minute DVD release from Manga in 2001. That hooked a lot of people on this super surgeon for hire, but it took three years for the original series to make its way to DVD.
That's a long time for those of us who wanted to know more about this medical miracle worker, a creation of Osamu Tezuka, the "pioneer of anime" who gave us Metropolis and Astroboy.
Central Park Media released the first six, 50-minute episodes on three DVDs, starting with Infection in February, and pared down the stories to one per DVD beginning with episode seven.
In this eighth episode of the original series, Parasite, Black Jack is called on to help a young boy who has been infected with a plant seed, sending sprouts through every visible orifice in his body.
Meanwhile, back at the boy's hometown, a wild-eyed, drunk old man protects a 4,500-year-old sentient tree from being destroyed by a road crew.
The two stories crash together, and, of course, only Black Jack can save the lives that need to be saved.
This was a different type of story than those in previous Black Jack episodes (in the seventh episode, our doctor was smack dab in a war zone). Parasite is almost a child's tale, except told in a very adult manner. The old drunk ponders suicide, and the work foreman building the road is torn over whether he's doing the right thing. But the focus here is the boy and the tree, both supposedly "of pure heart."
The tree theme is carried throughout: Most everyday scenes - conversations , shots of a car driving – have leaves flying through the air.
Visually, the creators used a lot of good tricks: Split screens, overhead shots, multiple layovers of the same anime cell, even reflections of sunlight coming off a camera – a camera that isn't there at all. Many scenes also have swatches of sunlight splayed across the screen. It adds to an excellent viewing experience.
To keep it under an hour, the plot is forced to move quick: One minute Black Jack is at the young boy's boarding school, the next he's in the boy's home country. Parasite will lose you if you aren't paying attention.
But you probably are paying attention, raptly. Because Black Jack is one cool character, and the audience is easily sucked into his world, without the need for explosions or buxom babes. It's like wandering into an animated ER episode, except this surgeon is a lone gun for hire: Have med-kit, will travel.
Black Jack is one of those anime characters that just doesn't get his due.
Son Goku from Dragonball Z, Duo from Gundam Wing, everyone's favorite samurai, Ruroni Kenshin, even that whining Shinji from Neon Genesis ….the list of male anime characters that are more popular than Black Jack is very long.
Sure he isn't piloting a giant robot or beating down ninjas. But he's the baddest dude in anime with a scalpel…a mysterious one at that. To date, we haven't gotten the full story on why his face is patched up the way it is, and the way he talks – purposefully, intelligently – and the way he walks – that slow, intense gait, overcoat draped over his shoulder - only add to the mysterious vibe.
Parasite didn't do much to satisfy our curiosity about Black Jack. But it is another excellent tale from the world he's living in.
Parasite is a great looking DVD, with a very clean transfer. The shadowing sticks out, the colors are ripe, and Black Jack is exactly how we remember him from the movie.
For a moment we were convinced the same sound editor for Parasite also worked on Boogiepop Phantom. Some of the same disturbing noises were present, most prevalent among them being that chime you hear when you rub the rim of a half-filled wine glass, except boosted 10 times. It sets a strange and eerie mood, especially in scenes where characters are walking through the forest.
Extras:There's your standard DVD options for an anime DVD: previews, Japanese/English language options, an art gallery. But the art gallery isn't just "push left or right for art," it's actually a video slide show with music. The music's too dreamy, but cool presentation. And there's not just other U.S. Manga Corps DVD previews: Manga titles from Central Park Media are included, and each title is presented with the comic characters and bubble text leaping from the page. Heck, I'm not much of a manga fan, but the presentation got me interested in at least two of the titles. There's also Black Jack trailers for the previous five OVA episodes; all accessible with easy to navigate menus. Withholding one star, only because it would have been nice to see something similar to the special features on the Metropolis DVD: Osamu Tezuka profile, making of notes, etc. We like knowing more about the man behind the manga and the people behind the anime.
The only reason it isn't getting a Highly Recommended rating is because the story isn't as exciting as previous Black Jack titles. But it's still a good one, easily pulled off the shelves months after you saw it the first time, ready for another viewing. Recommended