This time, Black Jack doesn't have all the answers.
Our medical miracle worker meets his toughest challenge yet, when a rich businessman hires him to remove a talking tumor - in the shape of a human face - in Mutation.
Metropolis creator Osamu Tezuka's doctor-for-hire is usually infallible, able to solve most any medical problem - no matter how wildly imagined – as well as a crime or two along the way.
Mutation throws two crimes in the mix: a young boy is putting a serious hurt on luxury cars in the city, and a woman dressed like an office worker is luring men into hotel rooms and murdering them. Motives unknown.
Of course, these crimes are connected to the doctor's latest client, and Black Jack finds himself doing a lot more than wielding a scalpel.
During his investigating, the doctor, once again, finds himself scrutinized by an excitable police detective, who still isn't sure whether he should bust him for being unlicensed, or protect him because he knows, deep down, Black Jack is a hero.
Mutation, at 50 minutes, felt longer than it actually was, but that's a good thing. It was a complete tale, with just the right amount of action and explanation. Central Park Media wisely keeps this DVD under $20, because asking for more would have required giving more. What you get, though, is worth your hard-earned cash.
Like other Black Jack OVA episodes, a central, visual theme is carried throughout. This time, it's the rain. It's omnipresent, splashing every scene outside, and hefty in the background on most scenes inside. The rain is an integral part of Mutation and helps push the mood, which is a little scary, very dark, and a tad depressing. That's not to say Mutation isn't very, very entertaining.
Other Black Jackesque visual standards are present again, including lots of freeze frames, split screens, and reflections of light with no discernable source. The animation direction of Black Jack OVA is unique and pretty cool to watch.
Mutation has an English dub that is actually better than the original Japanese, thanks to the voice cast. Sean Thornton is PERFECT as Black Jack, better than his Japanese counterpart. Thornton voiced Hiei in Yu Yu Hakusho: The Movie and his soothing baritone is calming and attention grabbing at the same time. If you're in another room, you can easily identify what anime is playing by Thornton's presentation.
My only problem with Mutation, and Black Jack in general, is that it's much too late to kill off Pinoko, Black Jack's pint-sized, robot girl assistant. She's flatly annoying and very unhelpful, except when it comes to surgery. I want to reach through the screen and throttle her every time she absentmindedly starts running around, screaming "love, love, love, love, love" for no apparent reason. I would have snapped by now if I were Black Jack.
Comic relief needs to be funny to work. Shut up, Pinoko. Please.
This was a full screen screener, though the company (and the box art) says the final product will be anamorphic widescreen. Some minor grain present in the presentation, along with a spot or two of noticeable aliasing, but these are minor hitches that could be addressed. Black Jack OVA in general is a very subdued show, with soft colors and blunt images. Cheap? No. But the 1993 animation is obviously dated. It looks like a perpetual haze has settled over these OVAs; some may call it distracting or ugly. I like to say it's moody and appropriate for the stories. Your call.
Things were great in Mutation in the sound department, until the last ten minutes. Dialogue moved away from the center channel on the surround sound, and to the sides, but with it came a bad drop and some rough and noisy breaks. It didn't last long, but it was annoying. This was an advanced copy, however. Up until that point, the music was evenly distributed and sounded good, as did the tame ambient noises. Lots of rain, splashes and thunder in Mutation and it matched the tone of the story very well.
Central Park Media has some of the best previews, and I'm not talking about anime: their manga previews are simply awesome. Comic pages and character cutouts leap off the pages, and background for where the manga came from and its relationship to anime is included. Some studios that sell both anime and manga only provide cover stills of their books, and it's cool to see this kind of advertisement for manga. There's also anime previews, of course, four of them, one of which is a special edition, four-DVD work-up of The World of Narue with previews of what fans will find in the special features. Trailers for previous Black Jack tales are included, and there's also a moving art gallery. The main menu is a tad rough in navigation but this was an advanced copy … here's hoping the final product is less clunky.
This was my personal favorite in the Black Jack OVA series, and is more than one notch above the Black Jack movie. Mutation was frightening, bloody at points, fast-paced and challenged our good doctor like never before. If you've been thinking about trying Black Jack out, this Highly Recommended volume is a great place to start, some minor audio and menu issues notwithstanding. The final of seven volumes will be released in March 2005.