Review: Dororo Vol. 1 and Black Jack Vol. 1
Osamu Tezuka was one of the most influential figures in manga as a medium. The depth and breadth of his work is apparent even today, as American publishers release more and more of his series, like MW, Apollo’s Song, Black Jack, and Dororo. These last two sagas, Black Jack especially, have been eagerly anticipated for the quality of story-telling and character development that is a hallmark of Tezuka’s work. Today, I have reviews of the first volumes of both Dororo and Black Jack. Let’s see if they live up to their reputation!
Black Jack Volume 1
Genre: Medical Drama
Age Rating: 16+
Nobody is born whole…
Dororo Volume 1
Age Rating: 16+
Black Jack chronicles the travails of an enigmatic surgeon-for-hire who is more good than he pretends to be.
Either of these books could be the cornerstone of any modern manga-ka (manga author). For Osamu Tezuka, they were merely small parts of his boundless mythos, albeit brightly-shining parts. Black Jack is arguably Tezuka’s most loved series in his home country of Japan, and its grand re-release in the U.S. (it was partially released by Viz Media many years ago) drew great attention from the fmanga fan community as a whole. Returning Black Jack fanatics and new readers alike will enjoy this beautifully packaged volume. On the other hand is Dororo. It was certainly not as well-publicized and fawned over as Black Jack was, but as I found out while I read it, it can certainly stand on its own two feet. It’s a solid historical-fantasy blend that’s slightly reminiscent of Inuyasha and Mushi-shi. In both Dororo and Black Jack it is evident that Tezuka knows how to craft a plot that pulls you in and characters that will keep you wanting more.
Dororo’s plot may seem a bit outlandish to those unused to manga. A power-hungry lord sells his first-born son to 48 demons in order to become the ultimate ruler of the entire country. The demons make good on their promise, and the lord’s son, Hyakkimaru, is born with no eyes, nose, ears, arms, legs…the list goes on and on. Terrified by this physical representation of the evil deal he made, he sets the child in a wooden cask in the river to float off to his death. Fortunately for the baby, a doctor finds him while adrift and rescues him. Feeling intense pity for the massively deformed child, the doctor makes it his life’s work to give him a normal existence. He crafts appendages, like eyes, arms, and legs, for Hyakkimaru, who eventually learns to talk by reverberating sound from his stomach. But the two still can’t relax, as demons start to congregate around their hut. Finally, the doctor sends Hyakkimaru away to find happiness in the world. Happiness seems to avoid him like the plague, as he is tormented by devils and demons of every size and shape. One by one, he overcomes these obstacles, and slowly regains the body parts he lost at birth. On his journey, he is joined by Dororo, a young thief who lusts for Hyakkimaru’s sword and carries a sad past of his own. Together, can they regain all 48 missing body parts and defeat all the demons that threaten Hyakkimaru’s life? Will the doomed pair ever find true happiness? Only time (and a few more volumes) will tell.
Black Jack takes a different approach to story-telling in that the individual chapters aren’t connected by anything more than Black Jack, and his “assistant”, Pinoko The episodic plot allows us to slowly peel back the layers of aloofness that surround the stoic main character while engrossing ourselves in the miseries of the ever-changing secondary cast. Chapters range from Black Jack receiving a strange gift from his mentor and hero, to the crisis that envelops a futuristic hospital when its main computer calls in sick. Through every story runs a thread of out-of-this-world creativity and imagination that only a true genius could dream up. An example is how Black Jack comes across Pinoko: she was a twin who became conjoined to her sister in the womb as a tumor. Eventually, the tumor grew to the point where normal life was impossible. Black Jack was called in to perform the removal operation. He successfully excised the tumor, and removed all the body parts inside. He then proceeded to reassemble the organs and body parts into a little girl named Pinoko, who became his omnipresent assistant.
The art is similar in both series, with big eyes, over-exaggerated expressions, and long skinny figures. Dororo has a bit more of a fairy tale-esque aura to the design of the backgrounds and monsters, which reminds me of the style Tezuka used for Buddha, one of his prior epics that is available in English. I’d consider Black Jack to have a bit more of a modern-magic bent to it, since Black Jack’s operations and treatments are usually performed in situations where the patient has been labeled as terminally ill or inoperable. Tezuka drew on his experience as a doctor for the medical procedures, which are depicted in graphic detail (so I’d keep this one away from the little ones until they can handle the blood and gore). As a side note, the book covers are done so excellently that it could pull in a potential reader just by the sheer originality of its book jacket design. The art style that Tezuka popularized throughout the decades pervades nearly every work we read today and touched every major movement in the manga industry as it developed.
Though Osamu Tezuka may not be right for first-time manga readers (it would be akin to handing The Wall to someone who’s never listened to music), it’s definitely a great fit for anyone who’s delved into the world of present-day manga and has been left wanting something more, something meaningful. Tezuka’s themes (some of which are happiness and suffering, prejudice and acceptance, friendship and love, and life and death), are universal. They cross cultural boundaries to touch the hearts and minds of people of every race and creed. If ever there was a true genius of the manga medium, it was Osamu Tezuka.