Osamu Tezuka MMF | Comments from the Teen Peanut Gallery

blackjack-mv-headerJason Green, Fearless Editor digs into his own archives for teenaged JG,FE’s thoughts on Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack from way back in 1997 as part of this month’s Manga Moveable Feast.


This month, the Manga Moveable Feast turns its collective eye onto Osamu Tezuka, the “God of Manga,” one of the most well-known and well-respected figures in the history of comicdom. As you can imagine for a figure whose shadow looms so large, the MMF crew has an awful lot to say, and I encourage you to peruse the epicly huge MMF archive as curated by Katherine Dacey of The Manga Critic, and to pay particular attention to our own submissions here at PLAYBACK:stl: Sarah Boslaugh’s reviews of Black Jack Vol. 16 and Buddha Vol. 1, and Bryan A. Hollerbach’s take on The Book of Human Insects over at Rude Chapbooks.
For something a little different, I thought I’d dig up a particularly unique point of view: my own as an 18-year-old manga fan. See, back in those halcyon days before the internet allowed anyone to slap their opinion on a blog, if you wanted to get your views about a comic known, your best option was to write and mail an actual letter. And let me tell you, teenaged Jason Green was one dedicated letter hack, sending out a couple of letters a week to a wide swath of publications. The publication that I harassed the most (mostly because they published me the most often) was Manga Vizion, the very first experiment in the viability of an ongoing manga anthology in the English language market.
Manga Vizion was the first home of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack beginning in 1997, and I wrote a few different letters that included some commentary on the series. Back in those days, I bought pretty much every manga I could get my grubby little hands on, and Black Jack still struck me as something completely different, with its serious yet decidedly ‘70s tone. I enjoyed the series quite a bit, was sad to see it go when Manga Vizion folded its doors (VIZ published a handful of single issues, but that was a pretty short stay of execution), and was ecstatic when Vertical licensed the series to (finally!) publish it in English in its entirety.
Having read Manga Vizion for several years already at this point, I naturally immediately made my opinion on the first installment of Black Jack, “Where’s the Doctor?”,  known in a letter mailed in to the Manga Vizion home office on October 8, 1997:
The first installment of Black Jack was simply unbelievable. The fluid art, the masterful storytelling, the expressive characters…they don’t call this guy “the God of Manga” for nothing! This story has such potential that I can’t wait to see a whole lot more of it.
So yeah, I was pretty much won over for the beginning. I checked back in the next month with my response to the second story, sent on October 27, 1997, and printed in Manga Vizion Vol. 4 No. 2 the following February. My letter this time out concentrated on just how different Manga Vizion had become now that it had swapped out its long-running lead features (Rumiko Takahashi’s Rumic World/Rumic Theater short stories, Hiroi Oji and Ryoichi Ikegami’s action epic Samurai Crusader: The Kumomaru Chronicles, and Kei Kusunoki’s Ogre Slayer) for the more cerebral Black Jack and the more action-oriented Spriggan and Steam Detectives.
Take Black Jack, for example. Incredibly real characters put in fantastic situations, yet the whole thing stays believable. “The Face in the Affliction” was a lot like an issue of The Maxx or Kabuki: a little different, a little confusing at first, but cool nonetheless. I’ve always loved comics that make you think about the characters, their personalities, morals, and motivations, and Black Jack does just that. He’ll do anything for the right price, yet somehow he always manages to do the right thing at the same time. It’s this weird contradiction that makes Tezuka’s work so engrossing. Two cases and I’m already hooked.
Comparing it the The Maxx and Kabuki, two of my favorite comics going at the time? Hardly faint praise there! The following March, I checked back in with my thoughts on Black Jack’s sidekick, Pinoco, which I’m assuming was in reference to Operation Six, “Sometimes Like Pearls”:
Black Jack was once again chock full of 100% USDA approved creepiness. Black Jack’s little urchin, Pinoco, really grates on my nerves, though. Sure, all serious stories need some humorous interludes to ease the tension occasionally, but Pinoco is a little too over the top. For being a comic that strives for realism, Pinoco is an incredibly unrealistic character. Although I must admit her origin is certainly original…
April 1998 found me writing in one of those really generic “Hey, I’m gonna basically summarize what happened this month in such a way that it makes no sense without the issue in question in front of you, then say I liked it!” kind of letters that I wrote a ton of back in the day yet thoroughly hate nowadays when someone else writes them. Heh. Included here for completeness sake, my thoughts on Operation Seven, “To Each His Own”:
And speaking of fun, what was Black Jack doing cracking jokes? I never thought I’d call a story featuring severed limbs funny, but I guess this Tezuka guy must be called the God of Manga for some reason. Page 39, panel 7 was a classic. [2012 note: this is Black Jack responding to a harried request for more surgeons with a shrug of his shoulders as he says “Sorry, but I’m unlicensed.”] How often do you see a man of action like Black Jack take such subtle, underhanded tactics?
Manga Vizion ended in August of 1998, and there also ended my commentary of Tezuka’s work. I feel bad that I’ve been letting my copies of Vertical’s edition of Black Jack stack up, unread, but seeing how excited 18-year-old me was at the time—and how excited the MMF crew has gotten over Tezuka’s work—I’m eager to dig into them as soon as possible. | Jason Green

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