There are some stories that are absolutely timeless, and revisited frequently, with new generations of creators putting their own unique twist on the source material and using it to tell stories that speak to their time and the global situation. One such story is Osamu Tezuka’s legendary manga, Black Jack. Over the years, the character has had more than six animated adaptations. As well as several live-action and manga spin-offs.
Created by the father of manga, Osamu Tezuka, the man who brought fans legendary series like Astro Boy, Princess Knight, and New Treasure Island; Black Jack first released in Weekly Shōnen Champion in 1973. The series follows Kurō Hazama, a young man who gets horribly injured in an explosion and is saved thanks to a miraculous medical operation. Hazama decides that he too wants to become a surgeon, and after studying, he becomes a medical mercenary and takes the name Black Jack. He sneaks from place to place, staying under the radar while treating the poor and desperate without charging them.
The Many Adaptations Of Black Jack
The first anime adaption of Black Jack premiered in 1993. Directed by Osamu Dezaki, Osamu Tezuka’s protégé, and animated by Tezuka Productions, it was an OVA series consisting of 10 episodes. In 2011, two more OVAs were released, but because Osamu Dezaki had passed, he didn’t direct them, but was given an honorary director credit, leading to them being counted as part of the original series.
In 1996, two Black Jack films were released; Black Jack: The Movie and a short titled Black Jack: Capital Transfer To Heian. Like the 1993 OVAs, these movies were animated by Tezuka Productions, and Osamu Dezaki directed them. Both tell a unique story, with the movie focusing on Black Jack dealing with a load of rapidly-decaying super humans.
Then in 2000, the Black Jack: The Boy Who Came from the Sky ONA arrived on screens. Once again animated by Tezuka Productions but with Shinji Seya in the director’s chair. Black Jack Flash released in 2001 as an online-only Flash animated version of Black Jack. This series was specially coded, allowing viewers to change the camera angle and interact with the episodes.
A TV series arrived in 2003, named Black Jack Special: The 4 Miracles of Life. Made to celebrate the manga’s 30th anniversary, this series animated four chapters from the manga. Then, in 2004, a 61-episode series simply titled Black Jack released, and ran until 2006. Directed by Satoshi Kuwahara, this series retold the story of the manga, but the setting was updated, placing the story squarely in the early 2000s. In 2005 another movie was produced, dubbed Black Jack: The Two Doctors of Darkness. Featuring direction by Makoto Tezuka, it saw Black Jack team up with Dr. Kiriko to save the world from an evil group who wanted to bring about a horrific event.
When Black Jack ended in 2006, a sequel series released quickly after, titled Black Jack 21. This series had 17-episodes, with Makoto Tezuka once again directing. This series focused on Hazama investigating what caused the explosion that injured him and discovering a secret conspiracy. In 2015, another Black Jack spin-off was launched, a 12-episode anime called Young Black Jack. This was based on the prequel spin-off manga written by Yoshiaki Tabata and illustrated by Yugo Okuma. This series followed Kuro Hazama through medical school, and was directed by Mitsuko Kase.
Which Version Of Black Jack Is The Best?
Picking the best version of Black Jack is hard. For example, the 2004 anime is the closest to the manga, despite the updated time period and attempts to lighten the overall tone. While the OVA series from the early 1990s has fans due to its chunkier designs and moody atmosphere, viewers who prefer modern anime may find the animation style a little off-putting and stilted. And, while the 2004 anime has fantastic animation and captures Osamu Tezuka’s signature style very well, it simply lacks the atmosphere of the OVA series. While the movies and the various specials have fans as well, their fragmented nature makes them a terrible place to start with the franchise as they often require knowledge of the lore to get the most out of them.
However, all things considered, the 2004 anime is likely the best choice for any Osamu Tezuka fan interested in Black Jack, as it has a better arc for the titular Black Jack and his support characters. This is down to it simply being longer than the OVA series, giving it more time to flesh out the details. The adaptation also has a great soundtrack, provided by Akihiko Matsumoto. This soundtrack really elevates the surgery sections, giving them loads of tension and capturing the inherent riskiness of what Black Jack is doing. However, for diehard fans of the retro ’90s anime style, the OVAs are worth watching.
Black Jack’s longevity is a testament to Osamu Tezuka’s writing. He was able to make interesting characters who were flexible enough to embark on different adventures without ever feeling out of place. While all of Black Jack’s adaptations handle the source material uniquely, they all perfectly show why the character has endured so well, as Black Jack himself is always intriguing, subverting several hero tropes in a logical but engaging manner. This comes together to make a franchise that every anime and manga fan should experience at least once.