Imagine an average episode of House but without Hugh Laurie providing the sharp wit to compensate for the improbable plotline - terrible, right? But now imagine Ben Affleck dressed up as Two Face from Batman in the lead role instead. Hold that image. Yup, that's how unbelievably daft Black Jack The Movie is. In terms of plot, there is not an iota of imagination in it; weird medical condition killing people, doctor is pulled into intrigue against his will, he finds out what the problem is, there is a twist, the end.
It begins well enough, with the opening few minutes cutting from scenes of superhuman Olympic victories to Black Jack going about his ordinary business as an unlicensed underground surgeon. The ominous music and the infrared impressions of the athletes give a sense of something being afoot. However, suspense is quickly lost as events begin to move in a highly predictable fashion. For example, a whole team has been working on a medical problem for weeks, and of course only Black Jack (using nothing more than a couple of computer scans) comes up with a ‘hypothesis' which then instantly turns out to be true.
While the first half lacks drama, the second half does its best to undermine the movie's thriller edge by injecting instances of absurdity. For example, tiny Pinoko who looks like something from a 1930s Disney cartoon randomly decides to throw this fat man ten times her size over her shoulder. I'm convinced the creators intended this as comic relief but any laughter they got out of me was due to unpleasant shock. Other classic moments include a team of volunteer ‘fighting doctors' storming the pharmaceutical lab at which Black Jack is working, leaping from helicopters, guns poised like some kind of SAS team, only to declare that they are arresting the scientists in the name of medical ethics. Say what?!
By the end, however, the problem is simply that the show couldn't bring us to care enough. Revelations are made in inelegant speech dumps, where one character sits another one down and tells them exactly what happened, rather than allowing the audience to discover these details through naturally occurring events. Moreover, the ending appears to be so removed both in location and substance from where it started, that the plot comes across a tad disconnected. This is simply one of those anime that thought it had a good idea, put it down on paper, and realised too late that it could never actually deliver.
Black Jack looks even more dated than earlier works like Grave of the Fireflies and Ninja Scroll. Particularly weird is the combination of fairly realistic character designs for most of the cast and the extreme cartoon-like appearances of Pinoko and the Laurel ‘n' Hardy duo that share a scene with Black Jack. I also have a problem with Black Jack's design - he just looks ridiculous all caped like some tragic emo Phantom of the Opera wannabe.
Movement was smooth enough, however, the conceptual details are definitely lacking in the setting. For example, in a scene where Black Jack drives away from his house, his car looks like a child's simplistic box drawing, with little shading or anything. Not to mention the overuse of sketchy still shots. These are not especially uncommon in anime of Black Jack's era, but at least other shows used them as highlights for especially tense scenes. At one point, our surgeon gets up from his chair where he has been reading, lightning strikes, and up comes a freeze frame of his face with Pinoko in the background, a shot usually reserved for end-of-episode type scenarios. Why do they do this? I couldn't say, because nothing worth the fuss has actually happened.
The voice acting is average; it stops short of being melodramatic but never creates any notable tension either. The opening theme is very Bond-esque, very Engrish, and lacking a distinct melody. In fact, much of the music is disparate nonsense on a synthesizer. I suspect they recorded a member of Kraftwerk messing around on his keyboard one drunken afternoon.
What I was most confused about was the relationship between Pinoko and Black Jack. Jo Carol calls her his daughter, but he never actually confirms it, and Pinoko calls him ‘Sensei' rather than ‘Father'. If they aren't related, then why is this freakishly dressed man living with a little girl? (NOTE: wiki-research reveals she is in fact a talking tumour - go figure.) Bouncy, high-pitched, and unnecessarily repetitive in her dialogue, Pinoko took something away from the seriousness of the show. Not only that, she was actually inconsistent as a character; she assists Black Jack by fetching him medicines and she can throw a grown man, but she doesn't realise when she's just been kidnapped.
Jo Carol is a very stereotypical, smooth-talking femme fatale character with perfect nails and lipstick; at the same time, she's meant to be a Chief Scientist who blatantly has unsavoury ulterior motives. All things considered, she also becomes the most interesting of the bunch (which isn't saying much) since she's not as straightforward as she appears to be. Unfortunately, the final twist to her personality is so late and so poorly prepared for that I just could not bring myself to care.
Only slightly better than Pinoko simply because he's not as annoying, Black Jack is a lacklustre protagonist. His reasons for doing what he does (and dressing like he does) are left unexplained. I can only assume these are brought to light in the OVA, but if this movie is anything to go by, then I have no intention of ever watching it. Hidden past aside, Black Jack is also lacking in any kind of personality or wit; he just trudges through the story like a plot device, like a man going through the daily motions. He's just not worth caring about and neither are the rest of the cast.
The premise is decent enough, but poor execution and unimaginativeness proved to be this movie's downfall. I'm unlikely to watch it ever again, and I'm hesitant to recommend it to anybody. Overall, Black Jack is passable in the sense that it is coherent, but when combining the necessary elements required for good storytelling, the film turns out to be the lowest common denominator.
Black Jack is an unlicensed doctor whose skills are world-renowned, and come at a high price. What starts as a routine call turns into a deadly race to stop a strange malady known as the Moira Syndrome: a virus which enhances the body and gives rise to super-humans, people who are breaking world records in everything from sports to music. With time running out and no one to trust, Black Jack must solve the mystery of the syndrome, or die trying!
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