The penultimate Black Jack collection still sports some of the same hit-or-miss flavor of all the volumes since #11 or so, but the standouts this time around are as good as anything ever created for the series. Most striking is the last story in the volume, “A Passed Moment”, which runs for almost a hundred pages — an epic-length production compared to the usual 16- to 24-page stories that made up the series. It opens with a young taxi driver who has a taste for embroidery and other decidedly nonmasculine things, and then works its way by various Byzantine degrees to a country in revolution where said young man died once … or did he? It’s a dizzying achievement, one of the sorts of things Osamu Tezuka fans will most likely point to as an example of how uninhibited and absorbing his imagination could be; spun out a little longer, it could have become a self-contained epic in its own right on the order of MW or Book of Human Insects.
The rest of the book is no total slouch either: I particularly liked a story about Black Jack’s assistant Pinoko becoming the object of a crush by a man who never sees her face (they share the same bathhouse), and there’s a remarkably cynical skewering of Hollywood (and, by extension, inequality in America) in a chapter where Black Jack’s skills are to be captured on film against his will. And in “Miyuki and Ben”, there’s the recurrence of a theme which has pervaded Black Jack since its inception (and which also appears in “A Passed Moment”): how body and spirit are interwoven, and how the death of one can mean a new lease on life for another. It’s always amusing how Black Jack — and Tezuka, too — can see organ and tissue donation as something inherently romantic instead of, as most of us do, something quite a bit icky.