“Now I told you that story to tell you this one.”
That was Bill Cosby, between two of his best routines. That could also have been Naoki Urasawa, right before he made that dozen-year leap forward in the middle of the last volume of 20th Century Boys. What’s past is prologue — not just the childhoods of the characters in the 1970s and their adolescence during the 1980s, but the whole “present time” storyline of the 1990s was itself also just prelude. It’s the most daring storytelling chronology I’ve seen in manga since Tezuka sliced and diced time and leapt across the eons in his many-times-over-epic Phoenix.
It’s also not a stunt. The further Urasawa delves into his tale of Apocalypse Now (And Always), the more you see why he chose to tell his story like this, with so many key pieces deliberately missing. For one, it builds suspense; here it is, fourteen years later and the fates of many characters are still up in the air. Last volume we learned about little Kanna, still carrying a torch for her father and the resistance he manifested against the Friends. And in this installment we finally learn what happened to another crucial member of Kenji’s crew: Shogun. It’s not pretty. Read more
So why, you might ask, am I now reviewing volume 8 of Black Jack when I was only just reviewing volume 9? Happenstance, mostly. Somehow I ended up missing volume 7 in a mail mix-up, although when that comes in I’ll be sure to fill in the gap. For now, I’m walking backwards.
And as I did with 9, I’ll say the most important part first: This is one of the better volumes in the series. That doesn’t come from the cleverness of the conundrums Black Jack gets to untangle, or because he’s extra-dexterous in the operating room this time around (because, when is he ever not like that?). The reason the better stories in Black Jack are the better stories is because they serve all the more to underscore how Black Jack stands apart from the world he’s torn between serving and exploiting. Read more
I’ll put this part behind me right away. As Black Jacks go, volume 9 is only fair. That makes it an okay part of a great whole — but that doesn’t dilute the quality of the whole. It simply makes the good parts of this series all the more worthy.
It also doesn’t mean volume 9 should be ignored. In fact, reading it compelled more thought about the series and the way I’ve approached manga in translation than most anything I’ve laid eyes on in months. The reason? This is the first volume of BJ I’ve read in Japanese long before the English version ever landed on my doorstep.
I hadn’t planned to do it that way. Insights are never planned. Late last year, in New York City’s Book-Off, I ran across a used copy of the untranslated volume 9 for the whopping price of $1. I needed no persuasion. At that price, any book would have been worth it; this one, doubly so. I slapped down my credit card, ran home, and that night read it cover-to-cover with my electronic kanji dictionary close at hand. But somehow I’d grown so used to Black Jack as a translated work that I couldn’t help but feel I’d only read half the book — that the other half was Vertical’s own yet-to-be-released edition, which now sits to my left as I type this.Read more