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Anime Review: Blackjack The Movie

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Blackjack The Movie

Genre: Conspiracy Drama
Director: Osamu Dezaki
Distributor: Manga Entertainment UK
Duration: One movie – 90 minutes approx.
Production Creation: 1996

Plot Synopsis

Mankind isn’t the creature that it once was. Now a new breed of humans known as ‘superhumans’ headline the news with seemingly impossible achievements in sport, art, business and all aspects of human society. They can push themselves harder, faster and stronger than the rest of mankind.

But when many of them are struck down by a mysterious disease, it falls to the mysterious super-surgeon known as Blackjack to discover the cure and save what is now termed as ‘supermankind’. All is not as it seems however as there is a conspiracy at work determined to ensure that the secret behind the disease is never discovered and the truth never revealed…

The Review

Whenever I can, I try to avoid any kind of medical drama that I see on TV. Whether it’s E.R or some other similarly themed show, I generally tend to shy away from the genre as a whole, because it doesn’t really interest me and the medical jargon is mostly lost on me. Not to mention the fact that those shows usually bore the high-heaven out of me with the. Fortunately, Blackjack on the other hand is an entirely different creature altogether. With a story by the legendary Osamu Tezuka (Astroboy, Metropolis) and direction by the masterful Osamu Dezaki (Golgo 13), Blackjack stands as a technically accomplished production that expertly blends in elements of a conspiracy thriller into the context of a medical drama.

Initially, Blackjack appears to play out like an episode of X-Files, with the whole ‘trust no-one’ mantra in full effect as far as the characters go and all the double-dealing and conspiratorial backstabbing that goes along with it. Prior to watching Blackjack, my biggest apprehension was just how well, boring it would be, considering it’s strong medical themes and what I thought to be, it’s mundane plot. And so while the movie appears to start off rather slowly, it thankfully does pick up pace rather quickly as motives are uncovered and intentions are revealed. The plot primarily revolves the whole superhuman phenomenon, the mysterious disease that is slowly killing these gifted individuals off and the conspiracy that lies behind it.

Herein lies Blackjack’s real lure. Being not a cookie-cutter ‘whodunnit?’ mystery, but rather a well written and directed conspiracy thriller, you are drawn into it all and are always eager to see where the rollercoaster plotline will take you next. Sure there are elements of the plot that are predictable as there are in most shows of this ilk, but on the whole you will be captivated and compelled to continue watching.

Given the show’s subject matter, as you can imagine a fair amount of screen time is dedicated to the medical and surgical procedures that occur throughout the duration of movie. However, you don’t really mind because they are executed with such precision (not to mention with gorgeous animation), that you get the feeling the guys who produced this, really researched their stuff and knew what they were showing. I won’t deny however that some of the medical jargon did seem a little overbearing at times and some of it flew over my head, but it wasn’t nearly as heavy going as I expected it to be.

Blackjack as a character is an interesting one. While he is a mercenary doctor who will do anything to save his patient, yet only works for extravagantly high amounts of money (he tells his clients to leave how much they can afford on a message on his answering machine), he does have a sense of morality that although initially hidden, is exposed the further the mystery of the superhuman deaths draw on, and the more he finds himself drawn into it all. The good level of character depth also extends to the other characters within the show, such as the enigmatic Dr. Jo Carol Brane, whose motives are driven by an extremely harsh past and a cast iron will to succeed.

Besides the great attention to plot and characters, some big money has gone into this production and it’s easy to see where since technically, Blackjack is an absolute marvel, there’s no two ways about it. The quality of animation on display here is simply astounding, and despite being nearly seven years old, is still much more fluid and smooth than many ‘movie’ quality productions that we see today. Part of this impressive animation can be credited to the CG that has been seamlessly incorporated, but in any event all of the characters move with a believable grace and never really dispel that illusion with the kind of choppy animation or reused frames that you might see in a lesser production.

The impressiveness of the animation is further compounded by the excellent art and character designs. Normally, there would be a compromise in the quality of the art during the animation in a lesser production, but such compromise does not exist as everything looks just as detailed in movement as it does in still shots. Notably, there is also a penchant by the creators to use sketchy hand-drawn freeze frames at times, and these really bring a starkness to certain moments throughout the movie. The character designs themselves tend to follow a more realistic look and are impressively detailed. One thing I did notice though is that Blackjack’s helper, Pinoko, is drawn in a different manner than the rest of the characters in Blackjack. As a homage of sorts to Osamu Tezuka, she appears to be drawn in the classic Tezuka Astroboy style, which although at odds with everything else design-wise, still looks classy and adds that little extra Tezuka flavour to the whole movie.

Despite the visual aspects of the movie being excellent, the music tends to be mostly forgettable with the exception of the opening song ‘Invisible Love’, the soundtrack seems mostly errie and did remind me of X-Files-esque background music. Not great, but not unbearable either.

Overall, Blackjack is a tremendously accomplished thriller that excels both technically and in terms of it’s story and watchable characters. Ostensibly it does still have elements of a medical drama, but while those elements do not intrude as much as you would think, Blackjack doesn’t start in the ‘fast lane’ and takes a little while to get going. But forgive it’s initially slow pace and you’ll be rewarded with a superb thriller that will keep you watching with your eyes wide open until it’s excellent finale.

Ratings Summary

Animation: A
Art: A+
Music: C+
Content: A-

Overall: A

Review by: John-Paul Jones

Suitability for children

While the technical nature of some of the medical scenes make it perhaps uninteresting for younger audiences, the blood and graphic scenes during some of the patient surgery, certainly make it suitable only for those aged 12+.

If you liked this why not try…

Blackjack OVA – Central Park Media

Written by bitsnark

August 10, 2008 at 9:10 am

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