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Who’s That Doctor? (Young Black Jack)

Snapshots is a monthly column in which one of our writers reflects upon a particular moment from an anime, manga, or video game. New entries are posted on or around the 15th of each month. To read previous entries, click here.

This anime season, with new versions of Osomatsu-kun, Lupin III, and Black Jack, has been kinder than most for old-school anime fans, but there are some interesting challenges in dealing with well-known franchises. Take Episode 6 of Young Black Jack, for example: for a few episodes, the young medical student Hazama Kuroo has been in Vietnam on a search for a doctor friend of his who went missing. He runs into an American doctor at one point, and the two begrudgingly work together to save two patients in tricky operations. It’s clear that both of them are geniuses, and one character remarks that they may end up becoming “famous leaders in the medical field.”

For anybody who has read the original Black Jack manga, the identity of the brilliant, smirking, white-haired doctor is painfully obvious the moment he appears: it’s Dr. Kiriko, Black Jack’s sometime rival who resorts to euthanasia when unable to save a patient. Still, it takes two episodes before Young Black Jack reveals the doctor’s name with a heavy-handed directorial flourish in the form of a character conspicuously yelling his name at the end of an episode. The scene is this month’s Snapshot because it’s an interesting example of fan service of the non-sexual kind, in which a reference intended for fans ends up being distracting and inappropriate for the context.

Consider this: the doctor’s identity is only important for those who know who Dr. Kiriko is. But if you know who Kiriko is, you probably figured out who the doctor was the moment he showed up, since there are more than enough cues to figure it out. If you don’t know who Dr. Kiriko is, that’s an awful lot of unnecessary emphasis on the name of a seemingly minor character. As far as I can tell, the callback to Kiriko is an entirely useless flourish that only serves to make new fans confused and make old fans groan at the obviousness of it all.

It’s an interesting issue in a number of ways, too, since the character of Black Jack is much better known in Japan than in the US, where the reference will likely fly over many fans’ heads. It’s possible that Japanese audiences don’t specifically remember Kiriko, though multiple anime, manga, and live action versions of Black Jack, combined with his status as one of the most famous characters from the most famous manga artist of all time, make this rather unlikely. Meanwhile, fans here who know Black Jack are likely to know Kiriko as well since they’re likely to be more dedicated to the franchise.

Regardless, it seems to me that Dr. Kiriko’s reveal would have been better served if the character’s identity were more signficant to the events of Young Black Jack, rather than being a simplistic callback to something only recognizable by fans of the previous incarnation; or if his identifying features were obscured until the big reveal.

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