Give My Regards to Black Jack Volumes 1-4 by Shuho Sato
I’m not sure if many people in the English language manga blogosphere have reviewed Give My Regards to Black Jack. I know Kate at Manga Critic covered the first couple volumes. Give My Regards to Black Jack is an interesting example of digital manga, as it is released directly in Kindle format. It is only $2.99 per volume, so it it is also one of the better bargains out there for digital manga. It is a bit ballsy to reference Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack in a modern medical procedural manga, and while there were aspects of the manga that I found very gripping, a story that took up volumes 3-4 made me question if I wanted to continue reading the series.
Saito is a just graduated medical intern, training to be a full-fledged doctor. He has a certain type of relentless optimism and a “can do” attitude that will be very familiar to anyone who has read manga before. Saito’s salary as an intern is so insignificant, he has to take on a night shift in the emergency room at a nearby hospital. Saito is entirely unprepared for the next phase of his life. He finds himself paired with an emergency room veteran for his first shift, and Dr. Ushida doesn’t have the time to babysit the new doctor when car accident victims start rolling in the hospital. Saito romantically assumes that the hospital is providing the best medical care for accident victims, but Ushida quickly disabuses him of the notion that altruism plays any part in what goes on in the hospital. They can bill more for traffic accident victims, so every patient experiencing severe trauma is actually a moneymaker. Saito is wondering if it is morally right to take the higher salary at his part-time job, but when he’s left alone to cover the emergency room he freezes instead of providing treatment because he has no experience doing major surgery. The head nurse has to call in the supervising physician.
The art in Give My Regards to Black Jack is workmanlike, but it doesn’t have that extra flair that would cause me to read the manga more for the art than the story. The accident victims and surgeries are quite detailed. Saito is portrayed as a wide-eyed innocent, while the other doctors sometimes look like detailed caricatures. Ushida looks rather horse-like, for example.
Give My Regards to Black Jack is a very didactic manga, as Saito’s adventures provide the author with plenty of opportunities to expound upon the problems with the Japanese National Health Care system, issues with medical billing, and problems with the hierarchical nature of intern training and hiring. These elements actually appealed to me a little more than Saito’s emotional struggles with becoming a new doctor, because I’m always a little fascinated at the way manga of this type will work random factoids into a larger story.
The second volume shows Saito rotating on to the cardiac care unit and struggling with a patient named Mr Miyamura whose physical condition makes it almost certain that he will not survive his scheduled surgery. The other doctors don’t believe in really giving the patient the full picture of what is going on, but Saito decides that he’s going to try to find a more qualified heart surgeon to treat his patient from outside his hospital, even if the result is political and professional suicide for himself. Saito is helped out by Ms Akagi, a cynical and world-weary nurse who just happens to know one of the best heart surgeons in Japan. Dr Kita is having his own crisis of faith as a surgeon, but meeting Saito causes him to take up the scalpel again.
The third volume opens with Saito dealing with political fallout from his actions, but he still has the time to check up on one of his colleagues who is thinking of dropping out of the program. Michiba’s grandfather is a neighborhood doctor, diagnosing colds and making a pittance of a salary. Michiba doesn’t want to end up like him. But Saito and Michiba see the impact an old-fashioned doctor can have when they go along on a house call to a live-long patient who is dying of terminal cancer.
The next story in this volume featured a situation that I had a great deal of difficulty connecting to as a reader. Saito is rotated on to neonatology, a placement that every intern before him has avoided. He’s assigned to care for premie twins whose parents refuse to bond with them over their fear that they will end up disabled. The father in particular just wants his sons to die, and since he’s a lawyer he is prepared to file suit if the hospital doesn’t withhold treatment from the babies. Give My Regards to Black Jack doesn’t hesitate to wallow in sentimentality but this was one situation where I thought the motivations of the parents wasn’t fully explored, and Saito’s reactions in pushing for the treatment of the infant to the extent where he was exploring parental rights and offering to raise the baby himself were so farfetched that they were unrealistic even for an overly sentimental medical procedural manga. While the reasons for the parents’ reactions were explored, it was really difficult for me to feel any sympathy for them whatsoever, so when the story wrapped up with a somewhat happy ending, it felt both unnecessary and in some ways unearned by the narrative.
This was my first experience buying manga for the Kindle app in my iPad, and it was a smooth reading experience. The pages turn with the orientation of a western book, but the manga itself was unflipped. $2.99 is a bargain for digital manga, and the medical procedural aspects of Give My Regards to Black Jack did appeal to me. I might give another couple volumes a try once Saito has rotated beyond neonatology to see if the rest of the series has more appeal than that particular storyline.