Say It With Manga: The Pulp Doctors
Another topic that has been surprisingly well-covered in English-translated manga is the medical field. I was somewhat surprised by how many series I could come up with that deal with doctors or forensics in some capacity. They cover various other topics, and are of varying quality, but here’s three that cover three different branches of medicine with a flair for the soapy and dramatic, and for two out of three, accuracy as well.
The Embalmer – Mitsukazu Mihara (4 volumes in English)
As the Japanese cremate their dead, there is very little call for embalming in that country. The main character of this series, Shinjyurou, follows in his father’s footsteps as one of the country’s only embalmers. The stories are mostly unconnected one-shots, with some aspect of Shinjyurou’s life manifesting alongside the story of the client he is preparing. As a comic originally aimed at adult women, the stories are soapier than you might expect. The client stories are usually a bit dramatic and sentimental, and one of Shinjyurou’s recurring problems is that he’s somewhat addicted to sex, as he finds it a life-affirming balance to his daily work. Later volumes take a look at how Shinjyurou came to follow in his father’s footsteps, and detail his time in mortuary school in the US. To date, this is the only manga I’ve ever read with a story set in Pittsburgh, PA. Mihara does include some insight into the science behind Shinjyurou’s profession, but of the three series I’ve featured, it’s downplayed the most here. Mihara has a unique, very bold and somewhat masculine style, with a lot more detail than you’d usually see in comics aimed at adult women in Japan. It suits her other work more, but it adds quite the pulpy, dramatic flair to this series. The Embalmer was translated in its entirety at the time by Tokyopop, but the author put the series on hiatus and returned to it later, so there are three more volumes available in Japan. As a Tokyopop series, it is out of print in English, but the used volumes are cheap and easy to find.
Black Jack – Osamu Tezuka (17 volumes)
The most popular series by the God of Manga, Black Jack follows the exploits of unlicensed surgeon Dr. Black Jack, a horribly scarred man that will treat any impossible ailment for an equally impossible sum of money. There’s no overarching plot here, and each volume contains about a dozen one-shot chapters that each deal with a different disease, injury, and patient. There is a lot of detail included in each of the stories, and this is because Tezuka himself went through medical school and knows a great deal about the field. This could be mundane in other hands, but remember that Black Jack specializes in diseases and injuries that other doctors can’t cure. Expect to see things like gangrenous limbs, petrification, brain transplants, oddly-placed tumors, cancers that are miraculously cured, diseases that swell the body to several times the normal size, and other odd ailments. Sometimes it’s the situation that’s extreme, like when he delivers a baby on a rock in the middle of a raging river, or when he operates on himself with wild dingoes bearing down on him. There is also occasionally a chapter about Black Jack, where we find out his hobbies include buying islands with his vast fortune and loosing his enemies on them to be hunted down Most Dangerous Game style. The best part is that all of this is absolutely straight-faced, and no matter what ridiculous thing is going on, all the characters treat it deadly seriously. Black Jack gets entangled with everyone from poor families that are refused treatment elsewhere to wealthy mobsters, spoiled politicians to rogue governments. Every chapter is its own exciting little story, and each volume of the series tops the last. You can read any volume of Black Jack in any order, there’s so little continuity in the series that the stories aren’t even chronologically arranged by the date they appeared in Japan.
Anesthesiologist Hana – Hakua Nakao and Kappei Matsumoto (3 volumes in English)
One of the things that we rarely see in English are the dozens of manga series aimed at adults that are dramas relating to any given profession. If it’s a job, there is a manga series about it, and unfortunately they are usually of middling quality. I’m not sure how or why, but Jmanga launched with this series about a young anesthesiologist, and the bizarre subject matter practically begged a read for me. Other than the interesting details it gives to this profession, which is admittedly overlooked, it’s rather unremarkable. Aimed at adult men, one of the things that Hana has to deal with routinely is sexual harassment so embarrassing that I want to reach through the page and slap her. But she endures, and she deals with her long hours and thankless job with people she mostly hates. It reads a bit like the television show ER, with drama balanced between patients and Hana’s life. The art is about as utilitarian as the story, and delivers what it has to, but is otherwise unremarkable. Unfortunately, I could only get through one volume of this series since I couldn’t sympathize with Hana, and the hospital setting makes for dry reading and a frustrating situation for the main character that isn’t dealt with well. But it is interesting as a curiosity, and it isn’t every day you run across a series about anesthesiology. JManga has three volumes available digitally, if you are so inclined.
UPDATE: As I was posting this article today, I found out that JManga will be closing their doors. They stopped selling points last night, and will stop selling their manga series to those with points as of March 26th. So if you want to read this series, and you happen to have some points in your JManga account, now is the time. To everyone else, I apologize. I was so excited about getting to cover two current series this week, too.