What Is It?
Ray The Animation is a 13-episode thriller based on the manga Ray by Akihito Yoshitomi (Eat-Man). The series was directed by Naohito Takahashi, and animated by Oriental Light And Magic (Comic Party, Gunsmith Cats, Pokémon).
The show revolves around Rei “Ray” Kasugano, a skilled surgeon with a truly mysterious gift. Ray was a child that grew up in an institution, where children were raised as cattle. These youngsters were little more than organs to be harvested and sold on the black market. Their days were numbered the moment they entered, and countless lost their lives through these institutions.
Rei was one of the more fortunate ones. The organization took her eyes, and robbed her of her sight. She was rescued by legendary underground doctor Black Jack, who outfitted the girl with a special pair of X-Ray eyes. Rei was then taken in by a talented surgeon known as Dr. Kasugano.
Ten years later, Ray would gain a reputation as an unsurpassed surgeon. Her skills with a scalpel and eagle-eyed vision are unique assets that allow Ray to combat ailments that many thought to be incurable.
And this one-of-a-kind surgeon is taking on a residency at a seemingly average hospital. Initial appearances aren’t as they seem, though. Through her time at this hospital, Ray is faced with a series of increasingly bizarre cases that will put her skills to the test. All the while, hints about the mysterious organization seem to surround each patient she treats.
Still, whether Ray’s treating a patient underwater or operating on a drug dealer’s heart while his former comrades storm the building, her mission is always clear. Rei’s patients must live to see another day!
Why Was It Passed Up?
Ray is somewhat of an interesting case, actually. The show originally hit Japanese airwaves in April 2006. During this time, the series as actually treated pretty fondly. Publications like Animerica devoted multi-page spreads to the show, and ADV’s then-active manga division had the Ray manga in active publication, and it seemed like a given that the show would release in the west.
Then the anime bubble burst.
Anime releases dwindled, and companies failed one after another, with the survivors scraping to survive. The industry began shifting to a strict “AAA titles only” policy, as the small OVAs and TV series vanished from store shelves. Established organizations folded one after another, and former giants like Bandai and Geneon simply ceased to exist.
Ray finally made its way to store shelves on October 18, 2011 under Sentai’s Maiden Japan label. The series hit during a fairly crowded month for the industry, which saw 37 releases. Of the titles that hit shelves, the following were highly anticipated by fans and watchers alike:
- Dragon Ball Z Kai, Season 1 (10/18)
- Oreimo, the Complete Box Set (10/18)
- Naruto Shippuden the Movie: Bonds (10/25)
- Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Box 7 (10/11)
- Blue Exorcist Volume 1 (10/18)
At the same time, word of mouth on the title was nonexistent. Reviews for the show didn’t hit until weeks later, and most seemed unaware that the show even existed. Sadly, because of this, Ray didn’t stand much of a chance.
Why This Show?
Ray is pretty much a love letter to Tezuka’s legacy in Black Jack. The series takes the idea of the mysterious healer, and really runs with it.
Despite the story of the mysterious organization, the real meat of the show lay in the operations that Ray performs, and the human drama that surrounds each case. The patients that Ray treats are humans, who have their own fears, vices, and flaws. They get upset, angry, and outright hateful as they try to cope with the very gravity of their own situations. The one bond that ties these individuals is the fact that only the great surgeon can save them.
The secondary narrative, the tale of Ray’s time in the hospital and her hunt for the mysterious Organization, serves more as a bookend in this regard. it’s a fascinating story in itself that, while a bit simplistic, does a fabulous job of building up Ray and the secondary cast members. And, while the show could work just fine without it, the inclusion of this narrative really helps to strengthen an already strong show.
Ray is an under-the-radar gem that really deserves a much bigger audience. It’s a show that really gets the whole Black Jack “feel”, and builds upon it to create something unique and special. The surgeries are tense and exciting, as anything can go wrong, and just about all bets are off as to what can happen once the patient’s on the table.
The human elements rush along an emotional roller coaster, creating smiles in one scene, while ripping viewers’ hearts out the next. It’s cruel, but it’s just so wonderfully handled.
And then there’s the Kung Fu nurses. Yes, that’s a thing, and it’s just amazing.