Tekkon Kinkreet: All in One
I guess weíve got Michael Arias to thank for this one. If he wasnít so intent on bringing the previously little-known comic Black & White to the big screen, it would have remained in obscurity, untranslated and relatively unloved (and probably still called Black & White). But Iím glad he did, because not only did it make for a good film, itís a damn fine comic too.
Coincidently, considering that the film created something of a furore due to being the first anime produced in Japan by an American director (whoever cares about that kind of thing), the Tekkon Kinkreet comic wears its influences on its sleeve - and shock horror - theyíre not exclusively related to anime or manga. In the various costumes and trinkets that White sports during his adventures with Black, Dick Dastardly features as heavily as Tetsujin 28. And while itís easy to draw a line right back to Akira in Taiyo Matsumotoís distinctive designs and artwork, thereís an overbearing European influence that helps make Tekkon Kinkreet something not entirely Japanese.
In my opinion thatís a good thing. Although the wobbly lines and lack of screentone might not be to everyoneís tastes, itís the distinctive artwork that gives Tekkon Kinkreet much of its flavour. And besides, itís not as if western influences are a novelty in manga - heck, even Tezuka owed a huge debt to Betty Boop. Like it or not, manga is just a small part of the huge cultural melting pot, and if comics like Tekkon Kinkreet are the result I say we all dive in and go for a swim (mixed metaphors? me?).
To anyone whoís seen the film, Iím glad to say that it was almost entirely faithful to the comic. However, if youíre one of those that will refuse to watch an adaptation before reading the source material (good for you, I hope you never watch the US version of Ring), let me explain a little. Tekkon Kinkreet tells the story of two young orphans called Black & White and their struggle to keep the streets of Treasure Town free of rival gangs and mafioso. Despite having a reputation as the toughest gang in town, in reality theyíre just a couple of kids whoíve learned to fend for themselves the hard way.
White, the younger of the two, is a playful little kid who is full of imagination and spirit; not exactly the sort youíd associate with gang violence (although heís perfectly capable, believe me). Like any kid his age, he prefers to live in his own innocent fantasy world rather than accept the grim reality of the world around him.
As his name suggests, Black is everything that White isnít. Hard-nosed and calculating, Black is scared of nobody - not even the Mafia - and willingly uses violence to get whatever he wants. Only the sense of responsibility he feels towards White keeps him from going over the edge.
So far, so familiar. But where the manga and the anime differ is the secondary characters - the mafia, gangs and detectives that complete Tekkon Kinkreetís story. Thanks to the 600-odd pages Taiyo Matsumoto has to work with, heís afforded each and everyone one of them more space to flesh out their characters. In particular, the side story involving the loyal yet confused mafioso Kimura and his sage-like boss Rat feel less tacked on and more relevant to the central plot. Itís still the same basic premise that we see in the manga and features all the same key events, but here we get a better feel for the reasons behind why Kimura does what he does. Heís a down-trodden and desperate man, yet heís not entirely the powerless onlooker he might appear to be.
Blackís descent in to madness and his connection to the legendary Minotaur are also better covered in the comic. Though the ending is equally surreal as the animeís, at least the events building up to it are a little clearer. The whole thing ends up feeling much better paced, and although I could have easily spent more time in Black and Whiteís world, the ending wasnít too sudden or too disappointing.
As lush as the anime was, it couldnít hope to accurately capture Taiyo Matsumotoís distinctive artwork. The characters donít exactly fit in to any of the usual manga categorisations, yet the biggest shock on opening a copy of Tekkon Kinkreet is the backgrounds. Semi photo-realistic backdrops have been a manga staple since the 80's, so seeing the wobbly lines and indistinct structures of Treasure Town almost makes it feel more like an underground comic than a manga
Itís this kind of loose drawing style that also gives Tekkon Kinkreet a licence to brighten up a story with moments of humour when there is none. Make no mistake, Tekkon Kinkreet is a drama that doesnít always pull its punches. You know, some nasty shit happens and...yeah, I canít say this is a manga with a kind of feel-good, positive outlook. Yet maybe due in part to Whiteís incessant enthusiasm (and believable speech patters which the translators have absolutely nailed) and the dream-like quality to Taiyo Matsumotoís artwork, almost every time I put down Tekkon Kinkreet I left feeling upbeat and wanting to read more.
Tekkon Kinkreet is unique comic that goes a long way to prove that manga is far from the generic factory driven industry it first appears to be. If anyone ever tries to say otherwise, you can shove a copy of this, maybe Buddha, Nausicaa and Akira (hey, even generic can be good sometimes!) in their face.
Oh, one last thing... praise must go in the direction of Viz for taking such care over the release of Tekkon Kinkreet. Although itís clearly timed to cash-in on the release of the film, the large format and nicely designed dust jacket of the softcover version I bought suggests otherwise (no idea if thereís a hardcover version, sorry). All colour pages are pleasingly left intact (which is sadly becoming a rare occurrence) along with an interview with anime director Michael Arias, and thereís even a fold-out poster that would look damn nice on a wall or something. Itís just a pity Waterstones slashed the back of my copy with a knife.
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