Manga Spotlight: Tekkon Kinkreet: Black&White All in One edition by Taiyo Matsumoto To be released by Viz Media September 25
The spirit of Tekkon Kinkreet is a bit like the comic equivalent of a given pre-point of over commercialization stage of a youth music movement. It's Batman by way of an urban variant on Steinbeck by way of Clockwork Orange. A pair of roof top inner-city avengers patrol the metropolitan landscape, swooping down from their lofty posts to bloody the guys who try to screw them and to issue beat downs on those who slight them, or the miscreants they protect. This story of a pair of opposites forcing their way in the world is honest and spirited and it's rush-filled, explicit assault on conformity has the kind of angry youth spirit that's frequently only suggested. Treasure Town has a decidedly unplanned urban layout and unique, schlock pan-culture amalgam aesthetic: a kind of post-dated Hong Kong meets old Vegas, minus the glass, neon and glitz, where signboards compete for attention the way a tangle of vines might compete for sunlight, where urban primitive gangs in Mad Max dress and conservative "good citizens" in numbered black body suits roam the streets. At the same time, with transportation and public works, merchants and trash piling up on the street corners, it functions like any other city in human history. Business, organized crime, and police contend for control, of Treasure Town but at the top of the food chain are the Cats: yin-yang partners Black and White. Black is the spirit of the city: scheming, studied, quick thinking, cynically analytical, both brutally efficient and viciously temperamental, and his partner/charge White is an innocent unaffected by the quagmire of a rotting city, a mentally deficient boy with a natural, savage tendency for violence. While White can't dress himself, he can kick and fight like his partner, and unlike Black, he can see beyond immediate limitations to dream of apple trees and bright possibilities. Together, any individual or institution who tries to tame them is bound to be beaten into unconsciousness with a studded rod. Tekkon Kinreet's initial call to action is the return of "The Rat", a brutally capable yakuza captain credited with the ability to darken the character of the city. However, this might be an over-sold or under-considered assessment. Though The Rat and his fierce protege Kimura are capable of snuffing out the city's weaker gangs, the yakuza still fit into the tooth and nail ecology of Treasure Town. Even if they ride rough shot over most of their adversaries, they are still subject to the local checks and balances. The graver threat to Treasure Town comes with the building of the "Kiddie Kastle" arcade. All of a sudden, with the invasion of a globalized, Disneyfied force, what had been a personal conflict becomes impersonal. It's a push for the extinction of the sleazy in favor of the heartless. In place of the yakuza's disquieting tactics of applying leverage, in that new corporate, industrial warfare mindset, assets are set to exterminate threats like the Cats. Like a song, you don't have to follow Tekkon Kinkreet word for word to pick up the spirit of it. There is an unadorned direct voice where characters will explicitly lay out the situation and the meaning in the dialog. And, there are dreams and allusions that call to be puzzled over or interpreted. By the same token, the manga is given to poetic imagery. Throughout, the idea and the literal are interchangeable. This can take the shape of goofy extensions of the work's freeform style such as a hippo-lady sitting in a trolly car or a peepshow stripper being replaced by a fish-man playing the blues on a shamisen. Or, these mirages can be more substantial. As one manifested totem says "I look ugly to you huh? But I tell the truth. I AM your truth." Early on, the manga introduces its Rosencrantz and Guildenstern detectives. The veteran Mr Fujimura placed third in the Japanese judo championship. Mr. Sawada, the young ear-bud wearing ace graduated from the prestigious Tokyo University and destroyed the officers exam. It turns out Sawada is a Dirty Harry-wannabe who became a cop to fire a gun. And, it turns out that Sawada is literally and figuratively impotent. To the disappointment of Sawada's romanticized notions, the manga does not enter into the business of fight promotion. As violent as Tekkon Kinkreet is, it is staged such that matters are not satisfactorily resolved through violence. Yet, the manga does feature ears being cut off, chunks of ears being bit off, just about anything you could do to foe using a studded metal rod without being outright sadistic, and even a bit of a muay thai match. This is a manga that ran in Weekly Big Comic Spirits, home of a diverse range of works for the Spike TV demographic, including Rumiko Takahashi's post high-school relationship epic Maison Ikkoku, Junji Ito's gruesome, literally twisted horror Umzumaki and Kazuo Koike/Ryoichi Ikegami's warped pulp actions Crying Freeman and Wounded Man. It's not as if matters are not settled through force in the world of Tekkon Kinkreet. And, it's not as if the manga does not acknowledge that some segments of its readership, or maybe even the majority, are looking for some excitement in the work. The first third features plenty of a Tekkon Kinkreet remix of yakuza action: street beatings, and tense, close quarter set pieces, only in this case, with jumping off a roof top and diving in or out of a window. The second third has the pair set against more off-beat foes: a pair of would be rivals and a juggernaut assassin. In here, the manga tears through the city. An engagement might start on a roof, before the combatants leap onto the moving traffic; hanging on a speeding bus before dropping down again to skid on the street. With a Batman or Spider-Man, the still image of figure standing on a ledge might look impressive, but thinking how they got there could suggest a clumsy process. Hefting yourself onto a gargoyle or actually climbing a couple of stories seem like inelegant tasks. Tekkon Kinkreet does indulge in this sort of posing, but it works because the manga's heroes are kids, and seeing them skulk and stalk their prey, shimmying up a utility pole seems natural. And, it works because, the characters live up to their "Cat" moniker. The manga is full of point of impact or behind the should panels during the movement. When one of the cats vaults up or springs down, the manga travels with the force of the action. Manga artists such as Jiroh Taniguchi (Benkei in New York, Hotel Harbor View) or Akira's Katsuhiro Otomo have demonstrated a style of manga that is influenced by European comics. In these cases, the style has been marked by clean, precise lines, lending an intellectualized impression to the depiction of events. Taiyo Matsumoto has credited creators like Moebius as inspirations for his work, but unlike Otomo's or Taniguchi's approach, there is an emphasized human ugliness to Matsumoto's style. Whether it is a function of the face's features or the angle by which it is captured, there is a perpetual and deliberate asymmetry. At the same time, Matsumoto calls attention to the flaws: chipped, badly spaced teeth; tacky hair styles; wrinkles or scars and the like. There is a more forceful notion of breathing humans in these characters than in more idealized manga. Despite the clear distinctive features of each individual, Matsumoto's approach still has the openness that allows readers to empathize and project onto manga characters. The design is not so specific that it blocks out the space needed to apply an impression to the characters. While Matsumoto has a strikingly particular style, the abstract note gives him the flexibility to quickly shift focus, and he uses this to blink into different metaphors. As Black declares, "this is MY town", he goes into the binary black and white of Frank Miller's Sin City work. When the concept of a minotaur spirit is brought up, the monster is captured like how Mike Mignola might depict it. In the moment where a dangerous foes blood is finally drawn, the strike is captured with the calligraphy brush-inked strokes of Hiroshi Hirata's Satsuma Gishiden or Lone Wolf and Cub's hellish fever dream. Tekkon Kinkreet has had something of a noteworthy publication history in North America. Few releases have taken its particular shape. It started off under the title "Black & White" in Viz's lamented Pulp anthology, where it ran alongside the likes Uzumaki, Buronson and Ryoichi Ikegami's Strain, Hideo Yamamoto's (Ichi The Killer) Voyeurs, Toyokazu Matsunaga's Bakune Young, Naoki Yamamoto's Dance Till Tomorrow. Akimi Yoshida's Banana Fish and more. It was then spun off into traditional American format monthlies (about 40 pages each ) for its conclusion. Circa 2000, before the $10 manga collection format really exploded, Viz repackaged Black & White in three 7.9" x 5.5" collections at $15.95 each. All of these prints were in the English-native left-to-right format. And like the previous versions, the newest print is mirrored for left to right. After seeing a majority of manga right-to-left in recent years, that a prominently featured character is advancing while brandishing a weapon in his left hand is noticeable. Especially with his character stretching out his arm and point, he draws attention to the issue that , in this altered format, everyone is in fact, left handed. Now, Sony is about to put out the North American DVD of the animated adaptation of Tekkon Kinkreet , produced by Studio 4°C (Animatrix, Mind Game), directed by Michael Arias (Animatrix, software for Princess Mononoke, effects work on the Abyss) and written by Anthony Weintraub. Maybe the manga would have been re-printed without the movie tie-in, but that link does seem to be the justification for the manga's publication in its impressive new format. The bookshelf worthy manga receives a bookshelf worthy edition. $29.95 is more than most North American manga collections go for, but with 620 pages in a 7" x 10 1/8" volume, the book has a physical heft that most manga releases lack. While the mirroring is noticeable, slightly irritation and in a few instances distracting, the inclusion of the original colored opening pages and a few bonus features (a fold out, Weintraub interviewing Arias) do highlight one of the more tactilely satisfying collections of manga on the North American market. There's plenty of diverting manga that capture you attention for awhile. There are a few substantial manga, that are worthy of longer consideration. Taiyo Matsumoto manga, including Tekkon Kinkreet, and his other English translated works, Blue Spring and No. 5, are rare experiences. They might not be improvised, but it feels like Matsumoto is riffing off the spirit of an idea. Tekkon Kinkreet is imaginative. I's energetic. If you want a manga that DOES something, Tekkon Kinkreet is the manga to read.