Sunday, April 15, 2007
Tekkon Kinkreet (a.k.a. Black & White)
Tekkon Kinkreet All in One (鉄コン筋クリート)
by Taiyo Matsumoto (松本大洋)
published in Big Comic Spirits (Shogakukan)
3 volumes (1993-1994)
1 volume omnibus (2007)
To capitalize on the new animated movie by Michael Arias and Studio 4°C, Shogakukan released this single volume edition of Taiyo Matsumoto's classic just a few months ago. It's a massive book at 600 pages, and made more massive by the upgrade to B5 size from the original's A5. However, the choice to publish in a single book is appropriate; Matsumoto has never practiced the open-ended serial in the style of his more successful countrymen. His series are perfectly concise and contained in the way of an author in total command of his story, making them suitable to be read in one full installment.
Most serious manga readers should be more than familiar with Taiyo Matsumoto by this point, so there is little I can say about him that isn't already well-known or elucidated with more finesse by Xavier Guilbert in his excellent review. Matsumoto's art is a melding of Western (European, most specifically) comic styling and Eastern sensibilities. His linework is chaotic, his perspectives mutable and shifting, and I'm positive the man never uses a ruler except to draw his panels. Matsumoto is one of the true auteurs in contemporary manga, and to many this is his masterpiece.
I first came into contact with Tekkon Kinkreet, like many, with Viz's publication of "Black & White" under their Pulp line in the late 1990s. Though I'm sure there have been grumblings about the change of title, it's really not so bad of a replacement. The Japanese title is somewhat of a portmanteau combining tekkin (steel rebar) with concrete. While "Black & White" is suitable to describe the two main characters, Kuro (Black) and Shiro (White), and the yin-yang duality of their relationship which forms the core at the heart of the story, "Tekkon Kinkreet" suggests the intertwining of steel and concrete, the combination that most defines modern architecture and which brings to mind the other great character of the story, the town itself. I don't remember too much about the Pulp edition, other than that at age 15 or so, I thought it was awesome -- a fact that I'm proud of now, considering some of the tripe I was reading at the time. As the footnote in Guilbert's review points out, I do recall the catch-copy of "senseless, random violence," (a misleading description, to be sure) but I'm a bit surprised at the vehemence of the criticism of the translation. Revisiting it now for the first time in Japanese, Tekkon seems to be identical to how I remember it in English.
Shiro and Kuro are the partially-titular protagonists of Tekkon Kinkreet, two boys who make their home in Takara (Treasure) Town, an indistinct archetype of seedy Japan that exists both nowhere and everywhere. It's a raw, vibrant neighborhood full of crooks, vagrants and mobsters, an urban jungle made larger than life by Matsumoto's exaggerated depictions. In fact, on re-reading Tekkon with a wider perspective of his career and manga in general, the sheer activity struck me even greater: the way Matsumoto crowds walls with graffiti and messages, such as several references to his cousin Santa Inoue's manga Tokyo Tribe; his fondness for inserting an animal into the foreground of wide shots, often speaking a short interjection -- a conceit he used liberally in his other early-'90s story, Hanaotoko; the way he often describes the onomatopoeia of common objects using the printed dialogue font rather than drawing the sound effects, as if to put these inanimate things on the level of speaking characters. The busy fusion of all these elements form the unmistakable character of Takara Town, the soul that is the treasure to which the name refers. Shiro and Kuro are its guardians, two boys waging a perpetual war against the adults who invade the town and seek to change it. Thematic comparisons to Peter Pan are apt; both stories feature the conflict of children and adults and a mythical Neverland setting that is more representative of an ideal than an actual location.
Shiro (White) and Kuro (Black) form a yin-yang duality right down to their names. Of the two, Shiro is the more innocent: childish, naive, imaginitive. While Kuro is more grown-up: responsible, protective, violent. Together, they fight a shady syndicate that seeks to change Takara Town by tearing down its seediest and most recognizable landmarks (porno theaters, strip clubs) and replacing them with lurid, lucrative kids' attractions. The various characters about town, the old bum who acts like a godfather to the boys, the veteran cop and local yakuza express their disgust with the peril and lawlessness of Takara to various degrees, but neither do they wish to see it changed into the false, safe paradise promised by the syndicate. If a neighborhood and its people form a symbiotic whole, each informed by the other, then these figures are the conscience of the town's character itself, a self-defense mechanism fated to be eternally disproving of its faults but ever fiercer in resisting change. If the theme of the story is to be accepting of oneself (whether as a person or a society) and to maintain an equilibrium balancing disparate elements, then it is only right that the ultimate climax be played out within this relationship of Shiro and Kuro, the very manifestation of Takara Town. Their roles begin somersaulting, the equilibrium reeling, as Kuro's pragmatism fails to protect himself from the darkness within himself, while frail, innocent Shiro must use his inner strength to rescue Kuro. In the end, they are righted, changed by the experience but balanced once again. The town has not been "saved," as signs advertise construction of more kids' palaces, but inner peace reigns once again until the next change in the tide, the next chapter in the endless cycle of change and stability.
I'm not sure whether Viz plans a large-size omnibus (similar to Sexy Voice and Robo, perhaps) when they republish it as "Tekkon Concrete" later this year, but whatever the details, they should be applauded for bringing back this masterpiece to North America, and along with the movie, this should give Tekkon a large chunk of the attention it deserves. Don't miss the chance to get your hands on this one. It's just too good to be passed up.