Katherine reads the book with the almost unprouncable name and finds it good – Tekkonkinkreet
Until last week, if you’d asked me about my favourite manga, I would have named Blade of the Immortal by Hiroaki Samura as the #1, with Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha and Ariyoshi Kyoko’s Swan vying for second place. But now I’ve read Tekkonkinkreet and Blade of the Immortal has to take the silver, because Tekkonkinkreet is like nothing else I’ve ever read.
I saw the film version first – unusually for an adaptation of a manga, it was written and directed by Americans, Anthony Weintraub and Michael Arias respectively, although you wouldn’t think so to look at it (when I saw it at the Edinburgh Film Festival last year I believe they said it was the first time a Japanese manga had been adapted to film by American creators – Joe). Every review of the film that I had seen said something along the lines of “well, it’s good, but of course the manga is better”. And the film… blew my tiny little mind. I laughed, I cried, I gripped the edge of my seat; I wanted it to last forever and I needed it to stop because it was so intense it was almost painful.
So I had high expectations when I turned to the manga, and those expectations were more than fulfilled.
(some of Matsumoto’s art from Tekkonkinkreet, published Viz)
Tekkonkinkreet is so unique that it’s hard to describe. The first thing you’ll notice about it is Matsumoto’s art. There’s a range of artistic techniques and styles that are so widely used in Japan as to have become synonymous with manga itself, and Matsumoto uses almost none of them. His art is not pretty in the way that most manga either is or tries to be; indeed, it’s defiantly ugly at times, in a way that reflects the ugliness of the lives Tekkonkinkreet chronicles. Yet it’s a fascinating ugliness. Broken teeth, dribbling noses, severed ears, crows, graffiti, strip clubs; the seamy side of city life is depicted without apology and even with fondness, but not the kind of fondness that whitewashes faults. Tekkonkinkreet’s Tokyo is a dangerous, unpleasant place, made liveable only by the warmth the characters show each other.
The story of Tekkonkinkreet revolves around two street urchins known as Black and White, referred to together as “the Cats”. We never find out where the Cats came from, whether they’re orphans or abandoned children; they might be brothers, or just twin souls who happened to find each other and form a profound bond. What really matters is the way they cope with the environment they live in. Black matures early and absorbs the darkness that surrounds him; White remains childlike even when confronted with terrible violence and cruelty. The symbolism of their names is obvious: Black is darkness, White is light; Black is corruption, White is innocence. Yet the division is not as straightforward as that: they are also yin and yang, forces which (unlike good and evil) are dependent on each other. Black needs White and White needs Black. Each is incomplete without the other.
It’s not as simple as that, of course. Life in the city is noisy and complicated, and easily throws them off balance. The Cats can leap from building to building like superheroes, or like the Taoist masters of ancient times, but they are still children, and there are forces at work that are too big for them to handle, despite Black’s defiant repetition of “This is my city!”
Tekkonkinkreet is powerful, intense, strange, and profound; gripping enough that you’ll want to read it all in one sitting, and rich enough that you’ll want to read it more than once. It’s a modern classic.
I just want to take a moment, too, to praise Viz’s handling of the All-In-One edition: it’s an extremely handsome volume, with added value in the form of a painting on the inside of the dustcover and a full-colour gatefold poster; what’s more, the colour pages are included in colour. It’s common for manga to have occasional colour stretches when they’re first serialised, but these pages are usually rendered in muddy greyscale when the manga is collected; here we get to see them in their original form. Unusually for Viz manga, this edition is flipped (printed left-to-right), which presumably means Viz are aiming to reach a non-manga-reading audience; a wise choice, for Tekkonkinkreet is the kind of work that people who don’t read manga could easily fall in love with.
Katherine Farmar writes regularly on comics and culture from around the world, you can read more on her comics blog Whereof One Can Speak.