Read: Black and White
The 2008 Eisner Awards (the "Oscars" of comics) were announced last week at the San Diego Comic-Con. The winner for Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Japan is Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White. Deservedly. This complex, multi-layered manga is a terrific read. Author/illustrator Taiyo Matsumoto has created a dark, surreal whirlwind of a book.
Honestly, at first this book is off-putting. It is a thick, oversize volume with weird art showing a screaming kid on the cover. A plot synopsis, such as mine (below) won't do it justice. Just take away that this is a rich, dark story for adults (not your favorite teenager's manga) and it is worth your time, whether you normally read manga and graphic novels or NOT. Maybe, most especially, if you usually do not read material in this format.
Black and White are two homeless orphans who rule the streets, alleys and rooftops of Treasure Town, a seedy and corrupt Japanese city. Black is brooding and morose, the self-appointed protector of his sunny pal, White. White, dressed in an ever-changing array of crazy hats and bedecked with amulets, talismans and an armload of wristwatches, spouts an incessant stream of gibberish and wisdom.
Black and White are renowned throughout Treasure Town for their ferocity. The duo survives by robbing thugs, mugging drunks and fighting brutal, bloody battles with anyone who challenges them. Local police and gangsters treat the boys with grudging respect and concerned affection. They are unstoppable forces, especially Black, who has a clearly expressed personal connection with Treasure Town. It is his town. He owns it.
Treasure Town has competing adult gangs fighting for control. One of these is the The Tribe, an elaborately painted and costumed street gang that is being pressured by the Yakuza who are themselves being squeezed by mysterious foreign investors interested in tearing down Treasure Town and building an amusement park. There is a battle brewing, for the heart and soul of the city.
Matsumoto's art style is masterful but unusual-- he has crazy, swirling angles and perspectives, all of his buildings lean and bend. Slanting frames sometimes show just fragments of the character's faces ( a jawline or perhaps a forehead is cut off ). The outlandish characters and futuristic setting are dazzling. Details abound, enhancing the storyline (a re-reading of the book is helpful in catching all of the background action).
There is a lot of action in the book and much of the action involves brutal violence. But there are also many gentle kindnesses, often involving the most improbably sympathetic characters. The protagonists are at once broad stereotypes and nuanced individuals. If you are like me, you WILL care deeply about them and maybe (afterwards, because it sneaks up) be perplexed about how that happens. After re-reading it I am still thinking about it.
The manga has been adapted to film, in an anime also entitled Tekkonkinkreet. The anime was recently screened by the Ashman Anime Club, and it is also highly recommended. I have shown most of the anime in the years that our library anime club has been running, and this film is one of the finest (in my opinion) that we have ever shown. A stunner. With a few delicious differences from the manga. Check them both out and let me know what you think!