Tekkonkinkreet – Adaptation

29 10 2008

I’m not going to focus on any plot or sequence changes between the Tekkonkinkreet manga and the anime. I generally felt that the storyboarding decisions made by Studio 4°C were very successful in distilling the manga into an entertaining film. I’m more interested in a few more expansive thematic and aesthetic changes.

Taiyo Matsumoto’s representations of the two boys make them look like little goblins most of the time. They’re all teeth, bandages and runny noses.

One thing that really stands out for me about the anime is that Black and White are much cuter and (I think) look more like real children. I can understand Michael Arias impulse to sentimentalize the children. I love both Black and White (as, I think, Arias does) and it doesn’t seem a disservice to make then more appealing and, well, human.

I also appreciated that Arias did not overemphasize the dichotomy between Black and White. There seems to be a tendency in reviews and critical commentary on Tekkonkinkreet to focus on a reductionist body/mind duality between the two characters. Black is often framed as a reactionary, violent thug despite his cunning and the deep well of emotion and thoughtfulness that clearly motivates his actions. “Nebuchadnezzar II built Babylon.”(!?) [1]

White is usually described as a pacifist idiot savant but there are many points in the narrative where White’s behavior defies that expectation. While the boys do express a symbiotic duality during points in the manga it’s not the sum of their characters. I think a thorough reading of the manga reveals a lot more nuance in the characterization and I appreciate the acknowledgment of that in the anime.

The sequence where Black very literally confronts his darker psychological tendencies is very beautiful in both the manga and the anime. The “psychadelic freak-out” qualities of the scene are reminiscent of many anime where, at the conclusion, a dissolution of conventional narrative is replaced by visual symbolist sequences that, at best, speak directly to the right side of the brain or, at worst, dissolve into unintelligible nonsense. (To list a few other examples of this trope… Akira, Howl’s Moving Castle, Paprika and, perhaps most famously, Neon Genesis Evangelion.)

Without adhering to closely to the manga Arias really does a nice job of translating Matsumoto’s abstractions into a visually lyrical sequence that maintains a sense of narrative as well as appealing to emotional logic.

I think it should be evident by now that I really love both the manga and anime of Tekkonkinkreet. I feel lucky that I read the manga first – it is one of my favs of all time – but the anime illustrates how adaptations can transcend reductionist fidelity. Having read and loved the manga increased my enjoyment of the anime as both a reverent homage and a creative departure from its source material.

[1] Matsumoto, Taiyo (2007) Tekkonkinreet: Black and White. San Francisco: Viz Media. page. 71, panel 3.

Media: Tekkonkinkreet anime, onsen scene (thanks to thelostroom1880) [copyright 2007 by Sony Pictures]

Images: screen capture from Tekkonkinkreet anime [copyright 2007 by Sony Pictures], panel from Tekkonkinkreet manga [copyright 2007 by Viz Media], more screen captures from Tekkonkinkreet anime [copyright 2007 by Sony Pictures]





The trouble with josei

27 09 2008


Manga is immensely popular with young female readers and many of them have been reading manga since it began to be integrated into public library collections in the early 2000s. These readers are now in their late teens and are familiar with manga and comfortable with its format and conventions. It could be expected that they will continue to read manga but be interested in more sophisticated subject matter and narratives. More good quality josei translations are becoming available in North American to meet this demand and there has been a precedent set by the integration of many seinen titles into public library collections. Despite this josei titles are currently under-represented in many public library collections.

There are a few potential reasons for this.

Providing access to mature material in a comic book format presents a challenge to public libraries. In North America comics are still primarily perceived as being for children and young adults – mature content in this medium can provoke controversy. Josei could be perceived as inappropriate for the public library patrons it might attract but despite the potential for censure public libraries regularly purchase both classic and current seinen titles that would generally appeal to a male demographic. Manga like the revered classics Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike (violence! non-consensual sex! single parenting!) and Akira by Katsushiro Otomo (violence! non-consensual sex! mutation!) and newer titles like MPD Psycho by Eiji Otsuka (just think of the worst thing you can imagine!) contain violence and sexual themes. The “mature content” warnings affixed to these materials during cataloguing and processing can be expected to deter some patrons (and attract others) regardless of their age. These titles are included in public library collections based on their cultural and artistic merit or by public request and they are potentially accessible to inappropriately young readers. Clearly, this is a risk that selectors have been willing to take in adding seinen titles to their collections. Public libraries make these purchasing decisions because they have a mandate to provide diverse materials to their patrons and existing policy allows for the incorporation of comics that contain mature content into public library collections.

Reservations regarding mature content should not be a deterrent to providing access to josei. If the aesthetic extremes of seinen have been judged acceptable for public library collections there must also be a place for the decidedly more humane and often humorous mature content represented in josei.

Another facet of comic collection development is that the established readership for comics in North America is still predominantly young men. Public libraries must always consider the needs of the communities they serve. Without a demand for comics marketed for women there is no impetus for public libraries to provide them. Manga, however, has reached a level of acceptance with young women the far exceeds their interest in North American comics. While North American comics have failed to attract a significant market of loyal female readers the potential exists for young women who read manga to retain their interest in the medium. While many public libraries shape their collections based on popular demand there may be a lack of awareness amongst female manga readers that genres other then shojo exist.

Public libraries could be positioned to facilitate awareness of the some of the josei titles that are available to their patrons through recommended reading and personalized title referral services. With a bit of judicious purchasing josei could become a legitimate and popular part of public library collections.

Images: image from the anime television series based on Pet Shop of Horrors by Matsuri Akino, panel from Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa, character art from Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa





Bête noire text – Tramps Like Us

26 09 2008

Despite the popularity of this title (Amazon.com reader reviews) and its positive critical reception this series is generally not included in public library collections.

Sumire Iwaya, the protagonist of Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa (licensed in North America by TokyoPop), is an ambitious and attractive journalist who has found herself isolated by her success. She returns home at the end of a particularly bad day to find a young man sleeping in a box near her doorstep. Exhausted and lonely she invites him to live in her apartment on the condition that he assumes the role of being her pet. Sumire even going so far as to “name” him Momo after the dog she had as a child. (The original Japanese title is Kimi wa Petto, literally, You Are My Pet.)

The premise seems potentially risqué and, indeed, much visual and textual tension is generated by the odd proximity this living arrangement creates but this manga is not particularly explicit and the adult themes are handled with a lot of nuance and humour.

Tramp Like Us has all of the narrative tropes that make josei so enjoyable and relatable. The complexities of office relationships and the tensions between personal expression and social expectation endlessly vex Sumire. Romantic relationships and her ability to negotiate them are far from idealized.

The manga-ka of the series, Yayoi Ogawa, is talented and prolific and her work continues to gain popularity in North America. Her art work is very distinctive. The line work in particular is an extraordinary balance of elegant fluidity, expression and simplicity and Ogawa’s page designs are effective without being distractingly over-executed.

This manga is an illustration of how public libraries could expand their collections to include titles that would appeal to older female readers while also enhancing quality and diversity. When purchasing for public libraries a bit of extra time taken to read a few online reviews would clarify the quality and content of what might initially seem merely a lascivious amusement. There is a lot of bluntly pornographic manga available and public libraries have to act judiciously in selecting more adult material. Increased knowledge of josei and awareness that the genre has a lot of merit should help to insure that josei titles are not dismissed along with other more shallowly explicit titles. Tramps Like Us is a series for adult readers but, particularly when the quality of the story as art and entertainment are considered, it seems a good candidate for public library collections.

aside: Why was Tramps Like Us chosen as the title for the licensed translation in North America? It makes this series sound really questionable and is also, well, lame. Is it a reference to the Bruce Springsteen song that also comes up when Googling this manga? Double lame.

another aside: Ogawa does seem to have a unique ability for choosing subject matter that looks really incendiary at first glance. (The links in this section are all over the place…) Some of the plots of her josei titles are a bit eyebrow-raising; Baby Pop “cool and gorgeous Nagisa paired with her perverted and stupid step-father Ryunosuke”(!), Candy Life “39 year-old man or the hot 19 year-old guy which is the 39 year-old’s sort of adopted son?”(!), Extra Heavy Syrup “Yuki and Emiri are staff at Syrup Cleaning Service, but they actually only have one true goal… and that is to find their long-lost boyfriend, Akira.”(!?). (I’m really hoping that this is a gonzo-josei riff on Katsushiro Otomo’s Akira.) Needless to say, it may be a while before Ogawa creates another series as amenable to public library collections as Tramps Like Us.

Images: panel from Tramps Like Us, Extra Heavy Syrup (cover image) by Yayoi Ogawa,