Taiyo Matsumoto and Michael Arias – Tekkonkinkreet Influences

29 10 2008

Image: character art from Tekkonkinkreet, manga [copyright 2007 by Viz Media]

Taiyo Matsumoto’s style is consistently described as having a European aesthetic but an explanation of what that means is rarely provided. Based on his work and the few interviews with Taiyo Matsumoto that are available in translation one can establish a sense of his level of interest in and study of European comic artists.

Thanks to a comment thread in response to a “public service announcement” posted in April 2007 by Christopher Butcher on comics211.net, an interview with Matsumoto that appeared in the webzine Tokyo Cool was dredged up and does offer a bit of information on the time he spent in Europe in 1989 when he was 22. Based on the interview, Matsumoto does express admiration for Mœbius and Enki Bilal when prompted but is otherwise unspecific. Matsumoto says he was in France covering the Paris-Dakar Rally so any studying done at that time may have been informal. To quote Matsumoto, “drastic change in my drawing may be the result of those comics I came across at the bookstores” and “The number of great comic artists were less than I had anticipated, but those who were great were exceptionally marvelous. They had tremendous impact on my work.”[1]

In July 2008 Christopher Butcher later re-posted and edited Kansai Takita’s Tokyo Cool 1995 interview and appended it with a comprehensive bibliography.

This a quick review of the artists that are directly referenced by Taiyo Matsumoto in interviews and a few others that have styles that resonate with Matsumoto’s. I also want to address the points where Micheal Arias’s influences, explictly stated in the Tekkonkinkreet anime’s commentary or otherwise, are apparent and the points where they occasionally intersect with or diverge from Matsumoto’s.

Image: series of panels from Cauchemar Blanc by Jean Giraud [Mœbius] [copyright 1978 by Jean Giraud/A. Michel]

The work and career of French bande dessinée artist and writer Jean Giraud is accomplished and varied. He began his career doing expressive but representational work but by the early 1960s, at the time of his adoption of the pen name Mœbius, Giraud was beginning to experiment with surrealist and science fiction narratives and styles. By the mid-1970s Giraud moved almost exclusively towards science fiction with the establishment of the ground breaking magazine Métal Hurlant. Just prior to that transition in 1974 Giraud published a short narratively and artistically unique bande dessinée called Cauchemar Blanc (lit. White Nightmare) in L’Echo des Savanes under the name Mœbius.[2] While Matsumoto seems to draw influences from many of Jean Giraud’s works there is a particularly striking congruence not only in technique but in aesthetic themes around urbanism and social dissolution between Cauchemar Blanc and Tekkonkinkreet.

Matsumoto’s 2002 series No.5 is a general stylistic homage to the science fiction works Mœbius published in Métal Hurlant. As Michael Arias mentions in the commentary track of the Tekkenkinkreet anime, the Assassins wear helmets reminiscent of Arzach’s, a character from an ongoing series of stories in the magazine. Arias ‘s knowledge of Mœbius seems general and a bit ill-defined and it seems unlikely, both based on this comment and the aesthetics of the anime, that Arias himself would consider Mœbius a strong influence. Regardless and despite other decisions to change Matsumoto’s character designs (the Apache street gang being one example), Arias did decide to keep the helmets as part of the Assassin’s wardrobe out of deference to Matsumoto’s original design.

Image: screen capture from Immortal (Ad Vitam) directed by Enki Bilal [copyright 2004 by Enki Bilal/Téléma]

The Yugoslavian-born, French artist and writer Enki Bilal is frequently mentioned as a potential European influence on Matsumoto’s work. During the time of Matsumoto’s trip to Europe two volumes of one of Bilal’s most famous and aesthetically resonant works the Nikopol Triology were already published – La foire aux immortels (The Carnival of Immortals, 1980) and La femme piège (The Woman Trap, 1986). (The third book, Froid èquateur (Equator Cold, was yet to be published in 1992.) A collaboration with writer Pierre Christin, Coeurs sanglants et autres faits divers (Bleeding Hearts and Other Stories, 1988), a series of sinister global narratives, had also recently been published. It very likely that Matsumoto would have come across one or all of these works while in France. Bilal shares with Matsumoto an interest in urban complexity and their works share themes of deep seated urban decay and social chaos but there doesn’t seem to be a strong aesthetic or narrative link between the two artists beyond respectful acknowledgment on the part of Matsumoto.

There is a stronger, though probably indirect, aesthetic link between Bilal’s work and the anime of adaptation of Tekkonkinkreet. Bilal’s art has contributed to the visual template for futurist urban dystopia. Elements of the anime which fuses historical Showa Era buildings styles with speculative architecture are very reminiscent of Bilal’s intense fusions of dissolute traditional and culturally specific urban signifiers and slickly insidious technology. As an example of this juxtaposition artist/architect Lebbeus Woods is referenced specifically in the Tekkonkinkreet anime commentary as the inspiration for the coldly technological but surrealist headquarters of Snake, the story’s amoral urban developer.

Image: Underground Berlin 1988, Lebbeus Woods [copyright 1998 by Lebbeus Woods]

In the context of the Tekkonkinkreet manga, Bilal’s influence seems much less concrete then that of Jean Giraud or Hugo Pratt. Italian comic artist and writer Hugo Pratt is know for his complex narrative approach to historical adventure and his strikingly simple but highly evocative line work. Pratt’s most extensive series, Corto Maltese, ran from 1967-1992 but Pratt’s expressive and very aesthetically balanced black and white work on the series Jesuit Joe, which was collected and published in the 1980s, seems a possible influence on Matsumoto.

Images: series of panels from Jesuit Joe by Hugo Pratt [3] [copyright 1984 by Hugo Pratt/Pavillon international de l’humour = International Pavilion of Humour]

While echoes of a comic artist like Pratt can been seen in the Tekkonkinkreet manga, the anime more frequently turns to architectural references. In the anime commentary, explaining the aesthetics of the Kiddie Kastle amusement park, Arias attributes the park’s superficially jovial but disorientingly futurist look to the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher, specifically their photographs of industrial water towers.

Images: photographs of water towers b. 1931-1934, Bernd and Hilla Becher [copyright 2005 by Bernd und Hilla Becher, Düsseldorf], background art panel for Kiddie Kastle from Tekkonkinkreet, anime [copyright 2007 by Sony Pictures]

The confluence between the work of Matsumoto and Arias is an interesting one. Taiyo Matsumoto is an “artist’s artist” and takes a very self-aware and experimental approach to his medium. He is interested in the aesthetics of other comic book artists and has an knowledge and enthusiasm for their work that informs his own art.

At the time of the making of the Tekkonkinnkreet anime Micheal Arias was not a comic book reader. “…Tekkonkinkreet is for all intents and purposes the only manga I’ve ever read. I wasn’t using other manga for reference or thinking about it in the context of the history of manga.”[4] At the time of the making of Tekkonkinkreet he was a CG animator – in many ways removed from actual animation drafting process – who loved live action film technique and architecture and wanted to translate those interests into his adaptation.

It’s encouraging to consider that the process of adaptation – in this case nurtured by Arias’s commitment to his source material – could yield such thematically faithful and spectacular results despite disparate influences. The unifying theme between Taiyo Matsumoto and Michael Arias seems to be a fascination with and love for urban environments in a complex process of adaptation and decay. They also share a sensibility for the core humanist narrative that unfolds as we all make our way through these environments and the ways they nuture, shape and vex us as individuals and communities.

Image: Tekkonkinkreet, anime [copyright 2007 by Sony Pictures]

[1] Butcher, Christopher. (2007-04-05). “Taiyo Matsumoto: Public Service Announcement” Comics 211. Retrieved on 2008-10-20.

[2] Sadoul, Numa (1976) Mister Moebius et docteur Gir : Jean Giraud. Paris: A. Michel.

[3] Pratt, Hugo (1984) Hugo Pratt : en hommage à l’artiste choisi par ses pairs le cartooniste de l’année 1984 = Hugo Pratt : as a tribute to the artist chosen by his peers the cartoonist of the year 1984. Montréal : Pavillon international de l’humour = International Pavilion of Humour.

[4] Alt, Matt. (2007-10-17). “As Immersive as Possible: The Michael Arias Interview” Otaku USA. Retrieved on 2008-10-26.

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