Tekkonkinkreet – Anime

29 10 2008

MIchael Arias’s 2006 adaptation of Taiyo Matsumoto’s Tekkonkinkreet was released 12 years after the completion of the manga and, while imbued with a great respect for the source material, changes the visual style dramatically.

Arias, in interviews and the anime’s audio commentary, credits the Fernando Meirelles film City of God and its scenes filmed in Rio De Janeiro using handheld camcorders with providing much of the visual and stylistic inspiration. Arias’s Tekkonkinkreet visually translates Taiyo Matsumoto’s complex, black and white, two-dimensional images into an urban-baroque, colour saturated and kinetic film.

In order to mimic the style and pace of live action filming the production team at Studio 4°C created out of focus images and blurred visual effects. In chase scenes the “camera” pans about wildly and changes of perspective are often executed in wide, sweeping panoramic shots. Visual conventions that are typical of live action are introduced as constructs that, while existing separately from the actual process of animation, are an intuitive part of visual film language.

The decision to represent Treasure Town as awash in color further distances the anime from Matsumoto’s original but, while the anime is colorful, there isn’t a pop, reductionist approach to the palette. The color used is rich and subtle and meant to further communicate the faded glamour of Treasure Town.

As Arias stated in a interview with Otaku USA in 2007 “Matsumoto’s artwork is fantastic, revolutionary even. But I wanted to do something that that was three-dimensional and felt as solid as the world outside your window. I wanted to make it feel like a documentary shot inside a hand-drawn, handpainted world. And I don’t think just taking Matusmoto’s style of artwork—black lines on white paper—and just filling in colors would be enough.” [1]

Studio 4°C attracted a number of very talented contributors to this project including art director Shinji Kimura, who won “Best Art Direction” 2007 Tokyo International Anime Fair for his work on Tekkonkinkreet, and animation supervisor Shojiro Nishimi.

This wonderful article in Pingmag provides great insight into the team behind the anime and their work process.

Official English language website and the Japanese one.

Mainichi Film Awards Best Film Award, 2006

Museum of Modern Art’s Artforum magazine – Number 1 film of 2006

Tokyo International Anime Fair – ‘best original story’ and ‘best art direction’, 2008

Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year, 2008 [2]

Media: Tekkonkinkreet opening sequence (thanks to BleachMan954) [copyright 2007 by Sony Pictures]

Images: screen captures from Tekkonkinkreet, anime [copyright 2007 by Sony Pictures]

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

[2] Wikipedia. Tekkon Kinkreet. Wikipedia. Retrieved on 2008-10-26.


Tekkonkinkreet – Manga

29 10 2008

In 2007 VIZ Media published Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White (ISBN: 1421518678) which collected and translated, in its entirety, the manga series Tekkonkinkurīto (鉄コン筋クリート) which writer and artist Taiyo Matsumoto had begun in 1993 in the seinen weekly Big Comic Spirits and completed in late 1994.

The story is about two boys, Black (Kuro クロ) and White (Shiro シロ) who live on the streets of a convoluted, decaying and vibrant urban island called Treasure Town (Takara Machi 宝町). Treasure Town gives the impression of being constructed of layer upon layer of urban strata – a chaotic confluence of development, adaptation, public and private desire seething with complexity.

The word tekkonkinkreet is an amalgam of two altered word; tekken which means reinforced steel and konkurito the loan word for concrete. To quote the slip jacket of the 2007 VIZ Media english translation “Tekkonkinkreet is a play on Japanese words meaning “a concrete structure with an iron frame,” and it suggests the opposing images of concrete cities against the strength of imagination.”

Much of the visual impact of Tekkonkinkreet comes from the detail Matsumoto’s puts into his representation of Treasure Town. Matsumoto’s panels in Tekkonkinkreet are strikingly adherent to simple black and white line work with only very judicious use of pale and hand-stippled grey tones. He relies almost exclusively on his distinctive wobbly lines to illustrate the streets and panoramic views of the city. Matsumoto’s control of depth and perspective and the sheer weight of the detail he includes in many of the panels makes the visual language of the city an omnipresent part of the narrative.

The page design is often quite minimal with a classic approach to panel shape and placement. More emphasis seems to have been placed on the arrangement of black and white fields on each page then playing with the panel configuration. This simplicity contributes an equilibrium that balances the detailed content of the panels.

Another aspect of Matsumoto’s technique is his ability to represent coherent physical action. Action sequences and the efficacy the complex interactions of the multiple characters in them are fundamental to comic books. Tekkonkinkreet has many elaborate and visually saturated action sequences but Matsumoto’s page and panel composition can be easily parsed. Regardless of how far chase sequences range – and Matsumoto takes full advantage of the arena Treasure Town provides – or how frenetic the action and the level of surrounding detail the flow of action is clearly communicated.

Matsumoto’s character design, particularly that of the two boys, maintains a balance between symbolic resonance and credible street fashion. Local gang members’ uniforms simultaneously evoke science fiction comics, punk and sports equipment while a menacing foreign investor and his henchmen are – unspecifically but recognizably – imbued with sinister Otherness.

If art alone was the criteria for judging Tekkonkinkreet it could be considered brilliant but the narrative itself is complex, fun and meaningful. While Kuro and Shiro’s symbiotic friendship is at the centre of the story there is also fully realized narrative threads that focus on a young yakuza and his mentor, the odd couple neighborhood cops and the mutation of Treasure Town itself – sentimentalized and reviled – constantly shifting around its inhabitants.

In late 2007 when this edition was first released “Jog” posted a very knowledgeable and comprehensive review on the Savage Critic website. It is, however, full of SPOILERS and comes with the WARNING that if, like me, you get a frisson of bliss-out energy from reading Tekkonkinkreet Jog’s dissection of both its charms and shortcomings may replace your glee with existential angst and self-doubt.

In 2008 the VIZ Media edition of Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White won the Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Japan.

Taiyo Matsumoto’s homepage on his publisher, Shogakukan’s website.

Images: panel from Tekkonkinkreet (manga), cover image from Tekkonkinkreet (manga), panel from Tekkonkinkreet (manga) [copyright 2007 by Viz Media]

After School Nightmare v.1

21 10 2008

I’m going to leave behind strict adherence to josei series to write about After School Nightmare by Setona Mizushiro which, while it’s considered shojo, gets a 16+ rating (OT) from its publisher Go! Comi.

I read v.1 of After School Nighmare this weekend and it got me thinking about GLBTQ narratives and characters in manga. There are actually a lot of examples to consider which is part of what makes me so grateful for the success of manga in North America. I’m generally happy with any stories about gender ambiguity and non-hetero relationships, particularly for younger readers, but I found some of the themes in this manga a little challenging to negotiate. After School Nightmare is about a transsexual hero/heroine struggling to reconcile themselves with the duality of their gender identification and is recommended by the Young Adult Library Services Association so I was expecting something relatively nuanced. Well…

I’m left with the impression that Mashiro Ichijo is completely female physically but there are a few confusing references to being male from the “waist up” and about his/her tall, lean physique being qualitatively masculine. It’s a bit vexing that such conventional ideas of male-female physical attributes are being adhered to despite this, ostensibly, being a story about gender ambiguity.

The true basis for Ichijo’s affinity for the masculine side of his/her persona and body is still a mystery but its hard to fault that decision within the context of the series because being female is framed consistently negatively. (In Ichijo’s case the disconnect between physical and psychological gender is not innate but is continually being examined intellectually.) The story starts with a very literal invocation of what Simone De Beauvoir described as the feminine quandary of being a “leaky vessel”. There are repeated references to the female body and mind being weak, a textual norm reenforced by Ichijo’s interpretation of his/her loss of a recent kendo match as a result of feminine physical deficiency. (One panel in particular really communicates the significance that clutching the bamboo kendo blade has for Ichijo.) I can acknowledge that a lot of these references and even the lost kendo match, specifically, have a greater narrative significance but I still have a bit of trouble getting past all the negative language around being female in a series that’s written for young women.

As old-school gothic horror I think After School Nightmare is a success but for me to have hoped that it would convey anything complex or even positive about gender roles or the transgender experience was a bit optimistic. Mostly the series focuses on the potential sexy outcomes of the creepy attention directed at Ichijo by deeply disturbed and unlikable characters of both genders. Will poor, confused Ichijo ends up with the sociopath misogynist or the sociopath misandrist and will he/she manage to escape from this manga’s take on hentai tentacles?

Perhaps as the story develops some of the themes around gender will coalesce into something a bit more complex and subtle but I’m not anticipating anything more then weird teenage misery-titillation. Not that I have anything against weird teenage misery-titillation.

Despite my reservations about some of the subtext I don’t personally subscribe to the idea that literature for teens needs to be prescriptive. This isn’t the complex gender-ambiguity text I might have hoped for but it has lots of – potentially enjoyable – psychologically convoluted, symbolist-prevy, non sequitur plot elements.

One might prefer a gothic-baroque visual extravaganza a la Vampire Knight or Godchild to Mizushiro’s delicate line work and minimally rendered settings but it’s interesting to see a lighter aesthetic touch applied to this kind of story.

This series seems to be quite popular at my public library (which is where I got the copy I read – yay, thanks public library!) with lots of requests placed on the more recent volumes.

The conclusion

15 10 2008

Well, not a definitive one… I thought it would be worth writing a quick follow up on my seminar.

It’s been an interesting and intense introduction to writing for an audience that may know less about the topic then me (my classmates) and, simultaneously, much more (the online manga fandom community). I struggled with the tone a bit because I was intimidated by the idea that I was setting myself up as some sort of authority on the subject. I have my own predilections and biases and struggle with my inability to read Japanese out of context… Not much of an authority, really.

I would like to know more about manga as both creative and corporate industry in Japan and it’s history as well as the growth and convolutions of both Japanese and worldwide fandom (and fandom is by nature intense and complex, isn’t it?). Most academic writing I’ve found focuses on fandom in the United States but what about the relationship and hybridity, for example, between la bande dessinée and manga in France? It’s a bit of a challenge to talk about manga rigorously and lucidly but still convey the fun, energy and genius of the medium.

As for my classmates, I think many of them were pleasantly surprised to discover that shojo and shonen are not the only manga genres out there. I spent a bit of time talking about the basic aesthetics. It’s easy for me to forget how manga looks to the unacclimatized eye.

For the library geeks – Eva made a great comment based on my survey of a selection of 5 titles and their inclusion in the collections of four large public libraries. Was how they had been integrated in to each library’s collections and if the way they were cataloged an indication of how they were perceived and selected?

Vancouver Public Library had current and complete series of volumes of Nodame Cantabile, Nana and Suppli. Nodame Cantabile has been cataloged with a “YA FIC” call number and added to the “Young Adult Graphic” collections while Nana and Suppli were both given a “FIC” call number and placed in the “Adult Graphic and “Popular Reading Graphic” collections.

Toronto Public Library had current and complete volumes of Nana, Nodame Cantabile and Paradise Kiss and all were in the “Teen Graphic Books” collections with a “FICTION” call number.

New York Public Library didn’t have very comprehensive series coverage for any of these titles. Nana only seems to go up to v.6, Nodame Cantabile has a curious holdings gap between v.2 and v.14 and only v. 2 of Paradise Kiss is in the catalogue. Nana was included in both the “YA Graphic Novel” and “Graphic Novel” collections under the call number “GN FIC Y” and Nodame Cantabile was also in the “YA Graphic Novel” collection but with the call number “GN FIC N”. The single volume of Paradise Kiss was in the “Pop General Fiction” collection with the call number “GN FIC Y”.

Los Angeles Public Library has the greatest number of the titles from this survey in their collection. The only exception was Tramps Like Us. The volumes for each series were current and they are all given the Dewey call number “740.9999” (740 is “drawing and decorative arts” but I don’t know what the subfield 9999 stands for) with a Cutter number for author. I’m not that familiar with Dewey so I’m probably missing some of the cataloging methodology at work here…

Vivianne commented that the Winnipeg Public Library had copies of Nana, Paradise Kiss and Tramps Like Us(!). Nana and Paradise Kiss were current and both in the “Adult Graphic Novel” collection. However, only v.1 and 2 of Tramps Like Us were in the catalog – oddly, in the “Young Adult Graphic Novel” and “Adult Reference” collections(?) Again, I may be missing something in the methodology here…

Based on this review I find it hard to draw any definite conclusions. Each library seems to have dealt with manga, and graphic novels in general, slightly differently. It does seem that the more solid and comprehensively applied a library’s methodology for purchasing and processing manga the more likely it is that there will be a large, diverse and complete collection. Makes sense.

It was great to get so many helpful and friendly comments from the wider community – thanks everyone! It’s really encouraged me to do my best to keep posting!

Images: panel from Yotsubato! by Kiyohiko Azuma, character art from Usagi Drop by Yumi Unita

Anticipated text – Usagi Drop

2 10 2008

Usagi Drop by Yumi Unita (links to Japanese website) is about Daikichi a thirty year old bachelor with a successful career. When Daikichi’s grandfather dies his family is shocked to learn that his grandfather had an illegitimate daughter. Rin, who is six years old, is now fatherless and alone. Embarrassed and annoyed the older family members are slow to respond to the situation and show little consideration the feelings of the little girl. Angry at his family’s behaviour and affected by Rin’s quiet manner and obvious isolation Daikichi offers to look after her himself.

Daikichi struggles to be a good parent to Rin despite the steep learning curve. He panics in the childrens’ section of the clothing store and agonizes over finding a daycare. These scenarios will seem very familiar to anyone who has cared for a child and the pragmatic and humorous narrative is both realistic and revelatory. The story also conveys how quickly social and family communities around Daikichi shift in response to his new role as a parent. By taking the act of becoming a parent out of its conventional context Unita draws attention to often undocumented aspects of parenting and it’s confluence as both a complex societal role and an internalized process of self-definition.

Unita seems to be able to convey inner turmoil through line weight alone. There is a lot of effective restraint shown in her panels and page design and the draftsmanship of her interiors and street scenes is excellent.

I hope I can find more information on her other titles – they all look really interesting – and a number of them seem to perfectly fit the josei/slice of life genres I’m advocating. This is a josei title that I would love to see licensed and translated in North America.

Images: cover and character art from Usagi Drop by Yumi Unita

The future

2 10 2008

There are some legitimate reasons for public libraries to be hesitant to consider josei for their collections. Concerns about content aside, young women who currently read manga might abandon the medium as they mature. The possibility also exists that non-Japanese readers, confronted with Japanese texts that represent more realistic and specifically Japanese norms, will be unable or unwilling to negotiate cultural degrees of separation.

An equally likely outcome is that young women will continue to read manga. Manga readers in general, as they become more acclimatized to Japanese texts, will accept and perhaps demand more realistic and diverse texts then the manga currently being translated in North American. Initially, North American manga publishers offered readers series that conformed with North American comic consumption expectations. The titles were targeted to boys and young men and were usually variations on super heroes, science fiction and fantasy themes. With the success of manga for girls and young women the market has been completely redefined.

This series of articles creates an interesting chronology:

Girl Power Fuels Manga Boom in U.S. New York Times (December 28, 2004)

Girls’ Manga Goes Stateside, Manga for Girls Catches On in America Web Japan (March 28, 2006) *um, I don’t know about the “caused a sensation on par with that of the release of the latest Harry Potter title” part

Librarians Harvest New Manga Titles At Comic-Con NPR (July 18, 2008)

There is more popular demand for genres like josei and more realistic “slice of life” comedy. These genres have diverse representation in the Japanese manga market. More readers who have never considered reading manga may be attracted to these more mature and humorous titles. There are a lot of excellent Japanese titles available to be translated and offered to this growing and diversifying North American market.

There has recently been a reevaluation on the part of some of the larger North American manga publishers (and three-part interview on ICv2.com with Dallas Middaugh, Associate Publisher at Dey Ray Manga, Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading documented and commented on the changes at TokyoPop) and this has left room for some very new publishers to step forward with small, carefully selected catalogues. Some of these publishers are focusing on josei or including josei in their roster of titles. New imprints Yen Press and Aurora Publishing both have josei titles represented in the About.com’s “Best New Josei of 2007” readers poll as does vanity press/comic and graphic novel imprint Last Gasp. Last Gasp’s licensing and translation of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms represents a modest indication that publishers are becoming willing to risk bringing more complex and adult manga titles to North American audiences.

Another small press licensing interesting work is Fanfare/Ponent Mon. This imprint has a mandate to license alternative comics from Japan. Josei titles like Blue by Kiriko Nananan and Kinderbook by Kan Takahama are part of their catalogue. (Brigid Alverson from MangaBlog interviews Fanfare/Ponent Mon editor Stephen Robson.)

The average manga consumer might hesitate at the higher price point of this imprint’s books and this is a good opportunity for public libraries to provide access by purchasing these more expensive but good quality titles on behalf of their patrons. Again, the quality and aesthetic of these titles has potential to appeal to readers who wouldn’t generally consider reading manga.

Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading has posted a few very good articles about the future of josei that have generated thoughtful comments:

The State of Josei Manga

Josei Manga in the US

Images: panel from With the Light by Keiko Tobe, character art from Walkin’ Butterfly by Chihiro Tamaki, panel from Blue by Kiriko Nananan

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