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]

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.

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]