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Tekkon Kinkreet pocket edition commentary

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Taiyō Matsumoto’s Tekkonkinkreet

Commentary for pocket edition by Michael Arias

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll be completely honest. In 1995, when I first encountered Taiyō Matsumoto’s Tekkonkinkreet, I was a complete manga neophyte. And even now, my knowledge of the medium remains very limited. Of course, since discovering Tekkonkinkreet, I’ve read everything I could of Taiyō’s, and even dug into the work of some of his contemporaries. But beyond that, I’ve read just a few titles that have crossed my path over the years—a hodgepodge of works current, classic, obscure, exceptional, and mediocre. I am not a manga fan by any means, nor did I grow up reading comics like so many of my generation in Japan. So you see, I’m unable to speak authoritatively of Taiyō's place within the manga macrocosm. And, I’m embarrassed to admit, it’s difficult for me even to discuss Tekkonkinkreet objectively, divorced from the enormous impact this unique work has had on my life. What I can say without hesitation though is that I absolutely love Tekkonkinkreet. There it is.

I first stumbled upon Tekkonkinkreet by chance, and I might have passed it by had it not been for a friend's enthusiastic recommendation. “You have to read it,” he insisted. “I can’t explain, but it'll make you cry.” I was intrigued, but skeptical. (“It’ll make you cry”?) But, as I read it, I found myself totally unprepared for all the emotions Tekkonkinkreet would awaken in me. A difficult-to-summarize story of two orphan heroes swept up in the turmoil of the urban development transforming their retro-future town, Tekkonkinkreet delivered such as few other works of art I have encountered. Perhaps more to the point, it was absolutely cinematic! Cinemascope cinematic. Surround-sound cinematic.

Anthony Weintraub, the screenwriter of my filmed adaptation, characterized Tekkonkinkreet as a story about the importance of human connection, of choosing love and friendship over a solitary path of destruction. To that I would add that Tekkonkinkreet teaches us the value of innocence and hope over corruption and cynicism. The choice between such opposing extremes is embodied not only in Tekkonkinkreet's young heroes, White and Black, but also in its other yin-yang pairings–Rat and Snake (old world values versus progress), Kimura and Rat (youth versus experience), and so on. Taiyō's fixation on duality is evident again in the casts of many other works: Tekkonkinkreet's White and Black have their analogues in Ping Pong's Peco and Smile, Gogo Monster's Yuki and Makoto, and Hana Otoko's Hanao and Shigeo, for example. Though Taiyo’s Sunny is still being serialized at the time of this writing, it seems fair to say that the characters Haruo and Sei also form a similarly contrasting pair.

But to my mind, Taiyō's thematic obsessions are not what make his work stand out. (Most American superhero comics also divide the world into good and evil teams, right?) Taiyō's oeuvre, Tekkonkinkreet in particular, stands out not for how it expresses its archetypes, but for how it subverts convention through its deeply humanistic point of view. Taiyō knows (and so do we), that no one is entirely “black” or “white,” and that the real world is painted shades of grey. Take the setting of Tekkonkinkreet, the neighborhood of Treasure Town, for example. Like the rusty old car where White and Black sleep, Treasure Town has seen better days. It's a dirty and dangerous place, populated by an inglorious supporting cast of gangs, winos, and worse. But Treasure Town is also a thriving, vibrant place that gives off life-sustaining warmth. (Taiyō once told me he wanted Treasure Town to look like a child’s toy box knocked over–the shiny and new jumbled with the broken and neglected.) Taiyo certainly doesn't flinch from the darkness—the ugly, violent, and insane—but he never forgets to let some rays of light shine through. Even Treasure Town’s run-down strip club gets some sympathy. And even aging mobsters like Rat and young killers like Kimura are shown, in the end, to have heart. Taiyō’s characters are flawed and broken, and often doomed by their internal conflicts, but it’s precisely those imperfections that make them leap off the page. They are characters we know, not just from manga and movies, but from our own lives. The characters of Tekkonkinkreet speak to our hearts.

It is the three-dimensionality of Taiyō's characters and storytelling (not to mention his artwork) that defies our expectations and ultimately elevates his work beyond the genre constraints that define many manga. Taiyō has told stories set firmly in the worlds of baseball (Straight, Hana Otoko), pro boxing (Zero), and, of course, high school table tennis (Ping Pong), but I wouldn't call any of them “sports manga.” And to describe his otherworldly epic Number 5 as mere “sci-fi adventure” would be selling it short. Similarly, the gang war sub-plot of Tekkonkinkreet is a mash-up of well-worn elements from classic yakuza movies; but, true to form, Taiyō has added enough twists (and flying assassins!) to keep it fresh and real.

My knowledge of manga is less than it should be, as I've said, so I am hard-pressed to name similar works by other artists. But, reaching outside of manga, I think it would be fair to say that Tekkonkinkreet shares DNA with Fellini's La Strada, Kurosawa's Dodes Kaden, Imamura's Pigs And Battleships, and even Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men (to name just a few other humanist masterworks). But how could Taiyō Matsumoto, still early in his career, have expressed his ideas so insightfully, with such originality? “Not a note out of place,” I’d say if Tekkonkinkreet were a piece of music. When I first read it Tekkonkinkreet seemed a shockingly ambitious work to be so finely crafted by a young manga author. What seems nearly as incredible is that, though I've probably read Tekkonkinkreet a thousand times since then, my feelings for this remarkable work, and my respect for Taiyō's artistry remain entirely undiminished.

Michael Arias, December, 2012, Tokyo



和訳:池田 穣



僕が監督した映画版の脚本を書いたアンソニー・ワイントローブは、『鉄コン筋クリート』を、人間らしい繋がりの重要さ、つまり破滅へ向かう 孤独な道より愛情や絆を選ぶことの重要さについての物語である、と特徴づけていた。僕としては、これに、『鉄コン筋クリート』は堕落や冷笑的な生き方よりも無垢であることや希望を持って生きることが優るのだという価値観を教えてくれる、と付け加えたい。こういった究極的な二項対立は、『鉄コン筋クリート』では若い主人公シロとクロだけでなく、他の〈〉〈〉の組み合わせのキャラクター達にも見出される。例えばネズミと蛇(伝統と発展の対立)、あるいは木村とネズミ(若さと熟練の対立)といった具合だ。そういった大洋さんの二項対立への視線は、彼の他の作品におけるキャラクターにおいても顕著だ。『ピンポン』のペコとスマイル、『GOGOモンスター』の立花雪と鈴木誠、『』のと茂雄は、『鉄コン筋クリート』のシロとクロの相似体である。本稿執筆時点でまだ連載途中の『SUNNY』でも、春男とがそういった対照的なペアに見える。


このような大洋さんの立体的なキャラクターとストーリー(画的表現の立体感は言うまでもない)が僕等の想像を超え、最終的には彼の作品を、ジャンルの枠内にある他の漫画作品群よりも高い位置に押し上げているのである。大洋さんは、野球(『STRAIGHT』と『花男』)、プロボクシング(『ZERO』)、そして高校卓球(『ピンポン』)といった特定の世界を舞台にした物語を描いているが、僕はそれらを「スポーツ漫画」と定義しようとは思わない。また、異次元を舞台にした叙事詩『ナンバーファイブ 吾』を単に「SFアドベンチャー」と呼んだとしたら、それはこの作品を軽視している事になると思う。同様に、『鉄コン筋クリート』が描くやくざの縄張り争いのストーリーは昔ながらの任侠映画の再解釈ではあるが、大洋さんはその形式に則りつつもそこにひねりが加わっていて(さらに空飛ぶ鉄砲玉も加って!)、結果彼の作品は新鮮であると同時にリアルなのである。


2012年12月、東京にて マイケル・アリアス

Tekkonkinkreet pocket ed. volume 1
Tekkonkinkreet pocket ed. volume 2
Tekkonkinkreet pocket ed. volume 3

Tekkonkinkreet pocket edition