Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White
By Joseph Luster
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Just opening the monster All-in-One collection of Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White brings me back to the halcyon days of PULP magazine, former home to heavy publishing hitters like Alvin Lu and our very own Patrick Macias. PULP represented a really interesting period during which the manga market wasn't as saturated and, in my opinion at least, contained some of the most wild and interesting serials out there. It granted its loyal readers access to comics they daren't pick up on their own; Stuff like Banana Fish, Yoshiyuki Okamura and Ryoichi Ikegami's Strain and, closer to The End, Junji Ito's haunting classic, Uzumaki.
But one of its true sequential darlings was Taiyo Matsumoto's Black & White or, as it's come to be known over here since the release of Michael Arias's animated adaptation, Tekkonkinkreet. Visually striking from the outset, B&W revolves around two young boys of the same name; orphans that spend their days ruling violently over "their city," Treasure Town. Things get hairy as yakuza begin rolling in, bold-shouldering their way to a complete takeover that doesn't sit right with our protagonists.
Outside of their frequent street brawls, the tight relationship between the two is the chief focus of the manga. There's an impenetrable bond between them that goes beyond brotherhood, with Black acting as protector to the young, somewhat developmentally stunted White. White is endearing, especially with the excellently written translations of his dialogue that make everything he says both cute and kind of heartbreaking.
Black is tough as hell, and supplies most of the action throughout. He virtually flies across the skyline, flaunting his ownership of the city with whatever rusty weapon he can pick up on the run, and never caving or showing fear before the larger-than-life ruffians he goes toe to toe with on a regular basis. Both Black and White have few allies in the city, and those that do appeal to them and feel for them are as cynical as can be about the fate of Treasure Town. It's dying, and the only people that seem to give a damn or act like they can change the direction it's going in are two hopeless kids on the path to destruction.
Most striking about Tekkonkinkreet is Taiyo Matsumoto's artwork. It may be an acquired taste for some, but I also doubt anyone that gets into it will ever want to let it go. Honestly, it's up there with the most visually stunning comic works I've ever taken a gander at; equal parts organized and hectic. Matsumoto's line work gives off the illusion of an untrained hand, but proof otherwise lies in the little details. The sprawling backgrounds, calculated layouts, and some of the most hard-hitting, blood-drenched manga action you'll see are just a few of the guts that make up this gem's body.
The beauty of it all is that you don't need to collect a bunch of scattered volumes to fully appreciate Black & White now, as Viz has the whole 600+ page monster in their All-in-One collection. This includes the few color pages created during its run, as well as some great artwork both in the back of the book and all over the inner and outer covers. It's one of the best values available for what boils down to something most anyone will want to keep on their shelves or, ideally, sitting on a table for all visitors to peruse and become instantly smitten with. It might be seen as more than a little bold to call this one of the best comics, period, but I'm almost prepared to do just that. Taiyo Matsumoto's work is definitely up there with the greats as far as I'm concerned, and Tekkonkinkreet is a mighty achievement that should be inspirational to artists and just plain absorbing to anyone else. Even if you already have a fat and dusty stack of PULP issues somewhere in your home, this edition is the definitive one.