Friday, February 17, 2017

Tekkon Kinkreet: Black & White by Taiyo Matsumoto

The title is an untranslatable pun. It's set in an invented city. The main characters are frankly unrealistic, perhaps more to be taken as types or icons than as individuals. It's six hundred pages long, translated from a foreign language. Even the pages of art had to be physically edited or "flopped" for the comics to read well to a Western eye.

There's a lot to understand in Taiyo Matsumoto's first major work, Tekkon Kinkreet: Black & White. And it's likely that I, or anyone else not intimately familiar with the Japan of the early '90s, will miss or misinterpret important, central elements of that book. So, with that understood, here I go....

There are two boys, called only Black and White. Black is older, by a year or so -- or maybe just more assured. They're ten years old, maybe. Maybe less. Not more than a hair more. They defend Treasure Town, or perhaps terrorize it, jumping up and down from roofs and walls and telephone poles, attacking gangsters, sometimes harassing regular people. They should not be able to jump as they do. They should not be able to fight groups of adults and win as they do. They should not be able to live, just the two of them, in an abandoned car in an alley somewhere.

They should not be able to stop plans to redevelop Treasure Town, hatched by gangsters and businessmen who are obviously worse than gangsters. And they might not.

And there's a young gangster, Kimura. His boss, the Rat, is good as far as such things go: focused, thoughtful, organized. But Kimura is between the Rat and the Snake, who may be a gangster or may be a businessman (or may not be a man; the Snake's presentation is creepy and leering, a thing unto itself outside of conventional humanity). The Snake demands things of Kimura, and threatens his pregnant girlfriend.

There's a lot of threatening in Tekkon Kinkreet, actually. Mostly among the shifting gangster alliances and powers: the boys just do instead of talking about it.

Oh, they talk. But their talk is in the moment, just as their actions are. They don't threaten or bluster, and barely make plans.

Black and White have no larger aims, no goals. They may not even be getting older as time passes. They are there, and they are who they are, and they do what they do. And Treasure Town endures them, or celebrates them, or ignores them, from day to day. Near the end, there's also a Minotaur, who may be someone else in the story, in a different form. But he, too, is there and must be dealt with or ignored or faced or repudiated.

There are also two cops. They're important, too, I guess. Amusingly, the two characters with the societal approval to use violence are the two we never see engaging in violence. I doubt this is unintentional.

I don't think I can say I understood Tekkon Kinkreet. I visited it, and saw some of the sights. And I'll have to visit it again. Some day, when I've spent enough time in Treasure Town, maybe I'll be able to be a better guide to its attractions. But, right now, I can definitely say it's worth visiting.

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