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Written by maehara   
Sunday, 27 July 2008 16:00
TekkonkinkreetOkay, so I did this the wrong way around. After reviewing the Blu-ray release a while back, we've now got the graphic novel it was based on - and after doing my back in lifting it off the doorstep (not a small book), here's another look at the world of Black & White...

Treasure Town may have a name that evokes images of richness, but it's a slum that is home to the brutal side of life, where Yakuza lords and alien assassins make life difficult for the locals. It's also home to Black and White, a pair of orphans who see themselves as the area's protectors against all things evil. Black takes his role seriously - amongst the gangs, he's already got a reputation as a kid with a taste for blood, and is treated warily. White, on the other hand, never seems to realise what's going on around him, and just helps Black out with his 'jobs' in the way any kid would help a friend. When they cross paths with property developer Serpent, though, they may have bitten off more than they can chew - Serpent is determined to raze large parts of Treasure Town to the ground in the name of progress, and is more than willing to resort to underhand means to get rid of anyone who would oppose his plans - and that includes Black and White.

Serpent's been brought in by the local Yakuza to help find a way to improve their takings from the area – like all gangsters, they're in it for the personal riches, and Serpent's proven elsewhere that his methods can be very profitable. They'll bring a lot of change to Treasure Town, though (both good and bad, to be fair), and that's what some people are having problem with - Tekkonkinkreet is as much about people's attitudes and resistance to change, as it is about Black and White themselves. To them, this is their area, and they don't want any outsiders like Serpent coming in to change it for them. There are others that feel the same way, and so battle is joined...

This graphic novel is part of Viz's Signature Series line, and as such it's a bit different from their usual manga releases. For a start, it's huge - over 600 pages on good-quality white paper, including colour sections, and with pages considerably larger than most manga I've seen. I think some old CPM releases (the original versions of Geobreeders, for example were in the same format, but that's it. It's also read from left-to-right in the western style, instead of the "unflipped" right-to-left you usually see these days.

The first thing I noticed was that the film had captured the feel of the manga's character designs almost perfectly - more detail, perhaps, but the characters were all easily identifiable. Author & artist Taiyo Matsumoto's art style is quite simple and not the easiest on the eye - I don't think I'd ever call this high-class artwork - but the rough-and-ready feel of the art matches the feel that I think we're meant to get of Treasure Town itself, and in that way it fits the feel of the story perfectly. Printing is, to my eyes at least, of good quality.

Moving on to the story itself... There's a lot of time spent setting up the story – introducing the characters, showing us how Treasure Town is run, and Black & White's role in that. Black in particular is painted as quite a bloodthirsty character in the book, a much darker portrayal than he got in the movie and one that makes it more difficult to sympathise with him. This part of the story suffers from pacing problems – it's real "slice-of-life" territory, and when you've seen the movie already and know where the story is headed there's an urge for the story to just get on with it and get to the more action-oriented second half.

It's the introduction of the assassins – Serpent's extremely loyal, extremely powerful hired henchmen – that shift the story into action territory, and this is where the story becomes more enjoyable. Black, when backed into a corner, has all the aspects of a cornered rat, and the way he fights back – and how even White steps out of his dreamworld for a little while to play his part – brings home the strength of feeling that they have for their home and what they'll do to defend it. The stresses and strains of their fight eventually gets to both boys, though, and that's where the story moves into its final stage, as both essentially begin to lose their grip on reality. At this stage, things get downright surreal and you need to really pay attention to get any sort of feel for what's going on – but there's an ending that should keep everyone happy and that provides good closure to the story.

Personally, I'm more a fan of animation than static artwork, so I'm more drawn to the movie version of Tekkonkinkreet than the manga - but with that said, this is an impressive publication, and not just because of the size of the book. The story deals with social problems and the resistance to change that we all deal with to some extent (just not as violently as here, hopefully), while there's plenty of good character work and action. The artwork could be better (but as it fits the tone of the story can't really be criticised too much) and the lead characters aren't likeable enough to really connect with, but all told this is still a book that's worth picking up.

Rating - ****

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