September 28, 2007
In case you were wondering what I was doing yesterday… it was this. I passed on this when it came out as Black and White, because much like Domu, it’s just not my kind of story. But I was afraid they would take away my manga fangirl badge if I didn’t buy the huge, hi-tech rerelease (especially since I’m already on probation for not reading Naruto), so peer pressure won out in the end.
Also, much like Domu, if I hadn’t come back to Black and White, I wouldn’t have known that Taiyo Matsumoto is a genius. My roommate raved about No. 5 when it came out a few years ago, but I didn’t believe him, and again… stories about mofia tensions or little boys beating up thugs to protect “their” city just don’t sound like gripping stories. But Matsumoto’s genius is in things that you can’t tell from a plot summary. Really, what made Tekkon Kinkreet a fantastic read was the artwork and the way the story was told.
I had never seen Matsumoto’s artwork prior to Tekkon Kinkreet. I was surprised by how shockingly European it was. Turns out he studied French comics extensively… it really shows. You can find about a thousand other essays about Matsumoto’s art floating around right now, and they’re probably all true, because it’s amazing. One thing I haven’t seen anyone mention before, though, is the way most of the characters in this series are almost always smiling. It’s often even in stark contrast to whatever else may be going on, but it makes the characters look so honestly happy all the time, and it really fits in with the cartoonish, fascinating landscape he draws. Even some of the evil characters constantly smile. The rat almost always is. I actually wound up reading it almost right after I got it despite the fact I wasn’t really looking forward to it because I liked the cover illustration so much.
And as I said, the other thing that impressed me was the way the story was told. It is about two kids who are beating up thugs in their town. Mofia big shots move in, and there are skirmishes between the two. This alone would have bored me. It’s also a lot about the relationship between the two main characters Black and White which is quite profound. Not a lot of dialogue passes between the two, and you like them despite the fact they’re punk street kids. Somehow they can be less evil than the people they beat up… though not all the time. They get split up, and it was most heartbreaking to watch White (who is the less aggressive of the two, he is also in a state of arrested development and tends to act as the “lure” for people, who are then beat up by both he and Black) cry during certain key scenes. It was also quite sad to see Black cry when he did, too.
In the end, the story becomes quite a bit about the dichotomy of good and evil, and “good” (or as good as can be in Treasure Town) has to chase evil out of town. When evil takes over, not only is it a bizarre and surreal experience, lots of genuinely heartbreaking things happen. Even to characters you thought you hated.
What made it for me was demonstrating the strength of the relationship between Black and White by splitting it up. Until that point, you get the idea they would do anything for each other, and you have this weird little story going on which is spiced up by scenes of what the two mean to each other, but it’s not until the two are forced apart do you see what it means to them, to all the other characters, and to the town itself. I’m having a hard time describing what made these two so wonderful. They just were. They were just great characters. Great characters who always smiled, which really added to their charm.
So yes. Taiyo Matsumoto is a genius. I want to read the rest of his series, like, right now. I’ve got Blue Spring on the way. I really hope this does well and Viz (or someone else) licenses his series. I would love to see the cool giant editions of Ping Pong… or hell, even a rerelease or continuation of No. 5. That would be just fine. We just need more, because the man is fantastic.