Picture a Batman and Robin story put through a Peter Pan filter by Takeshi Kitano and you’d only be halfway to conceiving the unique, terrible beauty that is Tekkon Kinkreet, previously published under the name Black & White. Its creator, Taiyo Matsumoto, is singular amongst manga authors in that not only does he seem to take a stab at a different genre with each comic he produces, but also in that his inspirations and driving influences aren’t entirely Japanese. Indeed, to build a more complete picture of the book you’d need to take into account the vast impact that European comic authors such as Moebius had on Matsumoto’s work from an early stage. These influences are clear here as in all of his later work, but in theme, style and setting, Tekkon Kinkreet remains eminently Japanese.
Matsumoto puts his large cast of characters through traumatic, joyful and harrowing events that deal with the key themes of duty, trust and the loss of innocence. Despite the long cast list, Matsumoto tethers this ballad to inner-city life around the central characters Black and White, two pre-teen kids living on the streets of the metropolitan Treasure Town.
This is their story, and it’s one told through expert use of magical realism and comic book tradition, as the pseudo-superheroic Black and White leap between rooftops and beat down gangsters with more-than-human strength and agility. Black is the protector in the relationship, keeping a caring eye on the younger, more vulnerable, slightly unhinged White. At its core, Tekkon Kinkreet is the story of Black’s attempts to keep White emotionally and physically safe from the dark secrets of the big city and the obstacles he encounters on his way. White’s childish innocence and enthusiasm are truly convincing and cement the book’s heartbreakingly bittersweet tone.
Tekkon Kinkreet is a genuinely memorable work of fiction. Matsumoto’s story and aesthetic straddle literary and artistic traditions to create something entirely unique, evoking a great deal with great clarity in a deceptively chaotic style. The pace of the storytelling communicates the book’s ideas and plot faultlessly and the dialogue rings true at just about every turn, but the true effect that Tekkon Kinkreet has on the reader is most certainly more than the sum of its parts. On top of all this, it’s a deeply enjoyable read – and one that will stay with you long after you’ve reached the end.
Recommended by Tom