Judge Joel Pearce thinks anime should be more than a visual playground without logic or rules. That's just too much like life.
Our review of Tekkonkinkreet (Blu-Ray), published January 12th, 2008, is also available.
"Treasure Town has a certain je ne sais quoi. A never-never land if you will…"—Rat
It's been quite a while since I've reviewed any anime for the site. On the most part, I've gotten tired of being subjected to the same few stories, loaded up with cutesy girls and giant robots. I know that's a generic statement, but it's an industry that's become painfully static. Every now and then, though, a film comes along to revitalize a genre. Tekkonkinkreet is one of those films, and it refuses to fit into anyone's boxes.
Facts of the Case
Treasure Town is about to have the fight of its turbulent history. Behind the scenes, it is controlled by two young street urchins. Black is a violent, clever boy, protective of his city and his best friend. White, on the other hand, is quite naïve, and a bit crazy. He relies on Black for protection, but we soon realize that Black relies on him more than either of them realize. They are going to need all the protection they can get, because several new groups are moving into town. The Yakuza has been eying the town, thinking that it will be easy pickings. A new threat also looms on the horizon; an alien force wants to turn Treasure Town into a mechanized moneymaker.
Anime's greatest strength—also its most consistent weakness—is its imagination and ambiguity. Animation isn't restricted by what can be filmed and what can be developed as special effects; anything can be drawn, and anything can be connected. For great anime directors, like Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue), it allows for a truly malleable reality—a puzzle of imagination. In the hands of lesser artists, it simply becomes a visual playground without logic and rules.
The awesome thing about Tekkonkinkreet is that it manages to be both at the same time. It creates the truly bizarre Treasure City, full of rules that never quite make sense, and fills it with a bizarre collection of strange and fascinating characters. In the end, it's all quite strange, and never quite makes much sense, but director Michael Arias has the sense to use rich imagery and symbolism to keep the story connected, if not to reality, then at least to a dream world that we can relate to. The central characters are Black and White, of course, and their balance is crucial for the safety of the city. In the end, the real conflict isn't between characters; it's the struggle to ensure that the balance between darkness and light is maintained. I won't tell you here how that happens, but it's breathtaking and inventive.
I think this may work as well as it does because of the international nature of the production. The animation team is Japanese, and the film is based on a Japanese manga. The producers, director, and scriptwriters are American, which brings a slightly different feel to the finished product. The music is delivered by Plaid, a British duo that makes Tekkonkinkreet sound completely fresh. It's more cohesive than most manga adaptations, which should make a lot of casual viewers happy.
I also have to talk about the animation, since it looks nothing like typical anime. As far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing. We've become too accustomed to that look and feel, and artists who want to deliver creative films need to distance themselves from what's come before. The animation in Tekkonkinkreet is astonishing, and features none of the usual shortcuts that we get so used to seeing. The camera rarely stops moving, exquisitely blending the hand-drawn characters with digital support. Fantasy sequences come in the form of living pencil crayon drawings, which explode across the scene with motion and color. It's an incredibly dynamic universe, and I can't wait to see the next Studio4C picture.
The first half of the film is deceptively lighthearted, as Black and White combat some new street thugs who want to make a name for themselves in Treasure City. Black and White fend them off with ease, barely acknowledging the rising tension with the Yakuza. The shift towards a darker narrative happens suddenly, and the second half of the film is a slickly violent, edgy explosion of violence, imagination, and pain. The plot is never hard to follow, but it's also impossible to guess where the narrative will sweep us away to next. It's a hell of a ride, and one that I can't recommend enough to anime fans.
Sony has also done a fine job with the transfer. The video and audio are both reference quality, especially considering the movement throughout. The video transfer keeps up surprisingly well, and I noticed no compression artifacts at any point. The Japanese 5.1 track has plenty of punch, clear vocals, and some serious bass. While it's not a full-fledged special edition, there are also several features to dive into as well. We get a commentary with first-time director Michael Arias, who was also one of the producers of The Animatrix. He chats with the lead scriptwriter and a member of the visual effects team, and it's a dazzling conversation. In so many commentaries, the team talking has no sense of what fans actually want to hear. In this case, though, they go over all the things that I really wanted to know about: the decision to create a new visual style, how they pulled off the "always moving" camera, and an exploration of the symbolism and metaphorical content of the film. It's a fun track to listen to as well. On top of this, we get an interview with Plaid, the rock group that delivered the soundtrack for the film. Finally, there is a 300-day production diary with Michael Arias. It runs 45 minutes long, and it has plenty of interesting details.
If you're a big fan of anime, or even a casual fan, it's well worth checking out Tekkonkinkreet. It's a bit strange, but not nearly as weird as it looks on the cover. It just works, bringing a lot of style to what's quickly becoming a generic genre. Don't miss it!
Not guilty. All aboard to Treasure Town!
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