When a title is billed as "visually-stunning", it raises alarm bells with me that the story has taken second-billing to the visual effects – and sure enough, while Tekkonkinkreet is based on a manga, there's something lacking in the storytelling department.
What They Say
From the creators of Animatrix comes this visually-stunning new anime film based on a popular Japanese manga written by Taiyo Matsumoto. In Treasure Town where the moon smiles and young boys can fly life can be both gentle and brutal. This is never truer than for our heroes Black and White two street urchins who watch over the city doing battle with an array of old-world Yakuza and alien assassins vying to rule the decaying metropolis.
Audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1 format with Japanese, English, Spanish and Portuguese languages – as usual, I went with the Japanese track for this review. The full soundstage is used to good effect, both for effects and background music, and placement of dialog and effects to match what's happening on-screen is almost perfect. More action-oriented scenes really sound the part.
Video comes in 2.35:1 widescreen format, so even on a 16:9 widescreen TV you'll have letterboxing to deal with. While the character designs for the film are very simple and almost border on stick-drawings, Treasure Town itself has been lovingly realised, with rich detail on just about every surface that the transfer manages to capture very well, even in comparison to the Blu-ray release that I've also seen. Movement is smooth and fluid, and there were no encoding problems that my eyes managed to catch. When they say 'visually impressive', they weren't kidding – although the level of background detail is such that the DVD release does lose something compared to its hi-def cousin.
The movie comes in a standard black keepcase, with a rather busy image of Black and White on the front cover, set against a busy backdrop of Treasure Town and some of its crazy characters. The rear has another image of the boys and their town, with the usual promotional blurb, technical & production information, and list of awards that the movie has received. The whole thing comes wrapped in a cardboard slipcase that's exactly the same as the keepcase, with the exception of the front cover being embossed.
The main menu is a simple static screen, with a series of screenshots on a plain white background while a piece of the show's BGM plays. Options are provided for Play Movie, Languages, Scene Selection, Special Features and Previews. The Languages section is split into two separate screens, one for audio and one for subtitles, which is a bit unwieldy but not too much of an annoyance. There are no transition animations, making the menu quick and easy to navigate through.
Three extras are available for those with time to spare – an 11-minute interview with director Michael Arias and Plaid, the British duo responsible for the film's impressive soundtrack; a 43-minute 'making of' feature done in the form of a video diary by the director; and a commentary track to the main feature. Definitely a decent set of bonuses.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
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 Snake, though, they may have bitten off more than they can chew - Snake 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...
Tekkonkinkreet is a strange beast – it's based on a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto & animated by a Japanese studio, but it has an American director and a soundtrack composed and performed by a British band. As such, it's anime, but with a slightly different tone and style that come from those foreign influences – and those changes from the 'normal' anime style in some ways mirror one of the film's main themes. Some will like them, to others it will mean they'll have a hard time seeing this as 'real anime'. Personally, I like the way the film's been presented, but there are other issues that spoil things a bit.
Snake'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 Snake'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 Snake coming in to change it for them. There are others that feel the same way, and so battle is joined.
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. This part of the film suffers from pacing problems – it's real "slice-of-life" territory, and when you've read the packaging and know that "alien assassins" are coming down the line, there's an urge for the story to just get on with it and get to the action.
It's the introduction of those "alien assassins" – Snake's extremely loyal, extremely powerful hired henchmen – that shift the story into action territory, and this is the most enjoyable sequence in the film. 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.
For as long as you keep looking at the gorgeous backgrounds and listening to the excellent soundtrack, Tekkonkinkreet is all good – it's a real treat for the senses and worth every penny for that alone. The story, though, is disjointed – it's a slice-of-life piece, an action movie, a thought-provoking tale, but at different times and not as an overall piece. The whole package just doesn't hold together as well as it should, and that's what spoils it for me. The underlying story gives the film the potential to be so much better than it is, but the chance to do that has been missed in the execution. Instead, we get something that is interesting and entertaining, but not special – always a frustration when you know a film is so close to being there.
Tekkonkinkreet is aurally and visually impressive, but the story is a little harder to follow than would have been ideal – you need to put in some effort to get the most out of it, although if you do that it can be quite rewarding to watch. As an early example of what being made with high-definition in mind can do for anime, it's definitely worth a look as a title to show off, but as a story it's a bit of a missed opportunity.
English Language 5.1, Japanese Language 5.1, Spanish Language 5.1, Portuguese Language 5.1, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles, French Subtitles, Filmmakers' Commentary, Conversation with Director Michael Arias and Plaid, The Making of Tekkonkinkreet: Michael Arias' 300-Day Diary
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.