Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tekkonkinkreet (anime movie)

In Tekkonkinkreet, two acrobatic, fast, and dangerous street urchins named Black and White (or Kuro and Shiro, if you're watching it in Japanese) roam Treasure Town. Yakuza and alien thugs come into the picture, and Black and White's relatively stable lives suddenly get dark and dangerous. Child-like White (who is 11 but acts younger, and strange) balances violent Black (not sure how old he is, but he acts much more mature, and he can take a Yakuza thug in a fight), and vice versa - but what happens if the two of them have to be separated?

I saw this in my library's catalog and thought something about the title seemed like it might be Japanese, despite the non-Japanese name of the director (Michael Arias). When I actually looked at the record, there was a little list of Japanese voice actors, so I figured I might as well put it on hold. When it came in, I was a little disappointed - yes, it turned out to be anime, but the art style was not the kind of thing I am usually drawn to. In fact, the kids on the cover look a bit creepy. Their smiles make me think of characters in Paranoia Agent, a creepy (but good) anime. I wasn't really sure I wanted to watch this movie, but it was from the library and therefore free, and it's not like I didn't have the time.

It's a good movie, although it takes a while before it becomes edge-of-your-seat good. The action scenes are wonderful - the animators did a great job depicting fluid, fast movement. The relationship between Black and White is very interesting. I loved the bit where White is trying to explain it and says that he and Black's hearts are broken and need screws, but White has all the screws Black needs and Black has all the screws White needs. Black watches over White and makes sure he doesn't get killed (heck, Black even dresses White, since he doesn't do it himself), and White's presence keeps Black from going out and just beating up or killing everything messing with Treasure Town (another name for this place could be Seedyville).

The first time I watched it, I used the English dub. The second time I watched it, I used the Japanese dub with subtitles. The third time, I went back to the English dub. The Japanese voices and subtitles are good (I've seen officially released anime with misspelled subtitles, so it's worth saying it when subtitles are actually decent). However, the Japanese cast was not, for me, as recognizable as the English cast. If you look in Anime News Network, many of the Japanese voice actors have only been in a handful of other things, and I don't think I recognized any of them. That doesn't mean they're not recognizable voice actors in Japan or even here - they're just not people I recognize.

The English voice cast is a different story. We've got Kamali Minter as White, who played Riku in Blood+ - I think he (she? - not sure if this is actually a child actor, or if it's a woman who's really good at child voices) actually did a better job in this movie than in Blood+. Scott Menville plays Black - I didn't recognize him from anime, but I do recognize him as Robin from Teen Titans. David Lodge wonderfully voices Suzuki - he's also Zaraki Kenpachi (the name order I'm used to, sorry) in Bleach, and Jiraiya in Naruto, so if you watch the Cartoon Network or Adult Swim you might have heard him. Yuri Lowenthal voices Dawn, a minor character - he also voices Sasuke in Naruto, Suzaku in Code Geass, and Yuri in Kyo Kara Maoh!. Stephen Jay Blum, of Cowboy Bebop fame (I feel a bit dorky saying that, but, darn it, it's true), has a small part as a doctor. That's not the whole cast, but you probably get the idea. (Actually, Anime News Network doesn't list the whole English voice cast, and I couldn't find them in the movie credits - then again, the text was so small I might've just missed it.)

It's not only a fairly prolific and decently well-known cast, it's also a well-cast cast. I love David Lodge's Suzuki so much that the Japanese Suzuki couldn't really measure up, even though he wasn't bad. Rick Gomez, who played Kimura, managed to sound like he was really, truly holding back sobs when the movie called for it - I was impressed, especially after I remembered the first episode of English-dubbed Naruto, when Iruka (voiced by Quinton Flynn) cries and it sounds horribly fake compared to the heart-breaking original Japanese version (voiced by Toshihiko Seki) that was so good it brought me to tears. This is a great-sounding English dub - and, no, I don't consider that to be an oxymoron. If you do, you probably haven't listened to a lot of the recent English dubs coming out. Although there's still a few that make me cringe, there's plenty out there that are at least as good as the original Japanese.

The Japanese track is good, the English dub is good (I prefer it over the Japanese, because I like how some of the characters sound better in English - also, I get to see all the action without having to read subtitles, too), the action is fun and often amazing, and the soundtrack is dreamy. The story occasionally gets weird, since White's view of the world is a little funky and tends to leak into reality, and Black, when he's crazy, also has some reality leakage issues. Overall, though, the movie was enjoyable and I hope to buy it when I can afford to.

I didn't watch all the extras, but I did watch the "making of" featurette. It was a bit harrowing, and probably would have been more so if I hadn't seen similar scenes in the "making of" extra on the Fullmetal Alchemist movie DVD. Michael Arias, the director, is an American who's lived in Japan for about 17 years. This is his directorial debut in anime or anything else, and, if some of the scenes in this featurette are anything to go by, this may be the last time he's ever director of an anime. With maybe a couple months to go, the movie was very bad and not even close to finished. According to one person, everyone in Japan's entire animation industry ended up pitching in to help get this thing finished. Arias held his ground over how he wanted to do a 10-second bit of animation, which apparently held things up pretty badly. At one point, a bunch of people, including Arias, were at a table discussing the badness of the movie. Arias smiled a little, a nervous smile, I think, and one of the people at the table (a producer, maybe? I can't remember) told him that this was not a laughing matter. It was a little embarrassing and uncomfortable to watch. I'm amazed that this movie actually got finished.

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