Despite having an extensive catalog of acclaimed works to his credit, from the manga adaptation of famous novel-turned-Tom Cruise movie All You Need Is Kill with Ryosuke Takeuchi (adapted as Edge of Tomorrow), to the manga about making manga, Bakuman, Takeshi Obata will perhaps always be best known for his hit manga series Death Note, with writer Tsugumi Ohba. The operatic supernatural detective story about teen would-be god Light Yagami and his reclusive nemesis L is the kind of breakout hit that most comic creators can only dream of.

The art book Blanc et Noir: The Art of Takeshi Obata makes great use of Obata's work on Death Note --- but it also showcases the artist's considerable range and skill beyond his best known work.

Blanc et Noir is new to North American readers, but it's actually a decade old. Originally published in Japan in 2006, the book is finally available in the US courtesy of Viz Media's Art of Shonen Jump imprint in a swanky hardcover limited to 10,000 copies.

The book certainly aims to justify its eye-popping $99.99 price; it's astonishingly gorgeous as a physical object, with a nice slipcase, three lovely double-sided high-end prints of artwork from the book, and very pretty laminated pages.

Given the timing of this book's original release, it's no surprise that Death Note, originally serialized from 2003-06 in Weekly Shonen Jump, dominates the collection, and that's fine; part of Note's evergreen appeal is its imagery. Being able to gaze at Obata's gorgeous chapter covers in full color, or his book colors without text laid over them, is a real treat.

 


OBATA TAKESHI ILLUSTRATIONS -Blanc et Noir- © 2006 by Takeshi Obata/SHUEISHA Inc.

 

Even if you aren't familiar with Death Note, these pieces indicate everything you need to know about the characters: Light's haughtiness and arrogance, L's paranoia and confidence, Ryuk's wackiness, Misa's bubbliness, and so much more. But there's also a wealth of material from beyond Obata's biggest success.

Also included is artwork from Obata's first mainstream hit, Hikaru no Go (a shonen manga about a boy possessed by a ghost who's an expert at the ancient Japanese game of go), his character designs from the PlayStation 2 samurai game Yoshitsuneki, and art from one of his earliest series, Doll Puppeteer Sakon. That last series is about a puppeteer who solves crimes with a puppet, like a reverse Ventriloquist. Why this hasn't been translated into English, I don't know.

The true gem, though, is the original artwork exclusive to the book. From moody Frankenstein's monster-esque men, to scrappy, badass women, Obata makes everyone as lush and detailed as the meticulously populated environments they inhabit. It's a remarkable feat.

 


OBATA TAKESHI ILLUSTRATIONS -Blanc et Noir- © 2006 by Takeshi Obata/SHUEISHA Inc.

 

Being the sort of guy who reads every part of the art book, I loved the supplemental Q&A and process pages towards the back. I'm fascinated by how artists do what they do, and learning about Obata's painstaking process is remarkably cool. However, I found myself wishing that some of this material, such as the helpful index detailing the origins of each piece, and Obata's own commentary, could have been unobtrosively included alongside the actual artwork, akin to a museum exhibit.

I also wasn't too crazy about the flowing font used for the section titles. At times, it was really hard to read. But if a book is so exceptional otherwise that I find myself complaining about its chapter heading fonts, there's really not much to complain about.

While only the most devoted manga fan will be willing to fork out the cash for this book, this is still a great purchase for those able to afford it, and it offers a fascinating and welcome look at one of manga's greatest artists.

 

Blanc et Noir: The Art of Takeshi Obata is available in print from a variety of retailers, including Amazon. A review copy, as well as the artwork included above, were provided by the publisher.