Grim_Noir Stumbles Onto An International Incident Called Master Keaton

Keaton Vol 1

Title: Master Keaton (volumes 1-3; more to follow)

Story and Art: Naoki Urasawa

Story: Hokusei Katsushika (a.k.a. Hajime Kimura); Takashi Nagasaki

Editor: Amy Yu

Lettering: Steve Dutro

Translation & English Adaptation: John Werry

Publisher: SHOGAKUKAN

Licensed by: VIZ Media, LLC

Reviewed by Grim_Noir

Suppose you come across a murder victim. Now, suppose the body is on an international border between two feuding countries… and that there are artifacts, smuggling and national pride involved… and that the archaeological dig in question is insured by Lloyds of London. So, who ya gonna call? Columbo? Indiana Jones? MacGuyver? The Ghostbusters? The correct answer is “All of the Above” AND “None of the Above.” You need a man who can weave through the labyrinthine worlds of insurance, politics, history and detection. A man they call Master Keaton.

“Master” not in a the sense of a boy too young to be called “Mister,” but rather “Master” as in former Master Sergeant in the British S.A.S.. Taichi Hiraga Keaton is a former bad-ass Special Forces officer, with a degree in Archaeology, who travels the globe handling special investigations for Lloyds, on a freelance basis.

Keaton attacks

He’s also a complete mess. Keaton cannot hold a job in his chosen profession (teaching History and Archaeology) anywhere in Japan. He’s divorced, but still in love with, and competitive with, his ex. (She’s a Mathematics professor in England.) Somehow, these two have managed to raise a teenage daughter, Yuriko, who is more mature than either of them. Keaton also has a widowed father who is a complete hound around the ladies.

Confounding and complicating things further, Keaton enjoys cultivating an air of bumbling incompetence when he’s on the job. Like the aforementioned Columbo, this allows Keaton time to put all the pieces together without being perceived as a threat. Even the reader can be lulled into a sense that Keaton is falling behind, until his trap snaps shut at the end of a story.

Keaton's world

While the twisty mysteries and deep character studies by Golgo 13‘s Hajime Kimura (under the pseudonym Hokusei Katsushika) and, later Takashi Nagasaki, are hypnotic, the real rock star is illustrator and co-story creator, Naoki Urasawa. This manga is a chance to see Urasawa’s star rising; he would later go on to write and draw Monster, Pluto, and 20th Century Boys. Even in the earliest chapters, his emotive faces and intricate backgrounds constantly reward multiple revisits.

Like a television show, the first volume of the Master Keaton manga does take several chapters to completely find its footing. Once it hits its noir stride however, the series will feel like old home week to readers of Velvet, Thief of Thieves, or any of Image’s more sophisticated titles. These are character-driven, nuanced stories about adults who live in the gray areas of life. Tired people filled with regret, remorse and psychological damage doing desperate things for what they believe are the right reasons. Yet, even in their desperation, this is a world filled with smart, dangerous people. Keaton has a lot to say about crime, but it also has a lot to say about people.

Keaton wandering

Sadly, Master Keaton has taken so long to be released in English that many of the references appear dated. (The manga was written from 1988 to 1994 and the anime came out in 1999.) Borders and alliances were different 20 years ago. Only certain employees at major corporations had computer terminals and pay phones were much more prominent than bulky cell phones. However, if you treat this as a period piece, like Velvet or Mad Men, these anachronisms quickly smooth out.

As a reward for the patience of U.S. fans, VIZ Media is releasing Master Keaton in prestige format collections. The exterior presentation is gorgeous; heavy embossed cover stock with spot gloss accents. All the Japanese special color pages are reproduced in their watercolor glory. There is even a Japanese-to-English index for all the sound effects. Most importantly, for my twenty bucks per volume, at over 330 pages per volume, these books are true literature; filled with themes, subtext and allegory that take a while to digest and linger long after you’ve closed those fancy covers.

Keaton Vol 4

 

Ol' Grim Hisself

* GRIM_NOIR is convinced that the internet is a figment of his imagination. Please comment below and/or follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter or Friend on Good Reads or Facebook to end his self-delusions.

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