One manga I eagerly awaited reading this past year was Master Keaton.
Master Keaton is one of the earliest mangas that Naoki Urasawa, genius behind Monster and 20th Century Boys, had worked on, though as the artist (I heard he helped plot some stories, but I’m not too sure). Even if he wasn’t the writer for the series, I really enjoy the man’s artwork and I’ve heard only good things about this series in general. Does it live up to the hype? Is it good?
Master Keaton Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
Story By: Hokusei Katsyshika and Takashi Nagasaki
Art By: Naoki Urasawa
Translated By: Pookie Rolf
Our story focuses on Taichi Hiraga Keaton, son of a Japanese zoologist and a British noblewoman and a man who wears many hats. He’s an insurance investigator for a big agency built out of Britain, works a bit as a professor for archeology, and a former member of the Special Air Service. The series is all about the adventures he gets into, the people he encounters and his interactions with his family.
Master Keaton is an interesting manga; it tells mostly done in one stories each chapter, occasionally continuing the story or a subplot into the next issue. For instance, one story has Keaton being invited to an archaeological dig, but he turns it down and focuses on helping a friend identify whether or not a statute is a fake or not. The next issue has him deciding to check it out anyways. It reminds me some TV dramas in that sense, with a simple story happening in the forefront while the main plot or a bigger plotline is building in the back. It’s honestly not bad and keeps the manga from getting tiring.
The stories involve plenty of history and archaeological information in the midst of some solid character drama and adventure and the writers do a good job of displaying their knowledge on the subjects. The downside to all of this is that these done-in-one tales actually go by pretty quickly and it feels like corners are getting cut narrative-wise as a result. Despite some solid stories, a few more instances that allow the audience to breathe and grasp the drama and story would have been nice.
Taichi Keaton is a pretty likeable character, both intelligent and competent despite his somewhat unassuming appearance and the clueless expressions he makes. He’s able to address most of the situations in front of him, no matter what the cause is, and figure out a solution. In some ways, that makes him almost a bit too perfect, but the book is able to balance that with plenty of moments of him failing or having to struggle a lot to find the right answer for his predicament.
Keaton’s backstory with the S.A.S. isn’t given too much focus in the book outside of the opening and finale chapters of the book, but it is definitely what shaped him into becoming the character he is. We get more looks into Keaton’s family life, in particular with his father and his daughter, and these moments provide great insight into the type of person Keaton is.
As for the rest of the cast, there’s not much to say: we don’t see Keaton’s mother (outside of a flashback) nor his ex-wife, so we don’t know much about what they are like outside of some references about what they are up to currently. Most of the people introduced don’t reappear beyond their initial chapter. The only ones that do are Taihei Hiraga, Keaton’s father, and Yuriko Keaton, his daughter. We get some insight into how they view Keaton himself and their current situation, but beyond a look at Taihei’s past and Yuriko’s school life once, we don’t have much to work with in regards to them. They are decent characters with potential, but they are not particularly noteworthy at this point.
The artwork by Naoki Urasawa is great and it’s quite interesting for a fan like me to see some of his earlier stuff. You can definitely see Urasaw’s style evident in Master Keaton, especially when you compare it to his earlier work on Monster — the characters are drawn similarly, with thick lines, distinct looking characters who look like people from their respective countries should appear, and plenty of detail. The characters exhibit an amazing range of emotion and body language as well, really adding a lot to the personality and personal drama going on.
The other aspects of Urasaw’s artwork are nice as well: layouts are solid and easy to follow from page to page; the locations and areas that Keaton visits are amazing and well-detailed, really feeling alive and different from one another; the bits of action are nice and flow well, while the small details with the art and history aspects of the book are quite impressive. It’s quite nice to see that Urasawa had such detail and skill this early on his career.
Is it Good?
Master Keaton Vol. 1 is a good book overall and a solid start to the series. The stories presented in the book are engaging and can keep your attention, the lead character is interesting and the artwork is just wonderful. However, there are areas that could use improvements like the pacing and structure at points. That being said, I can definitely recommend giving this book a read. It’s worth your time to at least check out the first volume and see what kind of magic this series may have up its sleeves.
Master Keaton is available from Viz Media, with the second volume of the series coming out on March 17th, 2015. The original series ended back in the early ’90s, but a new series of written and drawn by Naoki Urasawa himself (since the author sadly passed away) is currently going on in Japan and has also been licensed by Viz. There was an anime adaption of the series that was licensed by Geneon, but company is out of business and the DVDs are considered out of print as well.