Title: Master Keaton
Author: Naoki Urasawa (original story by Hokusei Katsushika)
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 1, $19.99
Vintage: 1989 by Shogakukan, December 2014 by Viz Media
Genre: Detective, mystery, is “awesome” a genre
Taichi Hiraga Keaton is a college lecturer in the field of archaeology by day, insurance investigator…also by day. The archaeologist is rarely at his classes, instead traveling around the world for Lloyd’s of London, a large insurance company which functions by allowing individual investors to back insurance policies. Keaton is one of their top agents due in part to his archaeological background, but also his former training in the SAS (an elite British special forces group). An archaeologist mysteriously falls to his death? Send Keaton. He’ll know his way around the historical site, and he’ll be able to handle himself against any unsavory henchmen with an improvised weapon. The beneficiary of a life insurance policy has gone missing? Send Keaton to track him down and deal with some unfortunate terrorism connections. Despite his adventures, Keaton’s still an ordinary guy with a soft spot for his snappy, intelligent teenage daughter. She may berate his style, or lecture him about standing up for himself, but she proves she’s very much her father’s daughter by protesting the destruction of some old ruins all by herself. He continues to prove he’s no normal insurance investigator when he’s hired to appraise and pronounce a near perfect forged sculpture a fake. Then it’s off to the Taklamakan Desert, just to discover the practical use of a random artifact. Oh, and appraise some artifacts for Lloyd’s while he’s there. Unfortunately the archaeological team gets into some trouble with the locals while he’s there, and a routine appraisal turns into a fight for survival. After a showcase of Keaton’s survival skills, he takes on the more mundane task of running an errand for his philandering father. During his visit, father and son become consumed with memories of the past, and end up working on a project together that saves a village close to their hearts. Nothing in Keaton’s life is ever normal, proved once again during an average train ride which turns into a mystery as he assists an old woman with a sorrowful story. The book wraps up with Keaton running into a trainer from his SAS days, who has fallen into trouble with a powerful organization of drug dealers.
I want a Master Keaton to carry around in my pocket, please and thank you. In all seriousness, I really enjoyed Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys for its tension and emotional impact, but Master Keaton is another flavor entirely, and I’m in love with Urasawa all over again. Keaton is, dare I say, adorable. He has a good sense of humor, thinks quickly on his feet, is a master improviser, and a slight kleptomaniac. He probably does it without thinking, to be honest, but it’s fun to watch him absent-mindedly slip something into his pocket, whether it’s a valuable artifact, or the condiment bottle off a restaurant table. That said, kleptomania is the urge to steal items you don’t particularly need, but Keaton pockets things that come in very handy later on. There’s little foresight, however; it’s mostly out of habit. But what else would you expect from a top-notch survivalist? Urasawa does a great job of making Keaton appear unassuming, even down right useless. Then, within a few pages, he’s schooling someone on history, or turning a wooden cooking spoon into a handheld catapult. Despite his training and years in the military, he comes off as a gentle, friendly person, not an excelling former member of British special forces. He’s a bit of a push over with his students, gets lectured to by his daughter (though he’s clearly her hero), and is hung up on his ex-wife. But he also led four archaeologists with nothing but the clothes on their backs out of a deadly desert. He’s an interesting guy, and I look forward to reading more stories about him. Viz Media has done a great job with the presentation here, inserting several color pages, and doing a fantastic job with the cover design. It’s a good looking book, and a very good read. The only problem I have with Viz’s presentation is that the majority of the sound effects are untranslated on the page, instead compiled in the back of the volume with corresponding page numbers (they do this with Urasawa’s Monster, too). Now, I don’t know if this is a presentation choice by Viz, or a request of Shogakukan, but I’m not a fan. If it’s about the integrity of the art and page layout, toss in some tiny subtitles or footnotes on the page (which are in there for other things already). Sound effects are a big part of the manga reading experience for me, but I’m not going to spend the entire time flipping back and forth while I read. That would interrupt the flow of the story, for one, and also it’s a nuisance. This way I just end up ignoring them entirely, my eye instantly passing over them like they’re not even there. So if that’s the intended result, good job, I guess.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.