Thursday, January 8, 2015

Review: MASTER KEATON Volume 1


CARTOONIST: Naoki Urasawa
STORY: Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki
LETTERS: Steve Dutro
ISBN: 978-1-4215-7589-6; paperback (December 2014); Rated “T+” for “Older Teen”
322pp, B&W with some color, $19.99 U.S., $22.99 CAN, £12.99 U.K.

Master Keaton is a seinen manga of various genres (mystery, suspense, family drama-comedy, etc.) from award-winning mangaka (creator) Naoki Urasawa.  First published in 1988, Master Keaton was created and drawn by Urasawa, who co-produced the story with Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki.  The series had never been released in English until recently.

Now, VIZ Media is publishing Master Keaton as a 12-volume manga in a deluxe graphic novel format, with each volume including a few pages of full-color material to go along with the black and white comics.  VIZ Media's first volume of Master Keaton was published this past December (2014), and future volumes will be published quarterly under the company’s VIZ Signature imprint and will be rated “‘T+’ for Older Teens.”  Each volume of Master Keaton will carry an MSRP of $19.99 in the United States, $22.99 in Canada, and £12.99 in the United Kingdom.

Master Keaton focuses on 30-something Taichi Hiraga Keaton.  The son of a Japanese zoologist and English noblewoman and mathematician, Keaton is an archeology professor at Kotozawa University.  Most of the series' action focuses on Keaton's other job.  He is a part-time insurance investigator known for his successful and unorthodox methods of investigation.  His abilities are based on the fact that he is Oxford-educated in archeology and that he is also a former member of the British elite special forces, the SAS (Special Air Service).  Master Keaton uses his knowledge and combat training to uncover buried secrets, thwart would-be villains, pursue the truth, and sometimes lend a helping hand.

Master Keaton, Vol. 1 (Chapters 1 to 12) opens with the death of Leon Pappas near the village of Isidoros, on the Dodecanese Islands in Greece.  Pappas had an insurance policy worth one million pounds with Lloyd's of London.  In Essex, England, Lord David Marques, the policy's underwriter, is suspicious both of the circumstances of Pappas' death and of his insurance policy's beneficiary, Ochs Fine Art Ltd.

Enter Mister Keaton, part-time insurance investigator.  Lord Marques wants him to investigate everything dubious surrounding Pappas, his death, and his connection to a mysterious art dealer.  Pappas was an amateur archeologist and that angle piques Keaton's interest, so he accepts the assignment and heads to the Dodecanese Islands.  But danger and the threat of death await him.

Anyone who reads my reviews on a regular basis knows that I am a huge admirer of Naoki Urasawa, some might even say raving fan boy.  He is one of my favorite mangaka, and I think that he has been one of the best and most intriguing comics creators over the last four decades.

I like Master Keaton.  It is not as obsessively connected, in terms of plot, characters, and settings as such Urasawa classics as 20th Century Boys and Monster.  Keaton does have a revolving set of characters, such as his father, his daughter, and his agent.  His SAS training frequently plays a part in the stories, as does his positions as an academic and an archeologist.

The stories in Master Keaton are episodic.  In Master Keaton Volume 1, almost every chapter offers either a new case which Keaton must tackle or a glimpse at Keaton's personal life.  There is one story that runs over two chapters (about a joint Japanese-British archeological dig in a Uyghur region of China).  Vol. 1 ends with a three-chapter story of a former SAS officer coming to the end of a complicated and dangerous plot for revenge.

I enjoyed just about every story in Vol. 1, but I have to admit that I was shocked by the episodic nature of this series.  I was disappointed when the tale of Leon Pappas, which opens this graphic novel, was wrapped up in one chapter.  Once I adjusted to how Urasawa and his writers present the adventures of Mister Keaton, I found myself fascinated by this thoroughly fascinating character.  I would say that Master Keaton is another Urasawa series that is a must-read.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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