Review by Frank Plowright
Master Keaton started very well, and after two further volumes there’s no sign of the creators running out of ideas. A dozen stories each running to roughly 25 pages are presented in every paperback. Most, but not all, star Taichi Keaton, who’s employed as both an archaeologist and insurance investigator, while also using skills learned from his spell with the UK’s elite armed service, the S.A.S. Writers Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki tailor their stories to Keaton’s skills while also serving up mystery and tension. The focus is varied, the investigations occasionally separated by a tale with relevance to Keaton’s past, or a look at a supporting character, and everything is impeccably drawn by Naoki Urasawa.
As examples of the variety on offer, the first three stories are as good as any. In the first Keaton is in Scotland where a crumbling monastery wall supposedly built by St Francis is the cause of conflict between an oil company and the local community. The second story extends over two chapters, the extension required for the suspense of a kidnapping and hostage negotiations with disagreement between Keaton and other officials as to the best way to proceed. That’s followed by a coming of age love story in which someone desperately wants to prove a local legend about flight is actually true. A tale of vengeance dating back to the Spanish Civil War, redemption for a former IRA bomb maker and a combination of insurance fraud and a savage dog follow them, before another visit to Keaton’s father as seen in Master Keaton 2. That’s still only two-thirds of the book.
Every story is intelligent, humane, thoughtful and well researched, the latter all the more impressive considering all of Master Keaton predates the internet. After three volumes certain inclusions are predictable, the impressive archaeological find for one, but that’s only in a broad sense, and the closing Christmas story is a gem. With Keaton himself being half English and half Japanese, cultural differences and misunderstandings are a common theme, and the Christmas tale spotlights the competitive relationship between three salesmen of electronic goods. It’s awkward, yet embraces the sentimentality of the season to end delightfully.
While the series builds slightly on previous revelations, the books can largely be enjoyed in any order, so just dive straight in. Master Keaton 4 follows.