Review by Frank Plowright
Four volumes in and Master Keaton continues to impress greatly as an intelligent and well-researched series on the part of writers Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki. It should be highlighted that the historical research was carried out well prior to the ease of the internet era. The opening story, for instance, stretches over three parts, and encompasses the betrayal of the Roma population by the Nazis during World War II and a lifelong search for the person who betrayed them. In modern times Keaton connects with surviving members of a Roma generation who may yet be able to reveal the betrayer via an antiquarian volume telling the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Don’t make the mistake of thinking dry research is all the series has going for it, though, as Katsushika and Nagasaki weave action and mystery around the facts, making good use of Keaton’s talents as both an insurance investigator and former member of the UK’s elite S.A.S. forces. Topping everything off very satisfyingly is a hypothesis as to the Piper’s true purpose.
More so than earlier volumes, the stories are constructed around other characters, with Keaton only having a small role. This occurs in ‘Safehouse’, about a boy who feels betrayed by his parents, and especially over the two parts of a cracking story about the shooting of a former member of the IRA. The central role here is taken by tenacious old-school journalist Harry Hughes determined to get at the truth, and along the way the UK is shamed, both by its occupation of Northern Ireland and to a lesser extent by its tabloid press.
Naoki Urasawa’s art is extraordinary throughout, disciplined to the needs of the story, but still very striking. Almost all of the content carries an emotional core, and Urasawa’s very good at presenting what people feel. He’s also exceptional at drawing lifelike animals, cats very important to one late story, and presented very sympathetically as Keaton’s father arrives in London.
Every volume of Master Keaton is a dozen chapters of investigations well told, some loud and bombastic, but calm and humane the more regular mood. They’re stimulating and engaging, and if we were all as considerate as the people presented, the world would improve. Bring on Master Keaton 5.