Manga of the Month: Master Keaton

Master Keaton (MASTERキートン)
by Naoki UrasawaHokusei Katsushika, and Takashi Nagasaki

hisui_icon_4040 Master Keaton definitely has an interesting history in the United States. I’m sure there were fans of Naoki Urasawa before 2003 but Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl never had anywhere near the success of its sister anime Ranma ½ in the English-speaking fandom and all the fans of Pineapple Army could probably fit in one room. So when the Master Keaton anime was released by Geneon on June 10, 2003 it hardly had any name cache. The series was a critical darling but a financial flop. Despite that the anime garnered itself a small but devoted following. Then jump ahead to February 21, 2006 when the Monster manga is released. That was the title that made Naoki Urasawa a name in otaku circles. 20th Century Boys and Pluto only solidified his reputation. So that small fandom for Master Keaton finally had hope that maybe the manga that spawned the series they loved might be released in English. But that was not meant to be.

Apparently the title was tied up in a legal battle between Naoki Urasawa and Hokusei Katsushika’s estate. The battle was fierce enough that not only could the title not be licensed in the US but they could not even reprint the series in Japan. So it seemed like a series that would always just be out of reach. Then in March of 2012 Naoki Urasawa started Master Keaton Remaster, a sequel to the original series, as sort of capstone to the end of the legal battle that had engulfed Master Keaton. It seemed that there was hope again and on Viz licensed Master Keaton. So after that long journey December 16, 2014 marked the day fans could finally buy Master Keaton. I have talked about the series several times on the blog but now I can official endorse it as a series that you can just order on-line and buy.

Taichi Hiraga-Keaton is an archaeologist who moonlights as an insurance investigator for Lloyd’s of London (although most people would argue he is an investigator who moonlights as an archeology professor). This world traveling adventurer has neither the ruggedly handsome physique of Indian Jones or the suave charm of James Bond. Keaton has to use his wits and even temperament to solve mysteries, free hostages, escape danger, and discover the secrets of the past. But most of all maybe one day he will repair the bond between him and his estranged daughter.

You might love Kill la Kill but it is a hard series to go up to someone you don’t know and just say, “I think you might like this.” I used to use this as an example of what to show older people what anime and manga are about without scaring them off permanently. It very much feels like a series you might see on network American TV. It is very episodic so you can just throw someone a quick explanation of the plot and they will instantly get what is going on with any random story arc. Taichi Hiraga-Keaton is and adult having to deal with adult problems like divorces, careers, and finances. But at the same time it is an exciting adventure series that goes all over the globe teaching you a little with each story. It is just normal enough that everyone can casually read it but still feels like manga.

Keaton himself is a mice medium between loveable schlub and super skilled ubermensch. He is average looking and, not that physically imposing, and generally a quiet and pleasant fellow. But he his background as former SAS instructor lets his fast thinking and scholarly education get him out of many a jam with a MacGyver like skill. This dichotomy means that his foes will often underestimate him only for him to use some little bit of esoteric knowledge to get the upper hand at an opportune moment. At the same time he is hardly perfect. His family life is a mess, his career is a joke, and he is about as smooth as Steve Urkel.

Also the series itself often just has Keaton be the camera for another character’s story. In the course of an insurance investigations he will often learn another character’s story to which he might only play a part at the very end of the tale. Sometimes he is only there to be a witness for a tale that ended long ago or has no end in sight. His travels are also varied. He might be investigating a wine in Burgundy in one episode and the helping an excavation team escape the Taklamakan Desert in another. His stories might involve the Spanish Civil War or families torn apart by the Berlin Wall. Not every story is a tale of drug cartels or the Romanov Treasures. He sometimes just tries to connect to his family in Japan in quiet little personal stories.

In the end this is not the grand conspiracy of 20th Century Boys or the taut thriller that is Monster but certain stories have elements of those two. It is a unique series of stories for adults that I think deserves a little more attentions as compared to some of Naoki Urasawa’s more flashy works. If you’re looking for something a little smarter and more sedate than your standard bombastic manga than you should give the first volume a try.

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