Master Keaton Vol. 1 (Viz Media)


CREDIT: Viz Media

Rating: 5/5 – An Unlikely Hero From One of Manga’s Best Creators.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

In our comic book world of cape-wearing superheroes, galaxy-guarding spacefarers, or grim and gritty zombie fighters, it might be difficult to fathom that one of the best books to come out in recent months has an insurance investigator as its protagonist. Well, difficult to fathom if that book’s creator was anyone besides Naoki Urasawa – creator of popular Viz titles Monster, 20th Century Boys, and Pluto – in which case you can probably figure out for yourself that this is going to be the most interesting book about an insurance investigator you’re likely to read. And pat yourself on the back…you’ve figured correctly.

Before even turning to the first page, you’ll see how heavily Viz has invested in making this a beautiful book to own. Part of the publisher’s Signature (Sig) line of books, Master Keaton features a larger page size, a heftier page count (320 pages), and really attractive trade dress (Gold embossed lettering, inset mapwork on the cover) to make this a manga title to really stand out on your bookshelf. Viz has always brought high production values to their books, but this title surpasses pretty much all of them.

Still, no matter how attractive the cover, it doesn’t matter if there’s nothing solid to read inside those 320 pages. If you’ve experienced any of the previously mentioned Urasawa titles, you likely already know what to expect. Created with writers Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki, Urasawa’s artistic ability to convey emotion with even the most subtle inking techniques is apparent even in this early work (first published in 1988). Characters may seem comical at first, but emotion is conveyed with an almost sleight-of-hand technique and before you know it, you’re sucked into Urasawa’s world. No longer comic characters, the people in the book become all-too real. They’re people you’ve met, people you know, and people you won’t soon forget.

Taichi Hiraga Keaton, of Japanese/English descent, is an insurance investigator, particularly in the field of archaeology. I’m hesitant to reveal much more (other than to say there is more to reveal) because part of the fun of reading this type of book is discovering how much more there is to this seemingly simple person who lives a superficially uninteresting life. As mentioned, if I were to suggest you read this great book about an insurance investigator, you’d probably ask if I was talking about Fight Club, and when I said no you’d probably say you’re not interested. If there weren’t more to the story, I wouldn’t blame you for saying it. Still, this is Urasawa we’re talking about. There’s definitely more to the story.

Unlike Monster and 20th-Century Boys, both sprawling epics telling one grand story, Master Keaton is episodic, with four or five self-contained adventures packed into this first volume. A larger narrative looms in the background of Keaton’s investigations, centering around his relationship with his ex-wife, trying to relate to his junior-high school age daughter, and simultaneously avoiding and embracing his past as it keeps trying to catch up with him. This might be the least dynamic of the Urasawa titles Viz has put out so far, but it might also be the most compellingly real one at the same time.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
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