Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #1

I became an instant fan of Naoki Urasawa in 2004 when I saw the Monster anime. Psychological thrillers are definitely NOT my cup of tea, but he had me hooked with his combination of realistic artwork and gripping plot. As such, I was thrilled when Viz Media decided to release a translation of an earlier Urasawa action/adventure: Master Keaton.

Back Cover Blurb

Taichi Hiraga-Keaton, the son of a Japanese zoologist and a noble English woman, is an insurance investigator known for his successful and unorthodox methods of investigation. Educated in archaeology and a former member of the SAS, Master Keaton uses his knowledge and combat training to uncover buried secrets, thwart would-be villains, and pursue the truth…

The Review

The actual field of archaeology may be dry and tedious, but pop culture has cast a glamorous glow upon it. Golden artifacts, exotic locations, and Nazi bad guys are a typical day’s work for swashbuckling scholars. And in the vein of Indiana Jones, we have the adventures of archaeologist Taichi Keaton!

Keaton encounters as much treasure and danger as Indy, but he’s a completely different personality. In addition to being a lecturer at a Japanese university, the half-British, half-Japanese archaeologist is a former survival combat expert of the British Special Forces. That means that he doesn’t take on his enemies with whips and guns blazing; rather, he uses whatever is at hand, be it a wooden spoon or a can of epoxy, to extricate himself out of a scrape. And in lieu of a fedora and khakis, Keaton sports a suit and tie, even in a desert dig. After all, he’s an insurance investigator for the prestigious Lloyds of London Insurance Organization.

Keaton’s freelance insurance job is probably the oddest element in the story. However, the narrative claims that “archaeological investigations and insurance go hand in hand,” and the investigation of false claims does actually work as the rationale to get Keaton jumping from country to country. Indiana Jones’ Nazis are long gone, but Cold-War era terrorists, the Mafia, and crazy ex-military keep Keaton on his toes.

For the most part, each chapter is a self-contained arc that features a bit of history and allows Keaton to show off an aspect of his eclectic skill set. While Keaton is in his mid-30s, the combination of his goofy personality and international exploits should appeal to younger shonen readers. But not TOO young. While Keaton is largely an upstanding fellow, his job pits him against the darker elements of humanity, and Volume 1 includes illustrations of graphic violence and a half-naked prostitute snorting drugs.

Due to the manga’s episodic structure, Keaton deals with a different group of troublemakers on each adventure, but there is a recurring supporting cast in the form of his family. His spunky middle-school daughter Yuriko has a sharp tongue that she doesn’t hesitate to use on her father, and Keaton’s dad, a professor of zoology, is a longtime womanizer. Even so, there is affection between the three highly intelligent but very different family members. Keaton’s estranged wife never appears in person in Volume 1, but she’s very much on his mind and in his heart. However, Keaton’s irregular lifestyle and absentmindedness get in the way of his intention to reconcile with her, which paints a pretty clear picture of why she left him.

Extras include the first pages of Chapter 1 and Chapter 6 in color and a sound effects glossary.

In Summary

Combine Indiana Jones, MacGyver, and an insurance investigator and you’ve got Taichi Keaton! He’s more of a daydreaming academic than a macho sexpot, but this mild-mannered university lecturer makes for a surprisingly compelling hero. With Cold War era adventures that take him around the globe, Master Keaton makes for fantastic fun.

First published at the Fandom Post.

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One response to “Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #1

  1. Pingback: Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #2 | Keeping It In Canon ...mostly

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