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. Read on for the review of Volume 4. (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)
Volume 4 begins with the three-part “Hamelin” tale, unusually long for this series. It brings together several of the elements that drive Master Keaton’s appeal: mystery, action, and justice with history and legend interwoven throughout. While it is thrilling to watch Keaton outmaneuver his Eastern European adversaries and unravel the riddles from a gypsy concentration camp, the actual basis for all the codes and hidden messages is rather weak. Given the situation the gypsies were in, it seems more plausible for their leader to spread the name of their betrayer rather than keep it under wraps.
That weakness also shows up in the two-part “Fake Tricolor Flag.” This arc has the Northern Ireland conflict as a backdrop, and Keaton faces off against another former SAS. The creators do an excellent job depicting the IRA/SAS tension and showing the humanity of both sides. Yet when Keaton finally unravels the secret of the murdered IRA bomb specialist’s “detonator,” it feels contrived and a bit of a letdown.
For the most part, Keaton is insurance investigator in this volume. Only in “The Thistle Coat” is he fully an archeologist and historian. That arc is delightful in how Keaton retraces a cross-cultural journey starting with only a couple of clues. But despite his desire for a university position, he’s ever on the outside of academia looking in. As such, his character development remains stagnant. The stories themselves are engaging, but in half of these chapters, Keaton’s more of a supporting character than the main player. In “The Missing Blue Bird” (which has definite similarities to Urasawa’s subsequent Monster), Keaton barely has a part at all. The lack of character development also extends to daughter Yuriko and dad Taihei. They get their usual cameo chapters, but much like Keaton, those stories are less about them and more about the people they encounter.
Extras include the first pages of Chapter 5 in color and a sound effects glossary.
Political conflicts fuel most of the tension in this installment of Master Keaton. From Nazi atrocities to unrest in Ireland to South African apartheid, these elements make for a vibrant backdrop, especially for modern history enthusiasts. As in previous volumes, if you’re more interested in action than character development, Master Keaton shouldn’t have any trouble holding your attention. However, the underlying premise for some of the intrigue is weak, and Keaton himself often seems a secondary character rather than the main driver of the action.
First published at the Fandom Post.