Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #9

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 9. (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Constantly flying around England, Japan and Europe, Taichi Hiraga Keaton is one busy insurance investigator! With a gentle heart and an abundance of combat and survival skills gained from his days with the SAS, Keaton solves numerous difficult cases even while his love of archaeology calls to him…

The Review

Keaton doesn’t seem to get academic gigs anymore. But though his dream of a university position has turned into a running joke, Volume 9 does give him one chance to help on yet another colleague’s dig. Those who prefer Keaton as archaeologist will enjoy the ancient Celtic setting of “The Forest Where A God Lives.” As with so many digs, Keaton’s friend faces an adversary out to sabotage his excavation. However, the creators do an excellent job weaving the local legend into the excavation mystery, and the end does have a truly unexpected twist.

Aside from that chapter, Keaton doesn’t handle artifacts much. Just as his academic opportunities have dried up, his investigative assignments have less of an archeological angle. Out of the five jobs he gets, two of them (“A Gift from the Dead” and “House of Roses”) read like standard murder-mysteries. A third (“The Heart’s Walls”) is mostly social and political commentary on East Germany. The remaining two, “Tom Bower” and “Knight of the Lions,” have historical components, but they are literary and not archeological. I should mention that “Knight of the Lions,” which is the only two-chapter arc in the volume, had a disappointingly weak plot. The creators do a nice job of setting the stage with shadowy enemies, but the Don Quixote clue used by the kidnapping victim seems too vague for Keaton to draw any kind of conclusion. However, this story is unusual in that Keaton and his allies do not claim complete victory over their adversaries. In addition, those more interested in Keaton’s SAS skills will get to see them at work.

He also leaps into action against gun-toting bad guys in “Twilight of the Migratory Birds,” ”Island of the Coward,” and “Interview Day.” Interestingly, all these stories involve attacks by various Mafia during Keaton’s time off. The tone ranges widely, however. The hostages and wounded detective keep the tension high in “Island of the Coward.” On the other hand, the blithe attitude of Keaton’s womanizing dad in “Interview Day” turns a run-in with the Chinese mafia into a comedy. “Twilight of the Migratory Birds” also has light moments but blends in a healthy amount of introspection.

The remaining two stories in this set seem like filler, quite frankly. “The Legendary Faint Smile” follows a lonely Japanese housewife, and “Man of the Tower” is about a businessman friend of Keaton’s. While the characters suffer personal pain and loss, their tragedies are more mundane than earth-shattering, and they don’t stick around long enough for us to really care about them. On top of that, Keaton’s unique abilities don’t come into play, making those chapters a tiresome read.

Extras include the first four pages in color, twelve pages partly in color, and a sound effects glossary.

In Summary

A mixed bag of stories and story quality. Keaton gets portrayed as archeologist, bodyguard, detective, and long-suffering son, but while some plots are rock-solid, others are shaky, and two arcs don’t seem to go anywhere at all. As such, every Master Keaton fan will probably find a chapter to like and another to dislike in this installment.

First published at the Fandom Post.

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