Master Keaton (vol. 1) by Naoki Urasawa, story by Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki, translated and adapted by Pookie Rolf
Goodbye to 2014. Whew! 2015 can only be better, thank you! What makes me so sure? Because among the many things to look forward to throughout the new year is a brand new Naoki Urasawa series-in-translation! How bereft was I when the 24-volume 20th-into-21st Century Boys ended almost two years ago. And before that, eight-volumed Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka felt way too short, and finishing my beloved 18-volumed Monster was like losing an old friend. Obsessed much? Why, yes! Happy groupie am I once more: looks like four thick Urasawa volumes are hitting shelves about every three months. Yipppeeeee!
So not to get picky, but let’s be clear here: although the cover says “by Naoki Urasawa,” he’s actually the illustrator, bringing to life stories conceived by Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki, the latter with whom Urasawa also collaborated on Boys and Pluto. Surely Urasawa’s art can make any narrative look amazing, but be assured, Master Keaton has plenty of hair-raising, heart-touching, adrenaline-junky adventures to sooth countless Urasawa fans.
In Volume 1, we get to know Taichi Hiraga Keaton, a hapa Japanese British archaeologist by training whose dual background is not unlike his double life. The son of a British woman from Cornwall and a Japanese zoologist with a penchant for philandering, Keaton was born in Japan, but was raised in England after his mother left his father when he was 5. He didn’t return to his birth country to live until after he finished his Oxford degree.
At home in Tokyo, Keaton is a lowly college lecturer. He’s still in love with his ex-wife who might be planning to marry someone else. He regularly exasperates his precocious, know-it-all, teenage daughter. With good reason.
He skips out of his classes rather regularly, to experience his other life as an insurance investigator on far-flung assignments to solve mysteries, fraud, even murders. In this inaugural volume, Keaton goes off to a Greek island to figure out why a dead man would bypass his own family and designate his life insurance payout to a dubious fine art company; he returns to London to prove the inauthenticity of ancient art; he miraculously emerges from the Taklamakan Desert when his archaeological research group gets abandoned as punishment for dishonoring the locals; he saves his might-be, never-knew half-sibling; he helps a mysterious old woman cross dangerous borders; and he plays a fatal game of hunter and hare through London’s underworld. His attention to details that no one else sees, as well as the extreme survival techniques he learned in the SAS (the elite British secret service) make him surprisingly invincible.
Don’t let that haphazard, disheveled appearance fool you: Keaton might not remember how to make a promised phone call at the right time, he might not know how to express his deepest emotions, he might not be able to keep a reliable professorial schedule, but his many other strengths made him a formidable agent for justice and change. The plotting is ingenious, with each chapter a mini-thriller/mystery-to-be-solved in ways that only Keaton seems to know. Nonchalant and often under-the-radar, Keaton’s rather expert at saving the day. Oh so grateful that we get to travel along with him throughout the new year!
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 1989 (Japan), 2014 (United States)
Master Keaton © Naoki Urasawa/Studio Nuts, Hokusei Katsushika, Takashi Nagasaki
Original Japanese edition published by Shogakukan