New Urasawa Title Coming to English: Master Keaton

Master Keaton cover

Viz is on a roll with its license announcements, but this one is the most exciting! Master Keaton by Naoki Urasawa, author of the wonderful Pluto, Monster, and 20th Century Boys, will be published in North America in December as a Viz Signature title. (It’s also coming to the United Kingdom, and Australia.) It’s a long wait, but boy will it be worth it.

The series runs 12 volumes. It’s described as a “post–Cold War suspense thriller”, the story of Taichi Hiraga-Keaton, who’s an archeology professor and insurance investigator. (A modern-day Indiana Jones?) “The son of a Japanese zoologist and an English noblewoman, educated in archaeology at Oxford 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 series ran 1988-1994 in Japan, and each volume will include 18 pages of color art at a cover price of $19.99. There’s also an anime adaptation, which was available translated here in 2003.

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Coming to TV?

I don’t normally talk about a lot of media adaptation announcements, because most of them, who knows if they’ll ever happen? (Although personally, I’d watch a Supernatural Law movie. Remember that plan?) I’m really eager to see this one, though, because the manga original was a terrific, twisty read, and the talent involved in the proposal is great.

Monster anime

Deadline reported that Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy director) is developing a series with HBO based on Naoki Urasawa’s manga. He will co-write with Steven Thompson (Doctor Who, Sherlock), and del Toro will direct the pilot.

The series, about a doctor who destroys his career saving the life of a boy who turns out to be a psychopathic killer, is well-suited to HBO, since it’s got artistic cred yet the possibility for violent content that couldn’t make it on network. The project was previously planned to be a feature film, in development at New Line since 2005, but the content — including the doctor’s attempts to find and stop the boy — was too much for a movie.

There was an anime adaptation, although only part of it is available on DVD.

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The 20th Century Boys Song Is Real! See Naoki Urasawa Sing It

This makes me happy. The song that motivates the downtrodden to rise up against the evil dictator in Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, “Gutalala Sudalala”, actually exists! And here’s footage of the author himself singing it at Japan Expo 12 in Paris (which explains the French narration). I’ve set the clip below to skip the setup and the non-translated Japanese and French; go back if you want to see Urasawa-san adjust his microphone and such.

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Manga Out Loud Discusses Naoki Urasawa

As our contribution to this week’s Manga Moveable Feast, Ed and I were joined for the Manga Out Loud podcast by Faith Erin Hicks (Friends With Boys) and Daniel Briscoe to discuss the works of the extraordinarily talented Naoki Urasawa. We were supposed to talk mostly about 20th Century Boys, but we wound up enthusing a lot over how much we all enjoyed Monster first.

Manga Out Loud logo

I also appreciate Daniel and Faith giving me new perspective on 20CB. I wound up playing devil’s advocate a bit more than I wanted, but they showed me new elements to discover in the series. We also compare it to the TV show Lost.

This was a long conversation, almost two hours total, but that includes a half-hour of Ed and I first. In that section, we talk about some license announcements and what we’ve read over the last month, including my re-read of Oishinbo. (Note: I tell Ed I’m not going to spoil the last volume for him, and then my next sentence does just that, so yay for inconsistency.) We also briefly mention the new Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and the news of Bakuman’s planned ending, plus we discuss A Bride’s Story Book 3 and what JManga Ed had read.

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*Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 8 — Recommended

The much-anticipated (and much-feared, because no one wants it to be over) final volume in the deservedly much-praised series is here, and the presentation is excellent. This volume, with 10 chapters and 254 pages, is over-sized compared to the previous, and it opens with 10 glorious color pages. This book feels substantial and important, and so it is.

Pluto Book 8 cover
Pluto Book 8
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This is the manga series that converts any comic reader to appreciating the format. It has an immediately intriguing high concept — someone is murdering the world’s seven greatest robots. But how do you murder a robot? Does that even make sense? And why would someone make a gripping story for adults out of an Astro Boy story? Isn’t that like doing War and Peace with Mickey Mouse? Surprisingly, no. It plays off of all the strengths of the medium in an approachable way.

The art is gorgeous, easy to read, with the pacing and emotional punch of a great movie. The themes are big and classic. What makes someone human? How do you cope with the loss of a dearly loved one? What if you could bring them back, or prevent war from hurting anyone else? What is the responsibility of science and how do you practice it ethically? Anyone can relate, especially once you meet the great robots, lovable personalities with their own quirks. They’re all remembered here, inspiration for a new generation.

Each chapter ends at a point that immediately rushes you into wanting to read the next installment. Yet the staging is so well-done that you won’t realize the story was originally serialized if you’re not looking for it. It all holds together, each revelation building on previous events. The layers of identity can be confusing at times, but they demonstrate the potential for anyone’s change and re-invention of self.

As befits a story based on his series, Astro Boy has returned, but in a much scarier way than his usual cheery fly-by. The visual contrast between his deep, adult motives and his friendly, childish appearance is shocking, and that’s what makes him the perfect centerpiece of the book. Everyone wants to protect him, almost instinctively, without realizing his power and abilities. It’s a kind of deceptive immortality, where he can’t grow up, no matter how much he learns or mentally ages. Yet it’s his increasing wisdom that drives him to begin deceiving those he cares for.

The end will seem young in its optimism to some, but I think hope in the light of acceptance of the horrible things people can do takes maturity, as shown in the gorgeous cover illustration. This is the kind of book where, as soon as you reach the end, you want to reread the whole series to recognize what you missed and relive the emotional power of the story. Here’s a look back at our reviews of every volume in the series. (The first were by Ed, but then I took over later in the series.)

(The publisher provided a review copy.)

*Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 7 — Recommended

Ah, dear Pluto. What will we do when you’re gone? You’re well-respected, widely enjoyed, critically praised, and amazingly entertaining, but the next volume is your last.

And really, where else can you go? There’s only one of the seven great robots, Epsilon, left on earth, and in this volume, he has his showdown with Pluto, the grand villain of the piece. Of course, since you’re created by Naoki Urasawa, there’s a lot more to his motivation than that, and the thoughts you raise about the nature of humanity, definitions of good and evil, and which actions are “right” are thought-provoking beyond your genre and format.

Pluto Book 7 cover
Pluto Book 7
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I think, though, this time I’m most impressed by the associations you raise in my mind. For example, in the opening scene, where we see how a robot can go mad by holding six billion personalities simultaneously, you portray (in color, no less!) a series of headshots of all kinds of different people of various ages and races. I was reminded of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video, with its end sequence of morphing heads, a visual technology so revolutionary for the time (1991).

Professor Tenma’s prophetic words in the flashback, “We may be creating a monster,” of course remind me of Urasawa’s other work of that title. Several of the concepts and images evoke classic science fiction tropes, whether the idea of trying to replace a dead loved one with a robot or the images of the dark, pipe-lined tunnels and mechanized transports they ride. The soul chips that are used to give robots their “spirits” resemble a mutant blend of futuristic key and razor blade.

Hogan, a robot cop sent to be Epsilon’s bodyguard, has a helmet that reminds me of, yes, Robocop. Uran reads Pinocchio, another story about a creation who wanted to be human. But it’s not just movies, videos, books, and comics referenced; there’s mythology and news, too. There’s a prophetic, otherwise silent child for creepiness, and war crimes underlying it all. Epsilon’s ability to glow and channel proton energy makes him a kind of sun god, like Apollo, with undertones of a nuclear bomb in his destruction and a Christ-like striving for peace and love in his care of war orphans. (Plus, in his weakness of needing enough solar energy to recharge after a great explosion of power, I saw hints of both Superman and Green Lantern.)

Most surprising to me was when we finally see Pluto, the great robot monster — the shape of his body and the markings on his rounded helmet reminded me of Spawn. Which, since I despise Todd MacFarlane, worked quite well for me in terms of connotations. Instead of sending my thoughts wandering away, these memories and allusions, whether intentional on your author’s part or not, make you a deeper work, one that connects to a grand tapestry of art and history.

I will miss you when you’re gone, Pluto, but in the meantime, I will eagerly anticipate your conclusion and reread your other volumes. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster DVD Set Out December 8

Naoki Urasawas Monster cover
Naoki Urasawa’s Monster
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The first box set of the anime version of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster will be released on Tuesday, December 8.

It’s the story of a world-famous neurosurgeon who saves the life of a little boy who turns out to be a conscienceless murderer, the monster of the title. The doctor gives up his career and life to pursue the boy, now grown to an adult, in an attempt to stop him from committing more killings.

Right now, it’s 45% off of the list price of $60 at, making it $33, so you may want to preorder. The set contains 15 episodes on three DVDs. The box set also includes a digitized version of the original Japanese booklet from the set.

The series ran 74 episodes, so if the sets stay this size, this should be the first of five. It’s a shame that the collections aren’t a little bigger, for that price, but I’m not that familiar with standard anime pricing.

You can also watch Naoki Urasawa’s Monster on the Ani-Monday block on Syfy.

*Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 6 — Recommended

I was stunned to realize that this volume didn’t conclude the series, since so many plot points are tied up and conflicts resolved. All the themes of the series are prominently on display:

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 6 cover
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Book 6
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* Robots demonstrating human emotions. Detective Gesicht solves the murders based on a self-described hunch.

* The horror of war. Gesicht’s visit to a Persian bazaar seeking clues introduces him to a robot child maimed during the past conflict and reduced to begging.

* Trying to survive a loss of family. Many of the professors responsible for creating advanced robots were motivated by the death of loved ones and wind up transferring their affection to self-created replacements. This also ties into a desire to influence the future and pass one’s purpose on to another generation.

* The pain of memory, and yet its necessity. Robots can have their memories erased, but few (in the scenes we’ve seen where the option was offered) have chosen to do so. In contrast, humans who have suffered express envy for that ability. When we do hear of a robot memory deletion, it was part of a government conspiracy with lasting ramifications. Memories can’t be covered up forever, and the more you try to hide them, the worse the effects when they resurface.

* The definition of humanity. When Gesicht meets Abullah, head of Persia’s Ministry of Science, Gesicht is at first confused as to whether Abullah is human or robot. Most of his body is artificial due to severe war injuries. This echoes back to the way Astro Boy crosses the same line, as does Gesicht himself.

Things move very rapidly, and you may want to reread all five of the previous volumes in order to grasp all the details and twists of the mystery. But “who did it” isn’t the point, although that question is answered here. Why they did it boils down to one of the most basic human motivations possible: revenge.

The image of the world’s most advanced robot, maintained in an unconscious state because no artificial intelligence, no matter how superior, can cope with the confusion of personalities of everyone on earth, is a mysterious, tragic picture that keeps being brought up. Only one strong emotion will wake him, and those emotions are negative — hatred, anger, sadness — because of the flaws of his creators. In the series’ core contradiction, robots truly have the potential to become human when they gain the abilities of deception and murder. Yet the robots in this series are the ones who maintain hope for the future, taking stands for pacifism and justice and dreaming of a desert blooming with flowers.

After the events of this book, not all of the world’s seven greatest robots are deceased, and due out in January is volume 7 to continue the story. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

Update: There are lots of art samples and spoilers at Matthew Brady’s writeup.




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