Master Keaton Volume 11
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about the Master Keaton series — the last I covered was volume 8 last year — because it’s not your typical manga series. Each volume is best approached as a short story anthology, held together by most (but not all) of the chapters having an appearance by Taichi Keaton, insurance investigator (and former special forces soldier, which helps when someone tries to kill him, which happens more often than you’d expect).
By this point in the series, it’s mostly been forgotten that Keaton really wants a job in academia, since he’s become much more of a device to explore human nature pushed to the brink, although we do sometimes see him doing archaeology. That’s the case in the standout story in volume 11, a three-chapter exploration of a man driven to become an assassin by the need to avoid seeming incompetent.
“Made in Japan” involves Keaton’s daughter; a Japanese businessman abroad pushed to the breaking point after he was abandoned by his company and wife; a Vietnam vet from Texas with sadistic tendencies; and Keaton himself at a dig site. Although it incorporates several key themes popular in 80s entertainment — Japanese business techniques becoming more known worldwide and the instability of soldiers returned from the last war — I found it relevant to today in the question of what an economic system owes its participants. The deal is not the only thing that’s important.
Like this one, some of the stories reflect their late 1980s origins more than others. The first, for example, combines a military man coping with the death of his son, who was tagged as a drug dealer, with exposing a crooked cop. Another pits twin brothers against each other for the attraction of a hard-bitten career woman, only for them to find more value in parenthood. (Sounds like a couple of movies I remember from that era, although those usually starred women finding virtue in becoming a mother.) That’s one of the ones without Keaton; instead, his father is manipulating the situation to obtain a father for an orphaned child.
As a change of page from those meaningful installments, the batty old woman who demands Keaton investigate crimes only she sees returns as well for some comic relief. She’s convinced a missing professor who exchanged poetry on a computer bulletin board system (and stored her files on floppy discs) has been murdered.
There’s a faux-Gothic tale about a publisher, a dead poet, and a ghost on the staircase that could be set and told any time, as could the one about the boxer and his fight photographer torn apart by their love for the same woman. The same goes for a piece involving a director determined to get the right shot and his conflict with the producer putting up the money for his movie. (I like the entertainment world stories more than the political ones.)
Regardless of the setting or premise, every tale has a beautiful blend of well-choreographed action and expressive characters. Naoki Urasawa is a master of detail work, so each of his chapters play out like mini-movies, with a distinctive cast and skilled panel flow. I never know what the next story in a Master Keaton volume will bring, but I enjoy the diversity of topics and flashbacks.