Saturday, December 20, 2014

Master Keaton Remaster review

My first introduction to Naoki Urasawa (Pluto, 20th Century Boys) was through the Yawara manga. This was followed by the official English translation of Pineapple Army. Eventually,I discovered Master Keaton, which ran in Big Comic Original from 1988 to 1994, with writing by Katsushita Hokusei. According to the wiki article, Katsushita died of cancer in 2004, and Urasawa started claiming in 2005 that the two of them had had a falling out and that Katsushita had quit the series part-way through. Because of this, Urasawa wanted his name in bigger letters on the covers of the collected volumes. Kariya Tetsu, a friend of Katsushita's, opposed the move, and the series was discontinued. (Note that Hokusei Katsushita was a pen name for writer Hajime Kimura, who co-wrote Golgo 13.)

Urasawa started up the sequel, Remaster, in 2012, running in Big Comic Original, with writing this time by Takashi Nagasaki. It picks up 20 years after the end of the original series.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Master Keaton Remaster, story by Takashi Nagasaki, art by Naoki Urasawa, Grade: A-
The main character is Taichi Hiraga Keaton, a half-Japanese, half-British Oxford graduate who had been a member of the SAS before turning to archaeology. He has a daughter, Yuriko, also an archaeologist, currently working in Malta. She had been married, but has recently become divorced for unspecified reasons. There's no volume number, so it's possible this book collects all of the stories for the sequel. There are 8 chapters, numbered "Quest 1" through "Quest 8". The first few are stand alone, while those in the middle are connected by Keaton's learning about his daughter's divorce, then going to Malta to meet up with her. The final story is one that I found in Original some months ago, so I already knew how it would turn out. The artwork is excellent, as is the character development. Some of the plots are a bit flimsy, and there's that standard Japanese wish fulfillment thing going on where everyone else from every other country is unable to understand the obvious until Keaton explains it to them. But still, the book is worth reading for the history and cultural lessons.

(Even Italian mafia human traffickers don't mess with Italian nuns.)

Quest 1: Nemuri Otoko (Sleeping Prince)
The volume starts out with Keaton teaching classes in Bucharest, Romania, and one of the students insisting on called him "Doctor Keaton". Keaton protests this, saying that he doesn't have the qualifications for that. Later, he's called to a women's monastery in Italy to help with a woman who had washed ashore a few days ago. She'd been rescued by a solitary man living in a hut with his dog, but when she came to, she'd been undressed before being put to bed, and the guy was telling the dog about the original Sleeping Beauty story (where the princess had been raped while asleep). The guy succumbed to a stroke and is now in a coma in the hospital. The woman, Sophia, had been kidnapped and placed on a boat en route to Eastern Europe when it was intercepted by the European coast guard and she was thrown overboard by the crew. Sophia wants Keaton to find out who the old man in the hospital is, and whether he's a good guy, or a member of the human trafficking gang operating out of Italy.

(A letter to Antonia.)

Quest 2: Shinai naru Antonia e (Love Letter for Antonia)
Keaton is in Croatia visiting Daniel, a guy that was introduced to him by a mutual friend. Daniel is to be driven to Zagreb to deliver a 20-year-old love letter he'd found in a wooden desk in his rented furnished office space. Unfortunately, Daniel seems to have attracted the attention of a local political gang and needs to be guarded on the trip as well. Keaton can't read the language, so Daniel quotes bits and pieces of the letter to get him emotionally involved in completing the trip. The letter was written by a Yugoslavian soldier, Ladomir, to his Zagreb girlfriend, Antonia, during the height of the Bosnian conflict (they were on opposite sides of the war). He'd been watching her house through his rifle scope when the building was shelled. He couldn't find her afterward, so he wrote the letter at her desk, amid the smouldering rubble. Daniel's story gets undercut when Keaton realizes their pursuers are carrying police-issue pistols, and there's a good chance that Daniel is a notorious German crime ring leader responsible for fixing pro sports soccer matches.

Becough and Keaton recreate the siege of Troy.)

Quest 3: Marion no Kabe (The Wall of Marion)
Prof. Becough (French name, don't know how to spell it) is teaching ancient Greek history in a class in Paris, and he calls on a student to explain what he likes about Homer's Iliad. The student tries to fake his answers, but it's clear that he never read the book. Becough asks the rest of the students to respond, but the only one that can is Keaton, who is sitting in the back, waiting to meet his old teacher after class. Keaton says that there are four mysteries still unanswered about the Fall of Troy: Why a wooden horse? How could one woman cause a war that lasted 10 years? Was there a real horse or was that just a legend? And, why did King Menelaus, the victor of the war, not punish his wife, Helen, later? After the class, Keaton talks with his old mentor and learns the professor had separated from his own wife in a situation similar to the Greek myth. She ran off with a younger man, then came back to Paris. They still visit the same cafe, but have stopped talking to each other. Becough's backyard has a scale model of the city of Troy, and the two men recreate the battle so that Keaton can give his theory regarding one of the mysteries (the invaders had siege machines too small and confined for the soldiers to breech the walls. The thought is that planks were tied between two of the siege machines, with a bigger boarding plank in the middle for men to run up side by side. In the smoke of the battle, the construction would look like a big horse). Becough's wife has uncovered the secrets for two of the other mysteries, and Keaton urges the professor to answer the last one for himself by reconciling with the woman that had left him. At the end, Keaton gets a call from Yuriko saying that she's just broken up with her own husband.

(Keaton tries to replicate an American experiment that showed wood soaked in water and left to freeze can stand up to bullets.)

Quest 4: Habakuku no Seiya (Habcock's Christmas Eve)
(Not sure of the spelling, but the closest I can get is Habcock.) Habcock Watt is an old Irishman that had been a member of the IRA during the unrest decades ago. He's approached by a Japanese TV producer who wants permission to do a documentary on the assassination of Samuel O'Hara, who'd been killed on Christmas Eve as a spy by Watt and some others. Unfortunately, the producer's meddling has awakened old resentments - O'Hara's grandsons want revenge by reenacting the assassination by riddling Watt's cabin with automatic handgun fire on Christmas Eve. If Watt survives to see the morning, the O'Hara boys will call things "even". The producer has asked Keaton for help in talking to Watt, and it's up to him to save all of them when the shooting starts at midnight. (Keaton's plans involve soaking old newspapers in freezing water.) Meanwhile, Keaton had been in Ireland to talk to the old woman that had hosted Yuriko when she was going to school there. The woman is having problems because the larger, older dog that Yuriko had left with her is terrorizing her smaller Yorkie. Keaton's solution is to walk the two dogs together while keeping them on short leashes.

(Keaton tries to get straight answers from his father.)

Quest 5: Megami to Sandaru (The Goddess and Sandal)
Keaton has been requested to visit his father, Taihei, but the old man has slipped out of the nursing home and to entertain two young women with card magic at a hostess bar. After being dragged to a Stardust Coffee shop, Taihei tells his son that he needs help in rescuing a friend of his, Naomi Tremaine. Naomi had married Taihei's friend, a Brit, but Tremaine had died a long time ago and the old woman has gone senile. Keaton visits her, and she mistakes him for her own son (she'd been childless). On the other hand, Naomi's cooking reminds him of his own mother's, but she'd died when he was still an infant. Naomi's memories seem to be coming back, primarily because of the smell of vanilla on her cat, Sandal. The current crisis is that Sandal has been breaking into a neighbor's greenhouse and tearing up his plants. The guy is threatening to shoot the cat with a crossbow next time. Keaton's clues are: vanilla, "goddess's sandals" and a pair of hunting axes Tremaine kept as souvenirs from an expedition to Borneo. Later, Keaton is talking to his father, who asks if he has remembered anything yet. Keaton says "no", so Taihei tells him that he'd lost his wife about the time Naomi lost her husband. While the two of them weren't romantically involved, Naomi did a lot of cooking for them, and cared for Keaton as a surrogate mother for a while. That's why Keaton thought Naomi's food tasted "like his mother's" - he'd grown up eating Naomi's cooking. Taihei then talks Keaton into going to Malta to patch things up with Yuriko.

(Keaton finally reaches Malta.)

Quest 6: Ookami Shonen (The Boy Who Cried Wolf)
If I understand the set-up, Keaton, who has done investigative work for Lloyds of London, has been asked by one of their people, Hana Brown, to uncover dirt on her father. Mr. Brown had disappeared when she was a child, and all she remembers of her father is him telling her the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" story, but with the villagers changed to be the bad guys. Meanwhile, she plans to broker a deal with someone representing the former Soviet block in a few days. Keaton starts asking around, and encounters Hana's business counterpart at the same restaurant he met her at. When he tries to follow the guy, he's stopped at the restaurant entrance by some toughs in a dark sedan. Keaton quickly figures out that the guys are agents from MI6, that Mister Brown was a double agent that had been betrayed by someone very high up in MI6, and the betrayer is the guy that Hana is supposed to meet. If Hana remembers who the guy is (the "close friend" of her father's during her childhood), he'll kill her.

(Keaton and the elf with 8 hats.)

Quest 7: Maruta-shima no Megami (The Goddess of Malta)
Keaton is in Malta, where Yuriko is eager to spend time with him, and talk about everything but why she'd gotten divorced. While she's getting recipes from neighborhood women on how to make the Maltese version of Halva, members of her archeology club - full doctorates - are disparaging her father. The problem is that there's a bowl that has engravings on it that may or may not link eastern and western religions together through a speculated trade route. Keaton was on TV to give his opinion based on his discovery of the only existing example of the claywork, and the theory runs counter to the accepted story. The club members equate Keaton with Schliemann, an amateur who happened on the existence of Troy by accident, and are turned off by the fact that Keaton doesn't have a Ph.D. (Yuriko quietly recalls that her husband had made similar remarks about her father during the TV broadcast, which is why she broke up with him.) Yuriko's meal goes well, but she's worried about having to confront a specific crazy old professor to get permission to visit a dig he's working on. So far, no one from the club has gotten anywhere with him, and now it's her turn. The old man sits in front of a door to an old building. Next to his chair is a little carving of an old, mustachioed elf wearing 8 red cloth hats. When Keaton arrives with Yuriko, he immediately takes one of the hats and puts it in a goblet next to the carving. He recites a folk tale about a villager that had a dream that something heavy was on his chest. When he woke up, he saw an elf dancing on him. He took the elf's hat off and put it in a bowl. His reward for during so was the discovery of a treasure hoard buried under his house. The old professor waits until Yuriko and the club president do the same thing, then take them into the building. There's a hole in the floor leading to a buried cave with an altar in the middle of the space. Also in the cave is a bowl with an engraving showing a cross between the older goddess-worshiping peoples and the later male-dominated religion of the west, thereby vindicating Keaton's theory.

(The Glorious 8, with Keaton trying to show that no one country has a clear title to the Falklands.)

Quest 8: Eikou no Hachinin (The Glorious 8)
Keaton was one of 8 SAS soldiers paddling canoes over the sea into the Falklands prior to the main invasion of the Falkland War. They talked about the justification for the invasion, and who actually holds legal claim over the islands (Keaton says that 4 countries are involved, and there's no clear claim). Years later, Keaton is visiting one of the remaining men in a hospital. The guy, Bob Boyer is hooked up to machines keeping him alive during his coma. Boyer had been reading the newspaper when he'd gotten agitated, then collapsed. Another visitor to the hospital is Mike Ritchie, now the president of a security company operating in war zones around the world. Three of the other Glorious 8 had also been his employees - Ian, Vick and Adam. Ian had disappeared 20 years before in Sarajevo, and his body had only recently been discovered in a landmine field. The newspaper story discussing the discovery is what had put Bob in the hospital. Adam had died in a hiking accident when he slipped and fell from a cliff a week before Keaton meets Mike. Vick quit the security company and has gone missing. Mike wants Keaton to find Vick. Keaton tracks Vick to a pub, where the bartender says that the guy had been reading the paper when his face went white and he'd run out and not come back. It's starting to look like Ritchie's company had a dirty little side business dealing in drugs and human trafficking, and that Mike and Ian may have had a falling out over it. Vick may be the last man standing who knows what had happened between the two other men 20 years ago.

Comments: Overall, this is a good book, but it gets pretty dark when talking about Bosnia, the Falklands, Sarajevo and Ireland. There's some natural history, with discussions of Schliemann, Mesopotamia, Troy and Borneo, which I like. As mentioned above, the artwork is great, as is the pacing. The only reason I marked it down to A- is the wish fulfillment thing. Highly recommended for people that think Q.E.D. and C.M.B. are aimed at too young an audience.


Prika_arakaki said...

Is it already available in English?

TSOTE said...

Not sure. Viz licensed the Master Keaton series in 2014 for the North American market, which could have included Remaster. I'm not in the U.S., so I can't look at the manga in the bookstore to check if Remaster was included in the English volumes or not. I do know that it has been fan translated on the net.