Master Keaton is an obscure work by a not-so-obscure mangaka. Anyone who sees the artwork will instantly know who did it. I recently watched two episodes–33 and 34–that made me want to talk about this series.
Originally a manga, it was adapted to TV in 1998 as a 24 episode series and was animated by Studio Madhouse (Madhouse strikes again). It was then followed by a 15 episode OVA in 2005. The OVA is a very similar to the TV series in terms of visuals. It is an improvement, as the animation is not as stiff, but the style and character designs are very similar.
The music gives the series a more whimsical feeling. It sounds European to me (or what I perceive to be European) and does not sound like modern music. It may sound traditional to me, but to anyone from Europe that might be a ridiculous (or offensive) claim. Nevertheless, it does give the series a sense of the old. This actually helps the series in many cases, such as in flashbacks or when Keaton visits ruins (ruins are common, as he is an archeologist).
The plot follows Taichi Keaton, a man of many talents, skills, and jobs. He graduated from Oxford University, where he met his wife. He is divorced from his wife, but his daughter spends time with him in some episodes. He primarily lives in England, but he travels all over the world. His father lives in Japan. I do not remember where his wife lives. His main occupation is working as an insurance investigator for Llyod’s of London, but he tries to maintain work as a professor of archeology.
The series overall has a slow pace to it. Episodes feel longer than they actually are (20 minutes feel like 40 minutes) and that is probably because most of the time is devoted to dialogue. There are action sequences, though, but they are few and short (even in the OVA, even though OVAs are known for having impressive action sequences).
The series is episodic and typically each story will be a mystery of some kind. This is not a detective series, however, like Detective Conan or NSIC. Master Keaton is primarily an insurance investigator, which means he usually has to find people that get into nasty financial trouble. In episode 33, for example, he has to look for a boy that is going to get a huge life insurance check due to his mother’s passing; however, the boy has gone missing. As it turns out, the boy had gotten tangled up with Italian terrorists, who were looking for money to finance their plot against the Italian government. Quite exciting for an insurance investigator!
The series does do a decent job at building characters.For example, the reason why Keaton has so chosen many occupations beyond just an insurance investigator, and why he is called “Master Keaton,” is explained in episode 34. In this episode, we go back to his childhood in Cornwall. While traveling to the ocean, he meets a bus driver that seems to be an admirable role model for the young Keaton: he is polite and kind, he does his job with respect, and he has an appreciation for life. The bus driver calls himself a “Master of Life.” He states that he is on a journey to acquire as much knowledge and skills as he can, which incidentally is what Keaton ends up doing: he is a professor, an archaeologist, a former SAS, a bounty hunter, an insurance agent, and a former survival instructor.
In particular, episode 34 was an interesting one, because it showed what caused Keaton to head down on his path(es) in life. As I described earlier, it explains why he is called “Master” Keaton; however, it is also a cautionary tale. As we learn later on, the bus driver, Chris, may talk tough, but it is all a facade. He talks the talks and gives good advice, but he lacks the will to truly follow it. He is a failure as a father and as a husband. Because of that, he resorts to drinking.
Drunk as drunk can be, he gets beat in a fight by John in front of Keaton. Chris then cowers and assures John that he will never go against him. Keaton finds his new idol on the floor in his own misery. His “Master of Life” philosophy was for show, as he considers himself a failure in career, fatherhood, and marriage. He can talk big, but he cannot deliver when push comes to shove.
This would have an affect on Keaton’s future, as this could be the reason why he joins the SAS. Through the SAS, he learns how to defend himself in combat, which he does many times throughout the series. After seeing Chris cower for his life, this would convince him that self-defense skills are important.
In another way, this episode is also be exploring much more of Keaton’s character through the gang that he meets. Earlier in the episode, he meets a boy and his gang on the port. In the second half, they convince Keaton to cross the moorland in Land’s End. As I was watching, I had a feeling that these boys were just tricking Keaton into doing something that he might regret (it was established earlier that they did not like him). However, the tables turn on them as it turns out that Keaton is more resilient than they thought. It all comes to an end for them, though, when they discover that the usual water pool is dried up. After marching into the middle of what seems to be an endless desert, the group is left without water or food. Keaton ends up finding water under an old monument, because apparently human ancestors built monuments on or near water (makes sense if you think about it – it would help travelers). He then guides the group back to town.
Keaton’s whole journey through life could offer some advice. In many ways, this episode is the starting point for many of Keaton’s life: why he joined the SAS and why he became a survival instructor. These skills stuck with him for the rest of life, and luckily for him they save his life many times in his work. This episode parallels a similar story earlier in the series when he is much older. He had no idea that these skills would be useful later on, but they saved his life. Skills will always be useful, and we never know when we will have need them, but we will be thanking ourselves when we do need them; we might even get out alive, too.