Posted by psgels on 2 January 2012 with categories: Anime Reviews

Okay, I know. I’ve been keeping up with this blog for quite a few years now. And only now was the first time I witnessed a work of the living genius Naoki Urusawa. I figured that before watching Monster, I’d check out another adaptation of his: Master Keaton. It consists out of a television-series and a 15-episode sequel OVA (this review covers just the former, a review of the latter will come up soon). And here is the thing: out of all of Naoki Urusawa’s works, you hear the most raves about Monster, 20th Century Boys and Pluto. Master Keaton is completely overshadowed by them. I cannot imagine how good these series could be when they overshadow a brilliant series like this.

These past 24 episodes told me enough: whoever wrote this did a ton of background research. This is a completely episodic series about a guy named Taishou Keaton. This guy is a former member of the SAS, studied archeology and works as an insurance advisor. And at all of these, he is very knowledgeable. This anime convinced me that he indeed is.

Professionalism is a big theme of quite a few of the episodes in this series. The thing with writing very smart people is that they’re much harder to write than stupid people. This anime manages to perfectly portray how much knowledge Keaton has about his area of interests, and the action related episodes turn into really good battles of wit because of this, because most of the people that Keaton goes up against are visible professionals too. Once in a while this show also takes detours into other fields of study, for example in a very excellent episode about wine-making. Those too succeed in portraying craftsmen.

The episodes of Master Keaton can be divided into two broad categories: thrillers and heartwarming stories. The thrillers rock because the abovementioned professionalism, not to mention the wide variety of people that Keaton faces as an insurance investigator who sometimes gets to play for detective. The heartwarming stories also really succeed in what they set out to do due to very good characterization, and playful storytelling that toys nicely with all sorts of twists.

The beauty of Master Keaton is that every single story is just one episode long, and yet every episode is interesting and delivers. I did not see one weak moment, and a lot of the people that Keaton meets feel very much like real people. My one criticism is that there are too many “generic thugs” tropes walking around in this series, although it does subvert a few of those when you don’t expect it.

Storytelling: 9/10 – Intelligent, well paced, especially considering how this show consistently is able to tell interesting stories that are just 20 minutes long.
Characters: 8/10 – Keaton is very well acted and portrayed as a genius, the people he meets feel real, although the set-up leaves little room for actual character-development.
Production-Values: 8/10 – The animation is nothing special, although the character designs are very good and the soundtrack is nice as well.
Setting: 10/10 – Very well researched and very authentic. Top-notch in how it describes various European cities, and all sorts of fields.

Suggestions:
Mushishi
Mouryou no Hako
Darker than Black

19 Responses

  1. Juno says:

    Yup. You are going to love Urusawa-sensei. This is exactly what he’s good at. I might say, though, that it is only overseas that this series isn’t as well-known as his other series–likely because of publishing and distributing on the part of the ones marketing/advertising the series.
    When I was in Japan, I heard about as much of this as I did of 20th-Century Boys and I heard even less of Monster and Pluto (I didn’t read them until I got back to America). I only wish I could give you a reason that it wasn’t marketed well here… It’s just as good as his other series. Probably not enough “action” for this side of the world, though… that’s just my assumption. =P

  2. joojoobees says:

    I’m glad you reminded me of this series. I am one of the first to complain about there not being enough adults playing real roles in anime, and how great it is when we get to see people doing the work of professions (other than cop, spy, and giant robot pilot). So why haven’t I finished this series? I started it some time in the past, and experienced some sort of computer disaster (I don’t even remember which one any more). One thing led to another, and I forgot all about this show. Definitely something to go on my “things to do in 2012″ list!

  3. CJ says:

    Glad you like Master Keaton! The OVA is basically more of the same, of course when it’s this good is that really a problem? I know it says “OVA”, but it seems more like a “Back by popular demand, here are more Keaton eps!”
    Sadly for me, the manga will likely never come over here due to some legal disputes between Urasawa and Katsushika, I’m just happy I got the anime for cheap before disc 5 became like, $50+ to obtain. Geneon didn’t even distinguish between the TV and OVA, there really isn’t any point in doing so. But being a big manga person, this is kinda a letdown for me, you just know 18 volumes resulted in more than 38 stories.

  4. Keira says:

    Yes, the point is, Naoki Urosawa is an expert in building very realistic characters and doing insane amount of background research. You would sure to love it, it’s visible in his other work as well.

  5. gan says:

    I was thinking of looking up to Master Keaton now that I have finished 20th Century Boys,this review was quite helpful ^_^
    If you’re seeing Monster next,I have to keep my fingers crossed about your review.Monster is excellent without doubt,but one flaw which I found about Urasawa’s works is that they drag out really long.I realized this after I read 20th C.B. The thriller/suspense is excellent at first but then you get used to it.However it is still very well done.
    Since Master Keaton is an episodic series,I feel each story still remains fresh.
    Well let’s wait for your other review ;)

  6. Chiarissimo says:

    You should know : Naoki Urasawa has only done the art for the Master Keaton manga, and contributed very little to the storyline, despite what he may have said (I don’t see why he would have shut up about him being the scenarist of his manga…)

    The big problem with Naoki Urasawa is that he is way too politically correct, this can be seen in his Pluto manga, in which he completely misses the point about what Osamu Tezuka really intended to do with his work, and his Billy Bat series, which is most probably the blandest and most odourless thing he has created.

    His 20th Century Boys manga is amazing in its first 12 volumes or so, and then it turns into an utter mess. He gets lost in his own tracks and hints, he pulls bullshit after bullshit plot developments out of his ass and it concludes in the most mundane and corny way imaginable.

    Really his only real consistently good work is Monster, which has to be one of the best anime and manga out there. A lot people also complained about the ending, which I thought was satisfying enough and its lack of impact is more than justified by the sober nature of the series.

    Anyways, just so you know. There’s some seriously overrated crap in the manganime industry, such as the Gundam franchise and Naoki Urasawa.

    • gurdlo says:

      T thought 20th Century Boys was fantastic, but it did have some rather ridiculous plot-twists. As for Pluto, he missed the point of Tezuka’s work, but that shouldn’t matter at all to someone who hasn’t read it, forgoing it’s ties to it’s source material, it’s stil a solid read.

  7. ojisan says:

    I actually came at Master Keaton from the other end – as a fan of Yawara. Yawara has a lot of charm and a lot of repetitious tournament-style tropes. You can see him get the hang of the ‘professionalism’ thing, write himself into and out of corners, and learn his chops. Chiarissimo may be right about how much (or little) he contributed to Master Keaton, yet I see a lot of Yawara in Master Keaton beside the odd character designs, so I think there’s a lot of Urasawa in there too.

    I still consider Master Keaton to be a guilty pleasure – it’s wonderful, but a bit too squeaky-clean somehow. I like it best when, as in Monster, he shows how political history shapes personal destiny.

  8. someloser says:

    great! from the sound of it, you’re really going to enjoy monster if you find yourself pleased with this already. sad thing is it seems monster is the only series that is out in anime form, while pluto and 20th century can only be read. (though there is a live action of 20th i think…) good news though is that monster follows exactly with the original manga, almost image by image, so almost nothing is altered, totally worth the 74 episodes.

  9. Guigas says:

    I watched/read all Urasawa works and i still think Monster is the best of them all followed by 20th CB. Yup, Urasawa is a genius, my favorite mangaka right now, and considering I already read tons of mangas, that means something.

    “These past 24 episodes told me enough: whoever wrote this did a ton of background research”
    No doubts you’ll love Monster. It is highly realistic and detailed, with even more background research than Master Keaton. You can see the building of the towns matching reality, the distinct culinary of each region of Germany, etc.

    • Chiarissimo says:

      And every Turkish man with the same face and mustache… :P

      • Guigas says:

        Hahaha, that’s also true :D

        In fact the character design of all Urasawa works are too much alike.
        Dr. Tenma(Monster) has the same appearance of Mr. Keaton (Master Keaton), and Epsilon (Pluto) has the same appearance of Johan (Monster). I guess Urasawa is lazy when it comes about thinking about new character desings :P

    • Animeguilol says:

      “with even more background research than Master Keaton.”
      You should read the manga of Keaton before saying that.

  10. K.K. says:

    Monster was fantastic, I can’t wait to see your review of it. It’s too bad that it was so long though, since it puts off a lot of people from watching it, but I still try to recommend it to any anime fan that will listen.

  11. zewho says:

    Chiarissimo, you may think Naoki Urasawa is overrated, but when I think of how great his villains are, from my perspective, I can’t help but disagree with you.

    Johan is my favorite even though he is inspired by one of Osamu Tezuka’s characters from “MW” or so I’ve been told. It is figuring out what Johan’s true mentality, feelings, consideration, and perception of others might be that he hides so well that makes this show such a great mental challenge to think about.

    The mood, suspense, and atmosphere in “Monster” is so thick you can cut it with a knife. (I kind of think of it as an Alfred Hitchcock, Edgar Allen Poe, or almost an “Adams Family” kind of morbidity that’s lurking in it). So, if dark or depressing isn’t desired by the viewer, avoid “Monster” because at points I thought it was even more depressing than a majority of anime I’ve seen, including “Bokura no.”

    “Monster” is not really to be taken as lightly as “Master Keaton” just as a forewarning, Psgels. Seriously, it should come with a warning sign that says “WARNING this show is a whopping 74 episode slithering beast.” Wait, nevermind, the very first episode does start off with a very creepy passage. I feel this is what makes Naoki Urasawa almost like a mad genius to so many people. There’s a parody fan art that I could post that would sum everything up very nicely. It’s the one where Johan has sprouted Kyuubey’s ears.

  12. Chiarissimo says:

    Go reread what I’ve said.
    Monster is indeed great, and I agree with everything you just said about it and then some; I’m talking about the rest of what he’s done, which is really pretentious in terms of its real quality compared to its ambition and self-sufficiency. I’m not afraid to say that the last 10 volumes of 20th Century Boys (and all of 21st) is a steaming pile of shit; I wouldn’t go as far with Pluto and Billy Bat because they don’t deserve to be called that, considering how inexistant they are.

    • zewho says:

      I definitely read what you said. I’ve read a lot of what critics have said, too, and they can make some very good points. But pardon me if I’m being way too hopeful. I simply want there to be a 95+/100 score on this site, and I seriously believe “Monster” could be it. I’m not 100% positive that it will reach that score, but I’m fairly positive. I will simply shut up and wait and see. I don’t really care if you think “20th Century Boys” deserves a 10/100 score, either.

      As for whether that manga is a masterpiece worthy of being toted as the number one manga of all time I don’t know. I believe you and others have the right to be very skeptical of that claim. I still feel, however, that Urasawa is not overrated in many aspects i.e., his villains are really awesome.

      As for the whole politically correct issue, I wish I could comment on that criticism, but I’m not sure I can yet. I suspect that such a thing may not bother me very much in the same way Tenma’s pacifism did not bother me. I could be wrong, who knows? I’m definitely not not a sharp professional critic here.

    • Guigas says:

      @ Chiarissimo

      I only agree that the ending of 20th CB (last volume) and all of 21st are disappointing. I wouldn’t go as far as you did and say that the last 10 volumes are bullshit… but hey, everybody has it’s own opinion, I guess you have your reasons for thinking like that and I respect that.

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  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:48 AM)
    Ashura was an excellent example of how to through anime illicit and emotional response in an honest, non-melodramatic way.
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:46 AM)
    @Bam: I’d be more than happy to take a look at some of those shorts anytime.
  • Bam
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:44 AM)
    @Emma: there’s a lot of European animators that got active in the last 10 years or so that are really reinvigorating their animation scene, and every now and then I get introduced to some fabulous shorts.
  • Bam
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:40 AM)
    @Emma: no I don’t really mind gory ‘for the fuck of it’ violence, I even like it in some grindhouse type of works, but I just don’t think it’s always effective as a shock factor. Live-action is the most sympathetic for obvious reasons, but there are animated works that do elicit a deep response. Probably because of circumstances but also the details of the in-between animation, which can induce certain feelings of disgust.
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:39 AM)
    *here and there
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:35 AM)
    @Bam: I really wish there was more arthouse anime now to give some kind of a balance to everything thats out these days.
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:33 AM)
    Now I like my exploitation every so often, but yes Bam I really do wish that adult and mature storytelling could be better associated with truly, more pure mature themes.
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:25 AM)
    I get choked up over Bergmans cries and whisper and Autumn sonata, I look back on a work by Key and Jun Maeda and wonder, think of how silly it looks to me now.
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:24 AM)
    I also find it easier to get an emotional response from a honest drama, live action film, largely due to the real people doing the acting. Sometimes you get an actor whose just that good too…
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:22 AM)
    I’ve gotten my odd emotional reaction here from anime and manga but a lot of the time it feels like the jump scare in a generic horror movie, I got shocked but I felt minipulated afterwards it wasn’t genuine, the same goes for some anime/manga drama when it takes a melodramatic turn instead of a bleak, honest one.

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