Case Number 04455: Small Claims Court

MASTER KEATON: EXCAVATION II

Geneon // 1998 // 115 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // May 20th, 2004

The Charge

His Job is Danger; His Office is The World!

The Case

I don't mind a good, fluffy anime involving squealing teenage girls or a kick-ass anime involving really cool mecha, but what really turns my crank is dramatic anime involving a slouch-shouldered insurance investigator in his late thirties. Master Keaton is as good as any drama on television today -- and the title character is polite and kind, to boot.

Taichi Hiraga-Keaton is an unassuming, quiet man who doesn't flaunt his intelligence or cunning, but possesses enough of both to be a freelance insurance investigator for Lloyd's of London and to have had careers as an SAS Survival Instructor, a professor, and an archeologist. His assignments take him all over the world and put him in all kinds of situations, especially when the situation is sensitive or involves a great deal of risk and danger. Keaton is an expert on a broad range of subjects, and has a calm demeanor under pressure, both of which serve him in tense situations. His mixed heritage (half English, half Japanese) also gives him a unique perspective and ability to move between both worlds effectively.

Episode Summaries:

"Case 6: White Goddess"
Keaton goes to a remote site for an evaluation and discovers his client is an old friend from college. She has been trying for years to excavate these ruins, and only finally received agreement from the owner of the land just before he died. With the father gone, the son is bulldozing the lot for a motorcycle track, and Keaton decides to help her find the secrets inside the ruins before it is too late.

"Case 7: Memories of Summer Pudding"
Keaton and his daughter Yuriko journey to their summer home for a vacation. Taichi is surprised to find his father waiting for them until Yuriko reveals she has brought them together to discuss how they can get back together with their wives, or at least why things ended in the first place. Irritable about this idea, the two men go off and do their own thing, and both get caught up in memories of Taichi's mother.

"Case 8: Negotiators Rule"
A tense hostage situation requires the presence of Keaton, an expert in hostage negotiations. He must calm a hysterical wife and placate a concerned father while figuring out his strategy. On top of that he suddenly discovers the hostage wasn't actually covered at the time of his capture, due to voluntarily resigning from the company that insured him. Keaton must decide if he should continue to help, and how they can negotiate for his release now that funds are scarce.

"Case 9: Journey with a Lady"
Instead of a quiet train ride, Keaton shares a compartment with a demanding elderly woman. He ends up showing her a courtesy, by paying for her ticket when she insists that her purse with her passport and ticket is missing. Giving him what she says is a precious jewel in exchange, the woman demands he help her when they reach their shared destination. Polite as ever, Keaton goes along with it, and uncovers a very interesting story, indeed.

"Case 10: Charlie"
An old friend from childhood, who has grown up to be a crack detective, crosses paths with Keaton during a murder investigation. Charlie is tall, broad, and imposing, compared to the shorter, seemingly weaker Keaton, but a memory that surfaces from childhood proves that much of Charlie's bluster is bravado rather than heart. Despite his bluster, he truly wants to see justice done, and when Keaton points out a hole in his case, Charlie admits he made a mistake and goes after the real killers.

Overall Impressions:

I loved this series from the first episode I saw. The writing is keen, and the stories have a touch of sentimentality that makes them endearing. Master Keaton is a hard-boiled detective drama with a sweet side; Keaton's ability to appreciate the beauty in his world is exactly what makes dealing with the more unsavory elements so exciting. He is noble and high-minded, but never pompous or arrogant. Like any good hero, he isn't perfect -- he gets scared, he makes mistakes, and he has regrets, but he keeps trying. I just like watching him trying to make good.

I can't decide which one of the episodes on this volume was my favorite, but if I had to put my finger on it, I would pick "Memories of Summer Pudding." Although this was the least action-packed of the five episodes, I loved the animation (with landscape rendered like a Monet painting) and the story was sweet without being saccharine. This latter detail is worth reiterating: there is no eye-rolling sentimentality here, no deliberate tug on the heartstrings to provoke a reaction -- just a love for life and living that lightens the heart.

English dub voice acting for this release is excellent, and Ted Cole (who is probably best known as Kuno on Ranma 1/2) as Keaton really shines in this role. He performs Keaton with a gentle, thoughtful voice that can be hard when he needs it to be, and (to my ear) captured the essence of the original performance with the Japanese actor nicely. Keaton is a difficult character to bring to screen because he has a gentle nature that sometimes shows a steely underside, but it was done right in the English dub. Supporting cast performances were also good; in particular, there are several accents for the different locations that were done very well in nearly every case.

About the only negative to this release is the video quality. The animation is simple but lovely, with excellent character design and attention to detail, especially in regards to lighting (both bright and dark scenes) and setting a mood with things like background design and props. However, the print itself is slightly washed out, with some aliasing and softness to the image. While it doesn't significantly detract from viewing pleasure, fans of crisp, glossy-look anime may be put off by it. Sound quality is much better in comparison, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack that is clear and robust.

Extras include clean opening and closing credits, and a hidden feature showing 13 full-color DVD covers for the Japan releases. (SPOILER: to find this Easter egg, you need to use a regular DVD player with a remote -- go to the Extras Menu, arrow down to "DVD Credits," and press the arrow to the left. When the cursor disappears, press Enter to see the Unlocked menu.)

If you like detective stories or you want an anime title that is more oriented to adults, Master Keaton should be at the top of your list. There are no teenage defenders of Japan in this series and no adolescent robot heroes, but there is a lot of cool sleuthing, MacGyver-like narrow escapes, travel to exotic locations, and mystery. I know I can't wait to sit back with a bowl of popcorn for another DVD of Master Keaton.

Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile
Studio: Geneon
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)

Subtitles:
* English
* English (Signs Only)

Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Clean Opening Sequence
* Clean Closing Sequence
* Hidden Feature

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0373563/combined

* Official Site
http://www.masterkeatondvd.com/

* Review of Volume One
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/masterkeaton1.php