Geneon // 1998 // 115 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // May 20th, 2004
"You need to identify those situations that call for cowardice" -- The White Leopard of Angola
When I think of quality dramatic anime, Master Keaton is the first thing that pops in my head. With memorable, well-written stories, excellent characterization, and plenty of intrigue and excitement, each show is a joy to watch.
Taichi Hiraga-Keaton is the hero of this series. An unassuming Lloyd's of London insurance investigator in his late thirties, he is sought after for his intelligence, poise, and ability to handle dangerous and sensitive situations. Whether he is being called in as a hostage negotiator, bomb expert, or an investigator, he knows just how to handle himself and ensure that each mission is a success. Keaton is half Japanese, half English, and has homes in both London and in Japan, the latter of which is his family home, where his eccentric father and charming daughter, Yuriko, live. His family is important to him (even if his father is a bit of a character and has an eye for the ladies), and he loves his daughter wholeheartedly. Keaton is a man who loves life, and his actions and calm demeanor reflect this.
"Case 16: The Elm Tree Forever"
Keaton is faced with a perplexing situation: when the father went bankrupt and lost his will to challenge and browbeat his son, the son lost the driving force of resentment that helped him create music and rise to be a famous composer. Keaton must help the father regain his confidence in order to help the son.
"Case 17: A Mansion of Roses"
When a the wealthy owner of a beautiful rose garden is found stabbed, face-down in his prize roses, Keaton comes to investigate, but finds Charlie Chapman in his way. Charlie is sweet on the widow of the deceased, and is determined to keep Keaton away, even after he discovers the terrible truth.
"Case 18: Faker's Miscalculation"
An old mentor of Keaton's, Professor Bennington, is running for Chancellor to save the college and the fine reputation it has built over the years from being sullied by the arrogant son-in-law of the current Chancellor. When he is targeted by con men, expert at faking injury, it seems like the worst possible time, but their own professional pride might actually prove to be what Bennington needs to succeed.
"Case 19: Into the Vast Sky..."
Yuriko meets an old school friend and decides to skip school so she can help him release his hawk into the wild. When Keaton is contacted by the boy's frantic parents, who are concerned that he means to take his own life, Keaton joins the father on a search in the countryside.
"Case 20: The Island of Cowards"
Sometimes, knowing when not to fight is the greatest combat skill there is, as Keaton and a famous gun-for-hire demonstrate for an eager young military brat, when they are taken hostage on a remote island after high tide traps a group of criminals there.
I love the simple, but expressive animation for this series, especially the soft, lush backgrounds. Character design is excellent and perfectly fitting for these characters, who are so alive it is easy to imagine them as real people, and to want to meet them and know them. Kitaro Kosaka (Princess Mononoke) lends his unique talents to help bring them to life. Although it deals with tense situations, terrorism, and violence, the stories are not violent. Keaton is not a profane man -- he is polite, kind, and has a gentle nature that infects the people around him. He can be steely when he needs to be. If the situation calls for it, he can be frighteningly hard and cunning.
The direction is worth noting, as Master Keaton could easily be a live-action show. In anime, there is sometimes a need or desire to take advantage of not having any physical boundary; for example, characters are shown running through a forest at breakneck speed, yet their face is fully in focus and absolutely still as the background whips around behind them -- this is something no physical camera could capture. Master Keaton grounds itself in traditional camera moves, and it gives the show a surprising reality that helps to set the mood. As I am watching, I feel like I could be in the scene with them.
Print quality for the DVD transfer is very good, with only a slight bit of edge shimmer. The animation itself is an old-fashioned, simple style that might put off viewers who prefer a more modern, glossy look, but it is completely appropriate to this series and I can't imagine it another way. Sound quality is also clear, with a robust 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtrack that shows off ambient noise nicely.
Not a lot of extras on this volume, but you can find a secret feature on the SAS by going to the Extras menu, arrowing down to "DVD Credits," arrowing to the left, then pressing Enter on your remote.
I enjoy the simple pleasure of immersing myself in Keaton's world, and seeing his travels on various missions. I heartily recommend this series to anyone who enjoys drama that has heart and believable characters that get under your skin and make you care about and root for them.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
* English (Signs Only)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Hidden Feature
* Official Site
* Review of Volume One
* Review of Volume Two
* Review of Volume Three