Master Keaton Vol. #4 (of 8) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Sunday, December 07, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, December 09, 2003



What They Say
A Brave Coward! Murder, bankruptcy, blackmail. Can Keaton really claim to lead a quiet life with this caseload? Even when not working a case, drama still works its way into Keaton’s life either in the form of a friend of his daughter’s who want’s to leave his stifling life behind to be free like a hawk… Finally, Keaton goes to Scotland to visit a friend; naturally, danger soon follows in the form of mercenaries from the Polish Mafia who take over the hotel after getting into a gun battle with the police! Keaton’s friend accuses him and another man of cowardice for laying low, but in the end, Keaton will join the “White Leopard of Angola” in a smart display of heroics.

The Review!
After the first fifteen episodes, the show finally hits a couple of weak stories with this release, though there are still a couple of good solid ones.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. Though a fairly recent show, the stereo mix here is pretty simple with little in the way of depth or directionality. Dialogue is nice and clear throughout it and we had no issues with distortions or dropouts.

Video:
Though it originally aired back in 1999, this show has a much older feel to it with its look and style, giving first impression of it being at least a decade older. There’s a good side and a bad side to this. The good side is that it really serves the shows distinctive style well, giving it that world weary feel yet at the same time showcasing it nicely. The downside is that there is a lot aliasing going on here, though thankfully it continues to be less with each volume.

Packaging:
Without a large headshot of Keaton, the covers just don’t seem right! This time around, we get the world map backdrop for the cover with a shot of Keaton in his standard outfit standing in front of it, so we get the full body look this time. The back cover provides a short series premise and then lists the five episodes on the disc by title and episode number while giving a one or two line rundown of the story. The discs features and production information is clearly listed, though a bit small in font. The insert provides another headshot of Keaton while taking the style of the back cover and providing shots from each episode and their respective chapter listings.

Menu:
My favorite menu designers are back again here, with Nightjar providing a great subtle menu that has the front cover full body shot with a world map behind him to the mixed colors and waving British flag all while playing a few moments worth of some of the instrumental music from the show. The menus are nicely laid out with excellent access times and very fast loading menus.

Extras:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the first three volumes of the series, which encompass the first fifteen episodes, there were a few weak stories mixed into the show but overall there were far more strong and enjoyable tales being told. With this volume, the balance shifts the other way, hopefully just temporarily, and only a couple of really good episodes are here.

The best one is the last one on the disc, “The Island of the Coward”, which plays like a skewed Key Largo episode. Keaton’s visiting a fairly unique hotel setup where for six hours of the day when the tide comes in, the resort is cut off from the mainland. The hotel was built up by a friend of his who had worked in the SAS some time back, so Keaton was interested to see what his friend had created. While that particular person isn’t there during the episode, Keaton does spend some time with his friends son, an earnest young man who just finished his second year in the British Military and is all full of doing the right thing and being that right upstanding type.

With the setup of an isolated island, it doesn’t take much for something unfriendly to happen there, since things like this typically happen around Keaton. A rather powerful but small group of Polish mafia types are on the island and after it goes out of touch with the mainland, they end up in a brief skirmish with a cop who was hunting them down on their methamphetamine plans. Taking advantage of the island being as it is, they haul everyone off to a room for safe keeping and then take Keaton to fix one of the boats so that they can get off the island early.

What makes things work here is the mix of characters. While you have the acquiescing Keaton, doing what he’s asked to do while he takes in all of the situation, you also have the brashness of youth in the soldier lad. To confound things further, there’s the apparent old drunkard guest that there as well who has far more secrets than you can guess initially, and he brings something fun to the episode as it progresses. There’s some great albeit brief action moments here, but the show is definitely all Keaton style with plenty of dialogue and deduction before taking the right route.

The other episode that was a lot of fun, partially from a parents point of view, was Into the Vast Sky. The episode turns the focus on the home life of Keaton in Japan as we come across Yuriko heading for school in the big city, but running into one of her classmates accidentally. Since both miss the train, she ends up discovering his secret, which is that he’s got a tamed hawk in his backpack and he intends to head out into the country to release it to the wild. A quick call to her grandfather and she learns where some hawks live locally outside of Tokyo and they’re off…

Keaton gets involved when the parents of the boy, Shinsuke, call him over this because he’s actually left a suicide note at home. Keaton takes all of this in stride knowing that while his daughter is involved, she’s obviously not going to kill herself, or likely let Shinsuke do that to himself either if that’s what’s really going on. His calm demeanor doesn’t help the boys frantic mother, so things turn to the two fathers heading out to where the kids may be going. The time spent with the two of them allows us to see some of Shinsuke’s life and the deal with the tamed hawk as well as the obvious parallels to Shinsuke’s life, as he’s feeling trapped by various decisions of schooling and home life.

The opposite side to all of this is having the wound up Shinsuke “on the run” with Yuriko, one of the more free floating spirits out there. She’s game for the adventure purely because it’s just such a beautiful day as it is, so why not. Her view on life becomes infectious to Shinsuke as they move throughout the countryside to a place where he can try to get the hawk to fly on its own. Much of the way things play out here are fairly typical and straightforward, almost bordering on an after school special, but I just love the way Keaton is assured of his daughters motives and how she’ll react to the various situations. Seeing a parent with confidence in their child is something of a rarity in the media in general.

The other three episodes play out standard stories in the local area, not taking Keaton to new locales or to fun new places. They tend to play out as more standard stories, though there is a reappearance of his friend Charlie during one of them as he ends up getting involved in a strange murder case that his friend has taken on. The stories aren’t bad, but they just feel a bit more predictable than normal and they don’t have the right flair to them since they’re all domestic stories as opposed to some of the world traveling we’ve gotten in earlier episodes.

In Summary:
Halfway through the series now, this is still a very fun and engaging show. I love the style and confidence of Keaton and the way he manages to play it down to keep things from focusing on him when the moment goes bad, allowing him to act. While he may be the type of character who has far too many skills in his repertoire, they’re not overly played in each episode, but only feel that way when taken as a whole. Regardless, this series continues to be enjoyable on many levels and I can’t wait to see what the next installment brings.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Master Keaton