Keyman is the resident hero of Rockville City, a place inhabited by both humans and animal people. In the years since his debut as a hero, crime has decreased significantly, which does not look all that great for the local police force. But one day, after he catches yet another group of criminals, Keyman is mysteriously murdered. Detective Alex and his police force are investigating the murder, and one of their major clues is the words "Dr. Necro," which were carved onto Keyman's body after his death. Their case gets even stranger when Alex unexpectedly meets "Dr. Necro," who appears to be a young girl, in a bar. What monster could be behind the murder of Keyman, and what does the childlike Dr. Necro have to do with it all?
Keyman have quickly become one of those mangas where I am awaiting every new scanlation release with excitement. It is not the funniest, the most action filled or the best drawn art, but from chapter one it have been a tightly woven story with solid characters and great balance between action, plot, comedy and character development, set in an awesome film noir world that is perfect for the story. It is heavily influenced by american action comics - it even have english SFX - but this never gets self referential to the point where it looses focus and becomes a meta comic.
Story wise I
love how it manages to keep so many threads going without it becomes unfocused, we have the racism and the rich who suppress the poor, we have Detective Alex messy private life and his cougar, I mean Lynx ex wife, we have Dr Necro and her backstory, and of course the main plot with the Keymen which is a great action/superhero story that ensures that there is not one boring second in this manga. A certain warning to y'all though, this is a very "seinenesque" plot, almost as if you'd turn "Chinatown" into a comedy with dinosaurs in it, and if you expect something straight forward I'm sure you'll be disappointed.
Even if this is tagged as ecchi on certain manga reader sites, I'd say this is not not really a relevant tag. Sure, it pays homage to the american styled scantily clad heroines, and Dr Nekro is a 112 year old loli (!), but the female characters are way too strong and cool to become fan service, and it is beyond both traditional american and japanese comics in terms of how much space the female characters have in the story.
This gets surprisingly good, and I say this as someone who was already phrasing her tear-apart review. What carries this manga is the intrigue – the wish to know the secret behind its many mysterious events, what buries it is the weak flow and certain distastefulness (especially in fanservice). What may not suite everyone is severely monumental art. It’s the first serialized work of its author, and an overly ambitious one at that, it develops on the go. My patience with the first 20 or so chapters paid off later, when the main plot kicked in. So why only 6/10? It’s risky, I can’t recommend
it to everyone.
It’s a fusion salad or Frankenstein – here, have both metaphors, there’re many icky combinations in this work anyway, so it’s better to start to adjust early. It has so many different parts that it is confusing at first. It’s a love-letter to western culture – with western cartoon influences in designs, English sound effects, animal-headed people (hello, Blacksad), a dinosaur detective (hello, Theodore Rex), noire NY, Lovecraftian horror and a super-hero cult at the center. It’s a detective story, yet also a story about magic, and also a subversion of superhero trope, and a tale about segregation. It’s supposed to be scary usually, but there’re moments of comedy and plenty of fanservice plastered everywhere. It lives, but so many different things stitched together may be jarring or even off-putting for readers with more austere taste, at least in some moments.
The plot starts a bit slow, but the secret of the hero is interesting, and it can easily keep your attention through the rough moments of the manga. The plot is much more clever than you expect at the beginning – even the beastmen will be explained in due time, right when the story touches on the matters of belief in god, dealings with black magic and meaning of family. There’re hiccups in the narrative, but it stays engaging.
The characters are not exactly static throughout the story, but they're for the most part formed personalities and we see the result of a long chain of events, so the main development comes from learning about their pasts, with focus being strongly on the antiheroes and antagonists.
Unfortunately, there’re certain things that grate. Besides the aforementioned craziness in combinations and wackiness – after all you follow a fat begrudged tyrannosaurus rex policeman with family problems – the worst offender is the hentai-worthy fanservice. Now, I understand that a noire story calls for a couple of femme-fatales, but both the designs (humongous flabby tits, huge fat bosoms, vagina outlines, a loli in a transparent negligee) and the situations (random stripping, random rape, random evil guys randomly making all their captives wearing negligee) are pure hentai doujinshi. Its’ just… well, at one moment (it's a minor episode, don't worry about spoilers) the half-naked loli witch decides to catch and interrogate a funny looking crocodile guy, so she summons a bunch of tentacles, and while pressuring him, she makes one of the tentacles go into his throat, and then he makes a moe face with fluffy eyelashes and sparkes - I guess, he comes. It’s self-conscious all right, summoning tentacles is cool and sexual motives are plot-motivated for witches, but damn, did I not want to see this. Though, on the other hand, I do appreciate dark magic here being appropriately dirty.
The art is all shock and awe and huge square men beating each other in a blizzard of heavy strokes or posing on black frames with only white outlines visible against darkness. Because of the strokes sometimes it’s not easy to understand what’s going on, but the art is very impactful. The one thing that may be not for everyone’s liking is that it goes heavily for size and power, not for pretty. The art is overdetailed - plenty of work went into it, and it's hard not to respect that. The designs of the occult monsters are wonderful – scary, retrofuturistic, reminiscent of Lovecraft and medieval demonology.
And this manga itself is a bit like an occult book – better for the brave and the initiated. It has an intelligent and dramatic plot, impressive art, plenty of unusual characters and situations, but it is problematic enough to be recommended only to those with strong gut, patience and high tolerance to hentai insert.