What it does is make the Kanji familiar to you. It makes them so familiar to you, that when you see them, you instinctively think, "I know that one," so when you encounter it, you may not know the reading in Japanese, but you feel familiar with it. It's hard to explain until you experience it, I guess.
I think of RTK1 as juggling 2,042 balls in the air so I can tag them with Japanese readings at my leisure. Having done RTK1, I can say that I can spot them in the air a LOT faster than I could than before I did it, just from getting familiar with the various "primitives" as Heisig calls them. It also makes it a lot easier to grab a wild kanji in the field and break it down.
It's the sort of thing you're either going to get an "Aha!" moment over or you're not, and you'll move on to something better suited to your learning style.
I'd recommend downloading the 125-page sample of the book and giving it a go, and seeing if you get it. If you don't, then you can save yourself $20.
I think of RtK as a very complicated form of spelling. Imagine not knowing the alphabet of completely foreign language that has 3007 common words. Instead of trying to memorize each word as a picture (kanji), you break it up into letters (primitives). By knowing all the primitives you can build words. Like any language, the letters must be put in the correct order for the word (kanji) to make sense.
However, after you can identify and write all the kanji, you will still need to learn how to read and pronounce them. After finishing RtK 1 the following kanji is a piece of cake to remember.
新聞記事 (しん-ぶん-き-じ) Newspaper Article
新 new 1502, 聞 hear 1626, 記 scribe 529, 事 matter 1156
To me, new+hear=newspaper, scribe+matter=article. I just learned to write a 4 character compound in 15 seconds. I know that しんぶん means newspaper, all I have to do is memorize that きじ means article. Doing this without RtK would take a lot of time.
RTK3 is useful for the keywords, but that's about it. You can get the keyword list almost anywhere. It even skimps on the stroke order even when the order is vague. In addition the second half of the book has the same flaws as RTK2 since it's an extension of that.
RTK2 tries something novel (signal primitives), but it just is not worth the effort in my opinion. I think Memory palace and Movie Method surpasses it in effctiveness.
That said, I did get both books. I don't recommend them though.
The only reason I am doing RTK3 is because of this site. If I were to study alone, it would be more practical to learn new kanji as I encountered them. However, with the chance here to share stories, some of which are very memorable, it's an opportunity to pocket another 1,000 kanji with less effort than going it alone.
Three words: Another thread revival!
Why do you guys keep saying that the keywords aren't important? Usually, the keyword is one of the meanings for the kanji, sometimes it differ, so when you finish RTK1 you'll be able to write and recognize 2042 kanji, and you'll know a meaning for most of them.
I like to think of RTK as putting you in the same posistion as a Chinese person learning Japanese
For a language with countless homophones such as Japanese, reading in any other system than Kanji or similar, would undoubtedly be hell.
I still find a small flaw with RTK (I).
That is, now in text, I often seen Kanji and be like "What the *****? Did I forget it? How could that be?" and then I find out that it was not covered in RTK, sadly.
Omg, I had never though this! Due to a little ....ahrrrm... working accident... in October, I haven't looked at a Kanji, worked with Japanese, or even watched Japanese animé (felt too guilty) since then. Now, I felt like picking the language up again, and I actually remember ca 60 percent directly and perfectly (all in 6th, but not too many in 2nd..), and concerning those I have "forgotten", I only have to flip through the blue book to remember everything. Letting the fact that even Japanese people can have a hard time remembering their own letters, this is pretty impressive, and I can assure you this has nothing to to with my had, it's all the method. Yay Heisieg!!