I’ve decided that my first review for my new blog would be the brilliant Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, my favorite piece of fiction throughout every form of media and entertainment. It has the number one spot in my heart, so this review might be seen as biased, but I don’t care. Onward!
*Warning: This may contain minor spoilers*
“Boku o mitte. Boku o mitte. Boku no nakano kaibutsu ga konnani o kikunata yo.”
“Look at me. Look at me. The monster inside me has already grown this large.”
Synopsis: Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese brain surgeon working at a hospital in Düseldorf, Germany, operates on a young gunshot victim and saves his life. This is the story of how a doctor must terminate the life that he once saved in order to stop the serial murders that are plaguing Germany.
Story/Plot: This is the pinnacle of the psychological literature genre. We start off by meeting a young Tenma, who sees the world as a place where everyone can belong. It isn’t until his fianceé, Eva Heinneman, says that “all lives aren’t created equal” that his black and white world starts to turn gray. That’s where his mental and emotional struggles begin.
To many people, this story may have an extremely slow pace with a rather unattractive beginning sequence. However, those people must understand that this story thrives on setting a much slower pace than other anime and manga. This story is about the mental fortitude of characters, not the physical one. Its realistic setting and events almost made me feel a bit scared, in response to me putting myself in many of their shoes.
I was immediately hooked from the first episode (I watched the anime before reading the manga), but I believe it’s safe to say that it normally takes others a lot longer than that. As I mentioned, it’s a very slow-paced story that takes place throughout many years, and it doesn’t start to pick up speed until around episodes 25-30 (there are 74 episodes in all), so it is a bit of an ordeal for those who prefer faster stories.
The main aspect of the story is the uncomfortable and complex relationship between Tenma and Johan. I saw them as foils for one another; while one did one thing, the other did the opposite. Tenma is shown to make much more emotional and humane choices, while Johan, on the other hand, is often depicted as pursuing more cruel and implacable options. This essential ‘mouse chase’ between the two of them is what helps unfold the truth of everything, something that Tenma never realized he would need to pursue.
Throughout the entire story, a question continuously seems to pop up: Who is the monster? The answer is something that is explored the more we learn about past and present events and how everyone is tangled together in the web of fate. It’s a question that seems to get more convoluted and difficult to answer the more intertwined you become with the characters and story. It’s also what helped me devour the story within days, both anime and manga. I’m particularly fond of stories that aren’t black and white when it comes to who’s good and who’s bad, and this one did a magnificent job with that.
The ending is something that is often discussed among fans. Was it good? Was it bad? If you ask me, it was brilliant. The final scene is actually my favorite scene in the entire story. I got goosebumps just watching it and then reading it again right after. However, many people might have problems with it. Without giving too much away, I can at least say that it is an open-ended finale. It’s meant to give the watchers/readers that freedom to choose how it ends, which many people seem to have problems with. I’ve noticed many prefer definitive ends, but I think there’s also a type of charm with these types of conclusions. Maybe I’m alone in that way of thinking?
I feel that I must also add, because I know this is a major concern for many people (including myself), that this was probably the most well-adapted anime I’ve seen to date. Everything that happened in the manga was included in the anime and nothing was added or embellished at all, meaning that partaking in only one of the forms won’t deprive you of any details or events.
Characters: I am not ashamed to admit that aside from one other anime/manga character, I have never felt so anxious and terrified at seeing a person appear on-screen as I did with Monster. I watched the anime before reading the manga, as I’ve previously stated. From the very beginning, I was familiar with the fact that Johan Liebert was supposed to be the main antagonist. Apart from the events of the first episode, I refused to be spoiled to anything more. So, for a self-declared character enthusiast, I could not wait until he appeared on-screen. I kept thinking to myself, “When will they show him? What scene will he first appear in? When’s the next time he’ll be showing up?” However, little did I know that I would be teetering back and forth throughout the story with all kinds of emotions toward him. That excitement I felt over finally seeing him would instantly turn into anxiety and fear as soon as he did appear. Why did I feel that way about a fictional character, you may ask? Well, let me tell you. Johan is perhaps one of the most beautiful, cunning, charismatic, unpredictable, and manipulative characters I’ve ever come across. I genuinely never knew what he was up to or what he could possibly be thinking. If he was on-screen with another character, I actually found myself fearing for that other person’s life. Funny, right? But, I love Urasawa-sensei for creating a character that could make me feel this way. Too many characters nowadays are excruciatingly bland and predictable, which in turn, sucks the life out of me while trying to watch/read the story.
Along those same lines, the other main characters (even those that I love to hate, which is another accomplishment on its own), including Tenma, Dieter, Nina/Anna, Eva, Lunge, etc. all progress through the story without successfully masking their glaring flaws. That’s one of my favorite aspects of everything. In his own twisted and disturbing way, Johan is perhaps the only person I consider to essentially be “perfect” within the story. Everyone else, although they try to desperately disguise it at times, are imperfect human beings that you can find just about anywhere in our world; and this is exactly why nearly every character is relatable in some way, shape, or form. Not a single one was created to be that perfect character that many of us, either knowingly or unknowingly, sometimes look for. They’re all struggling forward and trying their hardest to overcome their own obstacles, as we all do in our daily lives. The mental and emotional development for each of these characters, as well, is one of the biggest appeals of the story.
There are also a large number of side characters that we are introduced to throughout the story that each brings about their own set of issues to light. Nonetheless, each and every one of these characters and problems serves to further enhance the plot in a beautifully woven way. Nothing and no one seems out of place when looking at the big picture.
Favorite Character: For those who might know me, it is of no surprise that I consider Johan to be one of the greatest and most beautifully created characters in all of literature. However, he was not my favorite character in the story. That title solely belongs to Mr. Wolfgang Grimmer. Without going into too many details for the sake of avoiding heavy spoilers, his personality and way of thinking fascinated me the most. He always had a warm smile on his face that would relieve any tension from whatever was occurring at the moment, even if the world was burning around him. He was kind and gentle while trying to live his life learning of the past events that brought about inhumane results. He continuously stumbled but would get right back up to face what was in front of him
Overall Score: This is not a story that I recommend to just anyone. I fully understand that this type of anime/manga won’t satisfy those that actively search for lots of action and fast-paced stories, or even just romance. However, for any that enjoy psychological thrillers, amazing character development, a strong plot with minor problems, and an antagonist who has the potential to chill you to the bone, then I couldn’t recommend this one enough. I don’t consider any one story to be flawless and perfect, but this one is very darn close to it. This is the type of story that anime/manga and non-anime/manga lovers would equally enjoy. I give this one an A+, a solid 10/10.