Naoki Urasawa’s Monster is what tops the list of searches if you were to Google ‘Mystery/thriller anime’. That tag is certainly justified but it is still criminally deficient in describing this psychologically rooted masterpiece. ‘Monster’ is based on the manga of the same name by Urasawa which came out between 1994 & 2001. Both the manga and the anime gained a sort of cult status and even the English dub version received a similar warm reception. One of the main reasons that Monster is so popular is because it is a rather unique anime series in the sense that it is almost completely a European tragedy with the sole Japanese element within it being the protagonist – the man on the run Dr. Kenzo Tenma.
‘Monster’ delves into the stories of an orphaned German boy who is shot mysteriously in the head and the brain surgeon who saves the boy’s life against all odds only to discover later on that the boy has transformed into a being whose capacity for evil is beyond all comprehension. Tenma is then drawn into the web of murder and conspiracy woven by the boy, Johan, to trap the whole nation. From that summary alone it is obvious that ‘Monster’ is not just another serial-killer whodunit. It takes quite some time for the series to actually tap into those aspects of crime properly.
The show mainly deals with the nature of good and evil and what essentially makes us human. The series is full of subplots which connect only tangentially with the crux of the plot but yet these characterizes and stories are equally intriguing. The show is heavily laden with emotion and this is for a reason since by the end of the show, it becomes necessary for the viewer to connect with the main characters on a level which would be unreachable without the proffered poignancy. If you are expecting something in the vein of ‘Dexter’ or ‘The Following’, however, be warned that this series takes little or no pleasure in all the various manifestations of malice that American shows usually indulge in. There is a slight similarity to ‘Mindhunter’ but ‘Monster’ only eclipses the show rather than stealing its shine.
The stigma attached to each incidence of violence may strike some viewers accustomed to Western media of environment as somewhat blown up but, this only serves to demonstrate how inured viewers have become to violence in general. If this aspect does not sit well with you then this series may test your patience but, if you are willing to step into the world of ‘Monster’ and look around in the eyes of Dr. Tenma, then the relevance of each and every character arc will be much easily cognizable. In a sense, the reward of watching ‘Monster’ is not something related to the plot but, it is watching the show itself.
On the other hand, ‘Monster’ is no pushover if you are seeking thrills and twists either. It is essentially a cat and mouse chase of epic proportions, stretching across a continent over thirty years. The animation and the score are extremely remarkable and set the tone for the unfolding of the plot. In the end, ‘monster’ leaves you with a vacuous feeling after following the characters over 70- odd episodes and discovering the secrets of Johan. There are some who feel that the ending was underwhelming but, this is a common complaint for most series and ‘Monster’ ends in the best way possible without ruining any of the build-ups to the climax with respect to the various arcs. It does attempt to answer a few important questions but some will always remain unanswered and ‘Monster’ is all about how you choose to live with that knowledge.