Anime ● Review: Monster
English Title: Monster
Japanese Title: Monster
Director(s): Kojima Masayuki
Screenwriter(s): Urahata Tatsuhiko
Studio: Madhouse Released: 2004–2005
Runtime: 74 episodes, ~24m each.
Starring: Kiuchi Hidenobu, Sasaki Nozomu, Noto Mamiko
My Verdict: Long psychological crime-mystery thriller series. Visually excellent. Initially intriguing and progresses well, but the ending may be a letdown.
● Based on the highly acclaimed manga of the same name by Urasawa Naoki, Monster is an ambitious psychological crime-mystery thriller epic at 74 episodes.
● In 1986, Dr Kenzo Tenma is a young, brilliant neurosurgeon working in West Germany with a promising future. One night, a young boy and his twin sister are brought into the hospital, reportedly survivors of a robbery that left both their parents dead. The girl, Anna, is in shock but is physically unharmed, and the boy, Johan, has a gunshot wound to the head.
● Despite the Director’s orders to save the mayor who also requires surgery at the same time, Tenma performs surgery on the boy anyway, saving him. The mayor dies and Tenma is shunned by the Director. But then he and two other doctors who are against Tenma die mysteriously, along with the disappearance of the twins. Tenma is subsequently named Chief of Surgery and remains at the hospital. The police are suspicious of Tenma but there is nothing much they can do.
● Nine years later, in 1995, Johan resurfaces. He kills Tenma’s patient who is a suspect wanted by the police. This time, Tenma has to run. He finds Anna, now Nina Fortner. The series is basically Tenma trying to solve the mystery of Johan; that is, who and what he is, and to find and stop him.
● Despite all the above to describe the opening, the premise itself is not that complicated. The way the series start and initially progress is brilliant. It is apparent that the writer is very conscious of what a thinking audience may suspect. There is the expected signposting and misdirection and, also as expected, it partially confirms or denies what a viewer may be predicting.
● There are many minor characters and little details, and the series generally does well presenting them and weaving them together. In that regard, it is complex and intriguing.
● Unfortunately, after having gone through whatever possibilities regarding the mystery behind Johan (and Nina), the series then drags somewhat, at least in that respect. Tenma’s search for Johan is still interesting, even thrilling at times, but one is left waiting for the “answer” to the mystery. And the so-called answer is not even particularly mind-blowing. One expects some clever twist but there isn’t really one.
● The production is consistently good, which is what one expects from Madhouse. It is rare to see an anime series set entirely in modern-day Europe and the city environment looks great. The voice acting is solid as is the sound editing.
● Visually, from backgrounds to shot composition, Monster doesn’t fail to be faithful to the genre. The tone and atmosphere are captivating and it doesn’t merely rely on nighttime and rain. The tight and close-up shots of the characters, objects and action may be typical for psychological thrillers, but it is rarely overdone since it is put together so well.
● Overall, I can see why Monster may be considered a classic. Fans of psychological crime-mysteries should definitely give the series a go if by some small chance they haven’t already. However, whilst the pacing is measured—I wouldn’t call it slow—the “answer” to the mystery lacks punch. It’s not that one isn’t given or that it is too vague, it’s just not particularly brilliant given the way the series begins. To put it differently and setting aside that it is based on the manga, if the series is somehow compressed to 54 episodes from 74 episodes, then I may not feel as letdown.
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