Having successfully displayed his cunningness in mystery and intrigue with his well-known manga series 20th Century Boys, Naoki Urasawa is—and we can all agree to this—truly a master of his craft. Perhaps lesser-known compared to the latter title is Monster, which is stronger proof of the artist’s ability to craft suspense without sweat. Ever since the manga has been given its rightful anime adaptation, fans of the medium are given a chance to witness how its main character, Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese doctor working in Germany, saves the life of a boy named Johan, who unbeknownst to everyone, would soon grow up to become one of the country’s deadliest psychopaths and, without a doubt, one of anime’s best villains. Ever.
With more than seventy episodes, the anime might scare potential viewers into seeing it and sticking to it until the end, but let me tell you that the journey from start to finish is one heck of a ride with all the twists and turns the series has to offer. How rare is it for anime to present us with something new and interesting in every episode? The entire concept of a doctor tracking down a villain he once saved is interesting enough. In Monster, we witness how an individual wreaks havoc while wriggling through society unscathed. Here, ‘monster’ as a word is played around with in as many ways as possible. Each character has his or her own story to tell. Each has his/her own trigger point that would allow him/her to snap and do something inhumane. And how tongue-in-cheek is it that Dr. Tenma is a humanitarian, one who is surrounded by the dirtiest and the most insane members of a decaying society? He is accompanied by a cast of highly memorable characters. Pretty hard to pull off a storyline consisting of an ensemble that viewers won’t get tired with, and the way the anime series handles each and every one, from the determined police inspector Lunge to the obsessed ex-fiancé Eva, you can say that such feat won’t be witnessed in another anime anytime soon.
And Johan. It’s all about Johan, the titular monster—or so one can argue. No matter where Tenma’s journey takes him, we can still see and feel the effects of the villain’s malevolence through other characters’ stories and, as much as I don’t want to say it, the body count. Johan only appears in less than thirty percent of the seventy-plus episodes (imagine that), but he still comes out as one of the most forbidding and effective villains in recent memory. Such character development is what makes Monster a series one would remember for a long time. The art and visuals don’t have a lot to boast about, though the soundtrack can get a bit emotionally distressing at times. It is perhaps the modesty of the production that allows the series to do what it does best, to tell a story of a doctor out to right a wrong. What’s more amazing is that the anime doesn’t find the need to shove a filler episode right on our faces, because it doesn’t have to do that. At all. Almost every episode has something to contribute to Tenma’s journey, and for an anime that takes quite a while to finish, the story never fails to lose steam until its climactic end. At times, the plot moves at a snail’s pace, but it has good intentions for doing so; if it simply throws everything right at us, we would’ve been met with tons of information difficult to process. In a way, the series sure knows how to take its time.
Monster will change the way you watch anime. After getting engrossed by its top-notch storyline, thought-provoking character studies, and intriguing social commentaries, you’d be hoping for another series that at least comes closer to its caliber. You’d find yourself staring at the other titles you plan to watch and deleting some that doesn’t deliver in terms of plot and characters. The high score the series receives in this site is not a product of some overhyping fanboy movement. Monster is the real thing. It will pull you into a world where people would kill because an overly charismatic boy tells them to do so. Now if the idea of a German Hitler-ish anime villain doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.