Life is busy, so if there’s a completed anime I’d like to watch, I’m more likely to select a short one. There are already so many shows to watch, comic books to read, video games to play, work to slack off – do I really want to dedicate my time to an anime that has 74 episodes? I know that isn’t objectively long, but I was very hesitant (shut up about your One Piece). Still, I’m glad I decided to watch this one.
Monster is likely classified under many different genres, but “thriller” and “mystery” are the words that first come to mind. This anime is full of tension and has constantly kept me in suspense so far, but I am not finished. Since I still have no idea how this anime ends, I’ll be writing another article with my final thoughts next month. But for now, I will be discussing spoilers, so don’t call me a monster, anime-niacs, I gave you fair warning.
Monster begins with a young, talented neurosurgeon rattled by the political decisions at the hospital in which he works. Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese man living in Germany, was directed to save the life of a famous opera singer while a construction worker died; the hospital prioritized the opera singer over the construction worker, causing Tenma much internal strife. Director Heinemann is a callous man who cares only for the notoriety Tenma’s talent can bring to his hospital, not the lives of patients. However, it is when Tenma is asked to prioritize surgery on the mayor over a young boy that the conflict is cemented. Tenma disobeys the director’s orders and the mayor dies, so Heinemann tells Tenma that he can keep his job, but has no possibility of ever advancing his career. While recovering, the young boy Tenma saved overhears the typically gentle and positive doctor wish death upon the director. Soon after, the director is found dead (there was no doctor in the house?!).
Illustrating that I should not judge a book by its cover, I very wrongly thought that Monster was going to revolve around a surgeon with potentially murderous tendencies. After the first episode, I believed that perhaps the show would highlight the very real issues of classism in society, particularly healthcare. I was wrong on both counts. Johan, the boy whose life Tenma saved, heard the surgeon’s morbid but facetious request, and delivered – the child murdered the hospital director and two staff members (there’s nothing humerus about that). Johan and his twin sister then disappeared from the hospital and the murders remained a mystery. This would not be an isolated incident as, over the years, a series of mysterious murders take place across Germany. Tenma ascends the ranks in the hospital, but, in 1995, Johan, now an adult, kills one of Tenma’s patients and the surgeon is believed to be the culprit. Tenma flees and vows to find Johan, who has grown quite naturally into a killer. Sure, Johan is clearly a monster, but the story slowly descends into secretive Nazi plans, an orphanage used for experiments on children, and corrupt police forces that have made the young man into who, and what he is.
Monster covers a lot of ground and does so very slowly. It is not solely Tenma’s journey, as he is hiding from authorities while simultaneously investigating Johan, but there are arcs heavily featuring other characters. The seemingly slow pace, however, never feels drawn out longer than it should, because not only do the circumstances surrounding Johan’s past deepen as the show continues, but it allows the viewer to get to know the many characters introduced.
The viewer watches as Tenma’s ex-fiancé, Eva Heinemann, becomes a self-destructive alcoholic after the loss of her father and rejection of her love. Inspector Lunge, a detective determined to catch Tenma, loses his family as the viewer understands that he lives solely to work, and has become discretely obsessed with catching the doctor (Lunge should try finding Tenma in the ICU). There is a period of time when Tenma is almost completely absent, as the story follows a disgraced ex-cop turned private investigator, Richard Braun, which ends in tragedy (should’ve just turned his head and coughed like he was asked). However, it never feels like Monster loses its focus – the character arcs constantly move the story forward, deepen plot points, and create a more robust world. It is the well-crafted characters that makes Monster so compelling, in addition to the primary antagonist.
There is always an uncomfortable sense of dread, because the viewer does not know exactly what Johan is going to do next. Even when Johan is not present on screen, and he is not very often, the viewer feels the effects of his reach throughout Germany, and ultimately, slowly begin to learn about his past. As of this writing, however, much of that is still a puzzle.
Certainly no story is perfect, and sometimes solutions arise or characters arrive at exact moments without much of an explanation other than to simply move the plot forward. Monster is occasionally guilty of this, but these shortcomings do not take much away from enjoyment. However, although Germany is a pretty densely populated country, it is roughly the size of Montana. Although there were circumstances which led to Tenma narrowly escaping capture, it is incredible that he has not been apprehended by the authorities (not even a cardiac arrest). In the grand scheme of the story, however, certain plot holes, convenient coincidences and even a certain amount of ridiculousness can absolutely be excused (with a doctor’s note, of course).
Perhaps I’ve written a lot while stating only a little, but watching Monster thus far has been a thrilling experience. The characters are incredibly crafted, whether likeable or hateable, there’s plenty of mystery and suspense, and although there is action, the story does not solely rely on it. There’s still roughly 30 episodes left and I truly hope that this anime has a strong ending. But I’ll be back next month with part 2.