The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials


Title: Monster
Genre: Drama
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: 74 episodes
Dates: 7 Apr 2004 – 28 Sep 2005

Synopsis: Doctor Kenzo Tenma is a young, genius neurosurgeon living in Germany, whose life-path has been laid out for him, thanks to his unrivaled talents. A favourite of the hospital director and his mentor, Doctor Heinemann, Tenma is even engaged to his daughter, Eva. However, after a dramatic experience that leads to an epiphany, Tenma goes against his mentor to operate on a young boy, referred to as Johan, who is brought to the hospital with a bullet in his brain. Tenma saves Johan’s life, but soon after, Doctor Heinemann and two other senior doctors at the hospital are found murdered. Several years later, in a chance encounter, Tenma finds out that it was Johan who was responsible for this and several other brutal killings across the country. Tenma brings it upon himself to kill Johan and stop the bloodshed by his hand once and for all.

The Highlights
Characters: Filled with depth and complexity rarely seen in anime.
Directing: Executed with purpose.
Story: Engrossing; deliberately paced.
Atmosphere: Created by very well chosen music.

Director Kojima Masayuki isn’t what one would call a big name in anime, but manga-ka Urasawa Naoki certainly is in manga. This is a pairing that, along with Madhouse Studios, has brought life to one of the truly amazing epics in Japanese media, Monster. And clearly, it is animated with nothing but the utmost respect to the source material. I have no qualms with throwing the label “masterpiece” at this work; saying anything less about it is a gross understatement of how brilliant this anime series is.

This is an impressive aesthetic experience. A unique, somewhat muted art-style carries a richly designed cast of characters, all of whom reflect a component of their depth in their appearances. The animation is glorious and actually improves with the passing of time, something I’ve never before seen in a long running series. An intense OP song in “GRAIN” by Haishima Kuniaki and two memorable EDs, “For the Love of Life” by David Sylvian and “Make it Home” by Fijiko Heming flank a soundtrack by Haishima that does a perfect job of setting the right atmosphere in every scene. However, it’s the way Kojima weaves these components together to tell the story that impressed me the most; in every scene, literally everything from the most obvious features, such as camera angles and settings, right down to the most minute detail such as scene transitions and even where the characters are positioned are chosen with great care and purpose.

It’s the characters that make this story outstanding, though, and it’s the attention to detail and care with which they are brought to life that, again, impresses the most. Even characters that appear for less than two episodes are given enough background and depth to make them believable and, more often than not, sympathetic. The main protagonists, though, are unforgettable; each exhibit a complexity rarely seen in anime characters and each struggle with their respective conflicts in such a way that is engrossing to observe, making for some top-notch drama.

The premise might seem a tad asinine and unlikely, but, past this, the story is almost totally grounded in realism, something that I’d argue is refreshing in this medium. A large component of the story revolves around the mystery of Johan’s past, a mystery with more layers than the proverbial Shrek onion. The plot maintains a deliberate pace throughout; hardly a moment is wasted and almost every scene makes a contribution to the plot, something that is truly commendable in a series of this length.

There are few flaws in this remarkable series, but some of the finer details of the plot are either poorly explained or left out completely, most likely to avoid logical scrutiny. In a sense, the impact from this is minor: the point was never supposed to be how Johan did what he did, but rather that he could do what he did, and he could do it with minimum effort. Without giving too much away, the conclusion itself is profoundly ironic, but at the same time, rather cryptic and open. I didn’t feel it complemented the rest of the series as well as it may have.

There are only a few anime that I would recommend unconditionally. Even in spite of its massive length, Monster is one of them. Intense drama, amazing directing, and extraordinary characters: these are the ingredients of a remarkable anime – a masterpiece.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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