Review: Monster

A perfect blend of action, thriller and mystery elements makes one terrific anime.

The Lowdown:

Show: Monster

Studio(US network)/years aired: Madhouse (SyFy), 2004-2005 (USA 2009-2010)

AniB’s thoughts: The name of this show- Monster– doesn’t pop off the page as an overtly exciting concept, but as it turns out, it’s another classic case of excellent execution on a pretty great concept and as a result, is one of the best anime I’ve seen.

Packed into 75 episodes, Monster’s a mid-length experience that truly feels excellent every step of the way, expertly weaving a complex story while seamlessly transitioning from one part of the story to the next; its midpoint “finale” is incredible, only to be one-upped by the stunning conclusion, and the character development is mind-blowingly excellent. There may not be a “perfect anime,” but on many levels Monster is very close. It nails both “psychological thriller” and “mystery” genres flawlessly into one package; runs multiple plotlines parallel to the main one, seemingly disparate at times, but ultimately ties them all together in a very satisfying manner…and if that wasn’t enough, gives us one of the great villains in animation. It’s truly a monster of an experience.

What does this all mean to me beyond gushing effusive praise? It’s proof that you can find a great show if you keep looking under rocks. I was unaware of Monsters existence until occasional guest writer and friend Onamerre discovered the intro theme on a Youtube search, and suggested I watch the show based off his impression of that opening. (Goes to show you openings do in fact, have a key first impression.) It’s a show that’s the best representative of the seinen anime label if you wish to call it that- clearly intended for slightly more mature audience, but hardly edgy or contrived, like some shonens, and it’s been something that I was quite excited to write about for a while based on how much this was both an enjoyable and good experience.

One last note: It was difficult to write this piece and not spoil the whole plot. For those of you who have seen the series, you’ll understand exactly why that is, given the twists and moments of discovery in this show. For those unfamiliar with the show, know that you’re in for a treat best seen without spoilers and an expectation of being ready for anything. Perhaps the reason this show was so terrific was in part because the manga writer also spearheaded the anime- but it’s overall an excellent example of what the best of anime has to offer. Onwards to grading!


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D anime. The usage of the animation in this series is vital in telling the tale it wishes to convey, and as a result, it’s beautifully and hauntingly scripted. With pleasant character models, detailed settings, and meaningful imagery, Monster’s usage of the art form is sublime. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: Featuring a diverse cast of characters, the show centers on Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese neurosurgeon, and a boy he rescues from a bullet in the head, Johan Liebert. Tenma is shown to be a rising star in the medical field in Germany (right after reunification) who has his career sidetracked by the surgery-when he decides to save the boy instead of a prominent, but corrupt politician who also needs brain surgery. To make matters worse, the boy disappears shortly afterwards from the hospital, with his attending doctors found dead…pushing into the main events of the show. Overall, Tenma is a kind person and a brilliant neurosurgeon, but his character arc is complex and riddled with difficult decisions and dangerous paths.

 

Additionally, the story features Nina Fourtiner (Anna Liebert), Johan’s sister- who is entangled in the show’s central plot and mystery as she searches for her past and the truth of the mysterious night where her brother was brought into the hospital; Detective Heinrich Lunge, a crack BKA officer and an obsessive workaholic bent on catching criminals no matter how hard or difficult the case, and Ava Heinemann, the one-time fiancee of Tenma,who becomes estranged after the events of the beginning of the show, turning into a bitter alcoholic with many regrets. Finally, there’s Dieter, a young boy who is rescued from the last vestiges of a horrific social experiment…

There’s plenty more that could said about the cast, but in the case of Monster, it would amount to one massive spoiler. Know that there are several other key characters in what proves to be a strong cast, and the character development is top notch- and you’ll be left amazed at the show’s central villain and the twists this show delves into. 5/5 points.

 
Story quality: One massive overarching plot line, with smaller arcs comprising a wholly connected story. Monster’s story is all about its characters and their different, yet similar quests all leading back to each other, tied together by a certain fateful operation.

Unfolding in smaller arcs, the pacing is steady and has no filler so to speak; every episode either focuses on plot or character development or both, and the answers to various questions are fulfilled in interesting and ultimately satisfying ways. 5/5 points.

 
Themes: There’s a heavy focus on various relationships and competing ideas of philosophies on life, and the whole question of one’s own value and the very idea of personhood and humanity. Deep and complex, Monster’s explorations of these ideas can be occasionally disturbing, but on the whole, brilliant and in line with the sort of expectations it sets. 4.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Brilliantly paced and deeply compelling, Monster is a masterpiece in the genre with its writing, with maybe the occasional hard to watch moment….which really adds to the dramatic tension in this case. It’s a show that stays vibrantly packed to the brim with flowing action and plot progression, different locales and a excellent sense of pacing. Finally…the opening theme is perfect for this show- haunting, serious and just terrific.  5/5 points.

 

Total Score: 24.5/25 (98%). Brilliantly adapted and deeply complex, Naomi Urusawa’s Monster is a hidden masterpiece that is relatively unknown outside anime circles. Due to its incomplete airing on the SyFy network, a US station not traditionally known for animation, it has flown under the radar as one of the 2000’s best shows. It’s a must watch for animation fans and a solid recommendation even to others based on its strong mystery, psychological and thriller elements.


Like what you see? Know about Monster? Leave a comment below!