“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Such was the journey of Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese neurosurgeon who was charged with murder of several big names from his hospital. A chain of events just because of a ‘wrong’ decision, where he chose to save the life of a boy rather than the mayor. But was it really wrong? Right from the get-go this show presented a plot point based off a character’s psychological dilemma. Tenma saves the boy, his peers criticize him of not saving the mayor and his boss changes his mind about the doctor’s promotion. The first few episodes show us how Tenma’s life falls apart as his fiancee, Eva, leaves him and the murders happen. Tenma finds out that the boy he saved, Johan, was behind the murders. Of course, no one believes him. Fast forward nine years, Tenma, still a doctor, meets Johan. A patient gets killed by the blond. His ex-fiancee Eva confronts him and blackmails him to… get back together? Clearly, she was presented as one of the most annoying and disturbed characters of the series. Later, she meets up with the detective who suspected Tenma of the murderers and accuses Tenma of murder. Police cars gather round the hospital, Tenma escapes and his journey begins.
And his character developments stops here. Well, I didn’t want to start this with the negatives, since this show really lives up to the psychological aspects of the series. Then again, this anime is one of those that rely heavily on its story; since many characters are required to pull off such a story- the author, Naoki Urasawa, had restraints on character development. I understand that, but in the wealth of characters there were some unneeded characters and that time could have been used to focus more on Tenma, like his life in Japan before he immigrated to Germany. Tenma had little dialogue and it seemed like the story drove him instead of him driving the story. Johan seemed to suffer from a similar thing, he had little dialogue and this didn’t add any dimension to him. I find his character quite strange and unpredictable and maybe that was the author’s intention: to make him open to analysis. But I am not saying these two are not memorable characters, which they are, because the world built around them is done very concretely.
Monster also fails to provide a memorable soundtrack, I didn’t like the opening at all; although did like the haunting acoustic second ending. The background music were lazily integrated into scenes, the engineer just increased music’s frequency during tense moments and thought that packed the punch. Well, it didn’t: it’s cliche.
The visuals of Monster were quite atmospheric and the expressions on the characters contributed heavily to the narrative. The dialogue seemed very thoughtfully written. The shots had good angles and the transition of scenes never seemed abrupt, decent directing. Nothing else to mention in terms of visuals.
I have mixed comments about the character writing of this show. The negatives, I already have chalked out, so I guess I should start gushing. Urasawa never seemed afraid to add more characters, although he didn’t develop them to the core (which no writer should go through such an exhausting and boring process), he added just enough spice to distinguish them from the others and make them memorable enough. The other main characters: Anna, Lunge and Eva: were fleshed out more than Tenma and Johan. Especially, Anna (yeah, trying my best to keep this spoiler free). Lunge seemed to be the most stable character of the three because of his unwavering determination to uncover the truth, and truth be told, this guy actually had some good development to him near the end; he never was the cool detective L, which I thought he would be, but he was an actual human being! Eva wasn’t the annoying, crooked female dog I thought she was at the beginning- rather she had a brighter side. Urasawa didn’t attach any overarching feature to his characters (except Lunge, his keyboard hands, that is); I guess he did this to prevent making his characters seem one dimensional. The dramatization of the characters were adequate most of the time, while annoying or awkward occasionally.
Now I get to the chocolate filling of this eclair: the writing. The way Urasawa connected the characters to form a beautiful necklace seemed effortless. He seemed to have a skill to connect perspectives faultlessly. His pacing is what most anime lack nowadays, this slow burn story seemed episodic but it actually wasn’t- each of the episodes were terminals to this network of a story. There were no plot holes despite the high number of episode counts it had. This slow, yet suspenseful drama about criminals, the realism of decisions, names, hate, love, revenge, picture books and the human mind and most importantly, monsters.
With that overused quote, I end this review. As always, thank you for reading through this… this review?