Japanese Title: Monster
Similar: Master Keaton (same creator)
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 74 episodes
- Johan, one of the greatest villains in fiction.
- Every character has nuance and depth beyond the scope.
- Many threads woven together to create a tense, unforgettable story.
- Art that evolves as the characters grow over time.
- Psychological atmosphere brought to life with tense music.
- An opening sequence that other anime could learn much from.
- Some unnecessary flashbacks to scenes we just watched last episode.
- A few episodes muddle the storytelling coherence, but it is clarified later.
Monster is a sombre, twisted look into the life of one man and the events that unfold under his influence. It takes us down into the seedy underbelly of a post-Berlin Wall 1990s Germany, where the country is shaken by the rise of a serial killer.
Our tale starts with Doctor Tenma, a genius neurosurgeon in Düsseldorf. He has it all: the rich fiancée, Eva, the prestige, and the skill. One night, a little boy comes into the emergency room, gunshot to the head, and only Tenma’s ability can save him. Nine years later, a string of murders occurs and sweeps Tenma up into the brutality. The killer is that very same boy from all those years ago, and the murders are the mere tip of his machinations. What would you do if you had saved the life of the next Hitler?
Tenma feels a personal responsibility, especially with how much attention Johan favours him with, a truly messed up connection akin to Dumbledore and Voldemort. To worsen matters, Detective Lunge is on the case and his primary suspect is Tenma, for he has gained much since the murders. Lunge is a bloodhound, hell-bent on solving the case, even at the cost of all personal feelings and livelihood – a darker Sherlock Holmes. He’s the creepy guy you want in charge of your case, but wouldn’t invite over for dinner. I like his strange quirk where he types with his fingers in the air to archive every detail to memory.
The opening sequence sets the tone for Monster without a single word or lyric. Tenma keeps looking over his shoulder at distant, ethereal voices, yet there is never anything around once he looks. He is stalked and alone on his quest for the elusive killer.
The true star of Monster is the villain, Johan, a Hannibal Lecter type. He reveals himself to us early, but for much of the narrative, he remains in the shadows, controlling the events with unparalleled skill. Importantly, his ability to manipulate countless others and their organisations is believable, most prominently when we see him play his game in person. The way Johan manages to understand people, get inside their heads is brilliant, twisted, but brilliant – only one with such little emotion and empathy would be willing to go as far as he does. Whenever Johan is in a scene, it reminds me of Game of Thrones’ Geoffrey; he creates a tension unlike any other, as if he could kill at any moment. Unlike Geoffrey, however, who is a petulant child with the bigger stick, Johan has the subtlety, the patience of a master. He is bred for perfection in appearance and intelligence, and makes full use of that fact.
Monster introduces new characters and plot threads every few episodes. First, it is murder, then serial murder, then the mafia, and just when you think they couldn’t possibly add more, Nazi topics – the perfect race, Hitler’s rise to power, etc. – enter the fold. What it means to kill. Eugenics. Child psychology. More and more, seemingly endless wealth of themes weave into the plot. You must, must dedicate your attention to Monster or you may find yourself lost in its intricate plotting. If you do pay attention, Monster will reward you with nuance and maturity in the characters and themes at a level far beyond the norm.
“I brought him back to life… That monster…I brought him back to life…”
Art – High
Monster sports a more realistic art style than most anime. In fact, one could be forgiven for assuming it is not anime due to its highly detailed depiction of 1990s Germany. The face art may be off-putting at first (those irises are really small), but I grew accustomed within a few episodes. Most impressive, to me, is how well the art conveys the characters’ emotions and personalities. Pay particular attention to Eva and Tenma – he looks like a changed man by the end.
Sound – Very High
Excellent acting is either language, yet the English takes the crown, as the foreign languages (German, Czech, etc.) sound better from the English actors; however, Johan makes the English a must – bone-chilling performance. Great music and ambient sounds like the stalking Predator bring heights of tension and drama – again, some truly creepy songs. My only auditory gripe is with the lack of German accents for many characters, not even a slight one, though they do at least incorporate German mannerisms into dialogue.
Story – Very High
Monster is a once in a decade anime. The writers masterfully wove so many character threads together, filled with a ruthless, human logic that few creators bother to incorporate into their stories. Every character is human, a part of them broken by the hardships of life. Johan is a villain I will never forget.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: I cannot emphasise how much you must watch Monster. That said, I would wait until you have developed a liking for lengthy dramas, or you may miss much of the subtlety that makes Monster unforgettable, as I had in my youth. Remember to pay attention at all times.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)