When it comes to an anime with 50+ episodes, expectations generally plummet. Not very surprising given Pokemon’s miraculous continuing success, Beyblade making even cheesier top jokes, or Naruto’s constant return to friendship as a theme. I personally have a soft spot for all of these animes… Who doesn’t love cheesy puns or the power of friendship?
Monster is on a whole other plane; it delivers 74 episodes of pure, unadulterated magnificence. I can’t do justice to the sheer brilliance of the plot, characters, or the tying in of every little element of the story with words, but what the hell, I’m going to try anyway.
When I said sheer brilliance, I meant sheer goddamn brilliance. From episode one, you’re introduced to the impressionable and quiet Dr. Kenzo Tenma. He’s a very gifted neurosurgeon at Eisler Memorial Hospital located in Dusseldorf, Germany. He saves countless lives routinely purely because it’s what he loves doing. What a guy, right?
He’s not quite satisfied with the hospital though… I wouldn’t be either if it prioritized the patients who could benefit it in the long run financially or publicly while making those in desperate need of attention wait until it may be too late. Little by little, Tenma begins to show increasing aggravation toward his boss, Director Heinemann. One fateful day, a young boy is rushed into the ECU. The boy is in very critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head. Tenma immediately decides to operate, even though he is given specific orders to forgo the boy and operate on the town’s mayor (due to a very large financial bonus being promised by said official). Tenma has had it at this point, and disobeys his boss, thereby saving the young boy’s life. Unfortunately, the mayor passes away due to the other surgeons being not quite at Tenma’s level. Tenma is then demoted and replaced, loses his fiancée (Director Heinemann’s daughter), and given the lowest authority possible in the hospital.
In a drunken stupor, Tenma sits in the room of the boy he has saved and rants to the unconscious child. He is sick and tired of the power-hungry and greedy heads of the hospital. He can’t take the unfairness and injustice of the hospital.The next morning, the local officials visit Tenma. Imagine the shock on his face when he hears that Director Heinemann and Tenma’s replacements were found dead in their homes… And that’s just episode one.
The story slowly unfolds as Tenma transforms from a sensitive, vulnerable individual into a determined, able-bodied protagonist that strives to defeat a very dark antagonist (left unnamed due to potential spoilers). The story is a tale of growth, transformation, redemption, and humanity. The plot shows us the fragility of one’s humanity, and how easily it can be tempted. We are introduced to the possibility of an ultimate evil, and on the other hand, the power of having an identity in the world. The pacing of the story is also incredibly well thought out for a 74 episode anime. Each episode leaves you with just the right amount of “what-if” so that you yearn to watch the next one. Every detail is revisited and hashed out such that any plot holes seem unnoticeable. With such a compelling story, hooking premise, and moving characters, it is impossible not to continue after watching the first few episodes, given that the protagonist and the antagonist are made so clear so fast. I give this story a 10/10.
Being an older anime, animation quality is something the show may not quite impress you with, depending on your taste. I’m used to an almost childish art style which can be seen in animes like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Sword Art Online, and Naruto. Even as you compare to higher end and realistic art styles, like those of Bleach, Death Note, and Fate/Zero, it has a noticeable lack in quality and vibrancy. Personally, I find that the underplayed art style helps add to the film noir-esque universe that this anime takes place in. It gives you an “oh shit, this could actually happen” feeling, if appreciated in tandem with the storyline. It’s simple, straight to the point, and adds to the seriousness of the anime. However, some of the backgrounds and locations are very painfully ordinary, which can take away from the overall experience of the show. I give it a 7/10.
Voice Acting (Dub)
With such prominent talents as Liam O’Brien taking the lead as Kenzo Tenma, Laura Bailey as the plucky sidekick Dieter, and the ever-present Yuri Lowenthal among other names, the characters are seldom found without a voice that gives them the flavour and colour the anime so beautifully delivers. Each of the characters, major and minor, are voiced by an actor that best suits the character’s strengths, weaknesses, and disposition. Liam O’Brien I can’t say enough about as he brings out the quiet strength in Tenma, portraying him carry out his mission while going through any means necessary against the struggle of maintaining his humanity. Overall casting for me, given the English dub? 9/10.
Reiterating what I said at the start, the characters in this anime are absolutely brilliant. It’s almost as if there are no minor characters in the show itself due to just how well-developed even the most minor character is. No one is without a name, and everybody has a role to play. Monster’s characters show us the light and dark sides of humanity with its protagonist, Tenma. Tenma is the key that holds the entire show together, with his ability to remind those that are internally conflicted to listen to their better judgement (and keep the show from becoming overly depressing, I might add). The supporting characters in the show are equally as well developed and as well, further complement and contrast Tenma’s already outstanding character.
Highlights would include Inspector Heinrich Lunge of the BKA, an inspector whose only drive in life is to solve any crime given to him with cold, hard evidence. His tireless search for the truth leads him down a path of surprising events that he did not believe could ever occur. His cold and calculating demeanor gains a warmer side to it as he inches closer and closer to the truth of his latest and most difficult case yet. We also have Nina Fortner, who exudes an almost classic femme fatale vibe. Nina is introduced very early on in the story, as a very happy, studious, and dedicated girl with a loving family. As with everybody, she becomes ensnared within the web of Tenma’s quest albeit for a very different reason. Over the course of the 74 episodes, she becomes a strong female lead and gives the show her own colour. Ultimately, the primary villain of the story is the dark spot that heavily contrasts the shining righteousness of Tenma and all the supporting characters. Of all the characters in the anime, he goes through the least amount of development, but once you’re introduced to him, you realize he needs no development. He stands as a pillar of almost pure, unflinchingly evil perfection. He is the reason the anime is called what it is – a true monster from the very core of his being. Characters of this anime are a resounding 9.5/10.
I really could go on for days about the shivers this anime sent down my spine, or the tightness with which I gripped my seat handles while watching it, or just the depth that each character brings to the table, or about the one bastard who just will not die… but hey, don’t let me say anymore. Go watch it as soon as you can, and be ready for a hell of a ride. This anime is a solid 9/10 in my book.