Monster

Monster (モンスター monsutā) is a 162 chapter long manga written and illustrated by Urasawa Naoki. It has spawned an anime and a spin-off manga which, as far as I can understand, tells the same story as the original but with a different narrative. The manga is a psychological thriller that has a large amount of focus on what defines human identity and how far it can be pushed for one to become a “monster”.

Plot

Dr. Kenzō Tenma (Western name order), a prodigious Japanese brain surgeon operating in Germany, defies the orders of the hospital’s director in order to save the life of a young boy who had been shot in the head during a home invasion during which his parents were killed and his twin sister was left in catatonic shock and as a result, loses everything.

A few nights later, the director, the new Chief of Surgery, and one more high-ranking doctor are found dead from poisonous candy and the twins have vanished from their rooms. Panic spreads but neither the killer nor the children are to be found anywhere and the case remains unsolved.

Seven years later, Dr. Tenma, the new Chief of Surgery, receives a patient warning him of a “monster” responsible for the recent strings of serial killings happening all over Germany. That very evening, in a state of panic, the patient tries to escape the hospital and Dr. Tenma manages to trail him to a building under construction and comes face to face with the monster responsible for the recent murders as well as the deaths of the three doctors seven years earlier. It was Johan, the very boy whose life he had saved. Dr. Tenma’s patient is then shot before Tenma’s very eyes.

Now on the run from the police and the KGB who believe Tenma to be the murderer, he must track down the elusive Johan in order to make up for his ‘mistake’ of saving his life so many years earlier and try to prevent there being any more victims. In the process of finding Johan, Tenma uncover the twins’s horrible pasts which shaped Johan into the monster he had become.

Opinion

Because this isn’t the type of manga you can just pick up and continue at your leasure, I decided to read it all in two consecutive sittings. By the time I had finished it, all I could really feel was saddened and empty, and as such, I’m at a loss for proper words.

Monster is by no means a bad manga, actually quite the opposite. It has a take on the importance of identity and the value and meaning of having a name I had never before seen which will definitely strike a nerve if you don’t just read it superficially. It portrays one’s name as being almost the very essense of ‘you’; the diametric opposite of Shakespear’s “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” I suppose (Romeo and Juliette?). It’s more in the lines of Hamlet; “To be, or not to be? That is the question“, but adds on “but with no name to be called by, was I ever to begin with?

The story is complex, but woven together beautifully and it never ‘sidetracks’ without some degree relevance to the main storyline, so I guess in reality, it never really sidetracks at all? Looking past semantics, many chapters -will- focus on events and characters apart from Dr. Tenma and Johan, but it all plays out for a ‘greater purpose’ later in the story so no ties a left untied (except for whatever happened to Karl’s foster parents…). Considering the length and complexity of the story, this is actually a pretty remarkable feat.

If you truely immerse yourself in the storyline, which isn’t difficult as the story really draws you in, you will often find yourself in moments of disgust and disbelief. Not just because of the horrors depicted in the manga, but because it’s written in such a way that it doesn’t seem unlikely that at least some of it was at based on reality, such as the horrors of the East-German Kinderheims (orphanages), the Nazis’ attempts to brainwash children to be perfect patriots, etc.

One thing that did not carry over so well, however, were the religious themes. It is very obvious that Johan is likened to the Anti-Christ, but the manga makes such infrequent and subtle hints at it (except for the first and third-to-last chapter) that you will likely miss them completely. Maybe the mangaka simply didn’t want for the story to become ‘supernatural’ rather just border the extremes of human evil.

All in all, it’s an amazing story with some very likable characters (and moustaches!) and I will highly recommend people to read it, especially if you have an interest in human nature and psychology. However, like meantioned earlier, it’s not the type of story you can just pick up and continue, since it’s far too complex, so it would probably be best to wait until you have enough time to read it all in 2-5 sittings.

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