Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Having learned that the key to Johan's past may lie in Prague, Tenma makes his way there. Fugitive that he is, the trip isn't easy, but he receives a timely helping hand from an investigative reporter also on his way to Prague. Unbeknownst to him, the reporter Grimmer is tracking down a lead on the infamous orphanage 511 Kinderheim where Johann was raised. Grimmer's investigation leads the intrepid reporter to Pedrov, the former director of the orphanage, whereupon he discovers to his horror that the old man might well be continuing his inhuman research in Prague. Before long Grimmer is up to his ears in a morass of murder, betrayal and scheming that eventually draws a troop of orphans and a rookie detective named Suk into its lethal clutches.
After orchestrating a stunning climax in volume nine, Monster immediately settles in to begin a new story arc. This opening volume is rather tangential to the main plot for now; Johan is but a specter as of yet, and Tenma only appears long enough to mull over the consequences of his last confrontation with Johan. There are, of course, hints as to where Grimmer's investigation fits into the puzzle of Johan's life, and this arc, as with most of Monster's tangents so far, will undoubtedly be insinuated into the main plot eventually. But for now it's Grimmer's show.
It's impossible not to miss Johan and Tenma after the central role they played in the Schuwald arc, and coming down off the giddy high of the last volume makes decelerating for another slow boil difficult, but Grimmer easily shoulders the burden of supporting the plot, which for its part is another engrossing tale of sinister conspiracies and double crosses. Grimmer's design, with his lazy eyes and perpetual grin, is initially off-putting; it doesn't take long though for his obvious intelligence and casual honesty to rectify that problem. The rest of the cast introduced in this volume display the series' usual deft touch with characterization. Detective Suk is easy to empathize with, if something of a sap, there's an old monster of a behavioral scientist who isn't nearly as simplistic as he seems, and there's a depth and complexity to the rogue's gallery of highly suspect supporting players that belies their limited roles.
The series sets aside the heavier issues of Johan's evil and Tenma's deadly quest for this volume, a move that reduces the intensity of the plot without turning it lightweight. The resurrection of the ghost of 511 Kinderheim, one of the series' more unpleasant past concepts, is a canny move, as is a late-occurring revelation about Grimmer that casts some serious doubts on his moral character. There are also plenty of ruthless little touches—Suk's impossible crush, a harrowing torture by nail-clippers—and as always, murder and madness lurk around the bend of each of the volume's several twists. However, as interesting as it all is, the impatient desire to get beyond the setup to the real meat of the main plot still casts a shadow over much of the volume.
With the showy cinematic flourishes of the latest climax behind him, Naoki Urasawa is back to invisibly building suspense with his uncanny grasp of human expression, noirish use of shadow, and manipulation of deceptively simple panel layouts. It wouldn't be exactly correct to call his art attractive—there're too many ugly people with big European noses for that—but it is devilishly effective. Urasawa is a master of pacing; he never wastes any space nor does he allow the art to get crowded or rushed, despite the wealth of detail in every panel. He regulates the tempo of each scene masterfully, leading the eye with well-oiled ease from one cover to the other.
Other than moving the glossy next-volume preview from the back to the front, this volume is everything one has come to expect from Viz' presentation of the series: the overall graphic design is a perfect match for the content, the Japanese sound effects are left intact with a glossary in the back, and there's nil for extras.
Monster has earned every ounce of its praise thus far, and if it feels like it's relaxing a little after last volume's halfway-point climax, that's perfectly excusable. And at least this arc isn't wasting any time with side-trips (yet), preferring instead to wind itself up for what appears to be a nasty little climax in the offing, with plenty of twists and shocks along the way.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ A superior tale of crime and intrigue.
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