Reviewby James Beckett,
Episodes 1-30 Streaming
Dr. Kenzo Tenma has it all: A successful career as one of the premiere neurosurgeons in Europe, a gorgeous fiancé, and he seems poised to take on even more responsibility in the running of Düsseldorf's Eisler Memorial Hospital. One day, Dr. Tenma is assigned to operate on the mysterious young patient, Johan, who took a bullet to the head after his parents' grisly murders, while his nearly catatonic sister Anna can only mutter, “Kill…him…” The doctor will eventually come to regret not heeding the girl's words, as saving Johan's life starts a chain reaction of death and catastrophe that leads to Tenma getting framed as a serial murderer and set on the run across all of Europe. As he scours the country for clues, Tenma is shocked to discover just how sprawling and bloody the web of Johan's murderous life truly is. With the authorities hunting him down and dark secrets hiding in every corner, the once-good doctor must risk his humanity to slay the monster he unwittingly unleashed upon the world.
I'm not kidding when I say that folks like me have been waiting years to finally get their hands on Monster. Even though Naoki Urasawa's original manga is a legendary part of the modern manga canon, not to mention the fact that the anime adaptation is equally well regarded by critics and fans, it has been nearly impossible to find affordable, legal copies in recent times; at least, that's been my experience here in the States (I don't even think Viz released most of the show on DVD back when they had the chance). So, when Netflix announced that they were finally bringing Monster to my neck of the woods, I was overjoyed.
Then, when I learned that they only dropped the first thirty episodes—out of a whopping seventy-four, I was a little bummed out again, though now that I've sat through the first 40.5% of the show, I'm glad to have the chance to digest the story before diving back in. If you'll forgive the pun, this is one monstrous drama with a scope and scale that goes far beyond what the uninitiated would likely imagine when they see the premise “Esteemed surgeon hunts down a serial killer.” Yes, if I wanted to be pithy, I could easily boil Monster down to some fun critical quip, such as, “It's what would happen if you combined Se7en with House, M.D.!” That would be doing Monster a real disservice, though, because its willingness to creep beyond the boundaries of its genre trappings makes the series such an exceptionally gripping mystery epic.
That said, even if this really was just about the cat-and-mouse game that Johan plays with Dr. Tenma, Monster would still be a hell of an anime. It is my understanding that director Masayuki Kojima and the crew at Madhouse have produced a shot-for-shot adaptation of Urasawa's manga. While it doesn't necessarily make for the most cinematic of products, Monster makes up for it with the kind of mature, thoughtful storytelling that you don't see a whole lot from the industry these days. Dr. Tenma is a likable but flawed protagonist, and his self-destructive efforts to take down Johan are as reckless and naïve as they are noble. You genuinely feel scared when Tenma crosses paths with characters such as Johan's sister, Anna, or the headstrong young orphan, Dieter, because for all of his good intentions, Tenma may be paving himself a one-way road straight to hell. Anyone that sticks around the doctor is just as likely to wind up in Johan's sights (or the police who are chasing after them both). When the characters have to take stock and reckon with the madness they're dealing with, Monster has no problem devoting entire episodes to scenes devoted to nothing but conversation, deduction, and laying the groundwork for what is to come.
In an era where even the grimmest and grimiest big-budget dramas only get a couple of ten-episode seasons if they're lucky, it feels revelatory to live in Monster's world for dozens of episodes without even reaching its halfway point. That makes the series' strange and expansive scope feel so exciting. This story finds time to introduce at least a half-dozen “main characters” to follow, each with unique motives and hang-ups, which is to say nothing of all the breadcrumbs that keep getting dropped about Johan's strange and increasingly bizarre background. Then there's the heaping helping of social commentary we get as the show explores the messy ramifications of life in Europe during the late period of the Cold War, which is replete with corrupt government officials, rampant organized crime, and plenty of Neo-Nazis to hate. There is so much to chew on with this show, and given how starved we've been of stories that respect their audience's intelligence and patience to such a degree, I'm happy to be feasting on every morsel that Monster brings my way.
Outside of the slow-burn pacing that is sure to turn off a good portion of curious fans, my only gripes about this anime are minor, and they have to do with the show's aesthetics. While the moody music and old-school art style still kick ass even twenty years later, it's the animation itself that hasn't held up quite as well. It doesn't look like any remastering has been done to the show's visuals, which can make the art look a bit smeary on modern HD devices, and there's simply a lot of jank to deal with concerning the mid-2000s production technique. The occasional use of rudimentary CG or awkwardly composited digital elements isn't enough to ruin the show by any means, but it can be distracting.
Is any of that going to stop me from singing Monster's praises, though? Hell no. So far as these first thirty episodes are concerned, the series is living up to its reputation as a stone-cold classic, and I'm completely on board for the next batch. While I'm glad I didn't try to binge all seventy-four episodes of this bad boy in one sitting, I am begging Netflix to keep the wait for future installments as brief as possible. They don't make them like this anymore, and I will need my fix again before too long.
Overall : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : A
+ A sprawling and ambitious crime thriller epic that is made for adults, diverse cast of interesting characters, great music, excellent world building
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