Reviewby James Beckett,
Episodes 31-52 Streaming
As Johan Liebert continues to elude justice for his terrible crimes, so too does Dr. Kenzo Tenma risk everything to continue his pursuit of the murderer. With Nina and the young orphan Dieter now thoroughly intertwined with Tenma's mission, the hunt for Johan grows more dangerous by the day. Worse yet, Johan's monstrous influence is spreading across the whole of Europe. As Tenma moves further into the borders of Eastern Europe and encounters more of Johan's, he begins to discover the elusive killer's ties to the crimes and secrets of Europe's Cold War. Soon, the shadows of conspiracy loom large enough to swallow any unfortunate soul caught in Johan's monstrous wake.
The first 30 episodes of Naoki Urasawa's Monster delivered the opening salvos of a gripping, slow-burning thriller that still feels fresh even now, nearly twenty years on from its initial release in 2004. The show marries a relatively realistic setting with an epic scope and mature themes that make it stand in stark contrast to the hyper-stylized and mostly youth-oriented material that makes up so much of the content that the anime industry churns out every season. Dr. Tenma is a great protagonist for a story like this because his single-minded obsession with taking down Johan provides a strong through-line for such a long but heavily serialized story, with a cast that balloons exponentially with every passing episode. Whether we're following Nina's exploits as she trains herself to be a killer of killers or catching up with the dogged Inspector Lunge as he pursues Tenma with terrifyingly measured persistence, we eventually find ourselves back on the hunt with the good doctor.
Even though Netflix was gracious enough to drop the entire rest of the series shortly after I finished Episodes 1-30, I decided to stick with a smaller batch of 22 episodes for this second review instead of tackling all 45 remaining chapters in one sitting. This was partially a matter of practicality—because, let's be real, 45 episodes are a lot of anime to catch up on when it isn't the only show you're keeping up with daily—but I think this was a good way to handle things so far as the experience of the show is concerned. Monster was already a dense show by the time I reached episode 30, and the following 22 episodes have only made it that much more complicated and, at times, convoluted. Don't get me wrong; this is still as compelling and sharply written a story as ever, but by the time we reach the umpteenth cliffhanger of Episode 52, even someone enjoying the show as much as I will need a break to take stock and make sure that they can keep track of all the story's moving parts.
To break it down, at this point in the story, we have nearly a dozen different story threads to keep track of: There's Dr. Tenma's hunt for Johan, Nina and Dieter's hunt for clues to the Liebert Siblings' shared past, Inspector Lunge's hunt for Dr. Tenma (who he is only now beginning to realize might not be the ludicrously omnipresent serial killer that is terrorizing all of Europe), Dr. Reichwein's investigations into mysterious happenings that are definitely Johan-adjacent, the whole Karl/Schuwald subplot that has been dormant for a while, Eva's whole side-side-story where she drinks a bunch and somehow finds herself tied up in all of this Johan business as well, the investigations of mysterious freelance reporter Wolfgang Grimmer, and the introduction of a different detective named Suk whose whole story runs parallel to Grimmer's and involves the ongoing mystery of who all of these shady people are that keep trying to steal documents relating to Kinderheim 511 and the creation of Johan's “monster”. Also, Johan himself is finally a character that we follow, too, and his side of the story goes in some…interesting directions, to say the least.
I don't want it to sound like I am necessarily criticizing Monster for having so many different plates to balance as it tells its story; that's an inherent draw of mystery-melodramas like these, and pretty much all of these individual parts are compelling in their own right. It is simply difficult to judge whether or not they are all going to end up worth the time and effort at the end of the day when the show has enough episodes left to fit entire seasons' worth of other anime, and we don't feel any closer to understanding what the heck is going on. It also means that some of the most compelling thematic elements of the story, such as Tenma and Nina's respective struggles to tap into their killer instincts as Johan continues to get the better of them, must necessarily get moved to the back burner as we repeatedly shift focus to entirely new perspective characters who are far less easy to root for, simply by virtue of knowing them less well.
Now, I can already anticipate people saying, “Well, that's what the Netflix model is for! You wouldn't have any of these reservations about the story if you just binged all 45 episodes and finished the whole thing as quickly as possible!” This may be true, but I also don't think that Monster is the kind of show that benefits from the modern binge approach to television consumption. It's just too darned big and ambitious, and it isn't an action-heavy shonen anime where you can comfortably half-watch and fold your laundry at the same time every time a fight scene is on. Monster demands your attention if you expect to get the most out of its story's twists and turns, and it won't do you any good if you shove twenty episodes down your mind-gullet over the course of a weekend and then proceed to forget 75% of what you just watched. Take it from me; slow and steady wins the race with Monster, even if it means denying yourself the sweet dopamine rushes of all those payoffs coming down the line for a little longer.
So, can I comfortably continue to advocate for Monster as a top-shelf anime classic, 52 episodes in? I think so, yes. The foundations of its plot and character development have grown somewhat strained under the weight of all the stuff it is trying to accomplish, but I've always been the kind of guy who appreciates the hell out of ambitious stories like this, even if when it results in a somewhat unwieldy final product. One thing is for sure: I'm in it for the long haul, and even if the story ends up stumbling a bit across the finish line, I'm excited as hell to see how Tenma and Johan's final showdown is going to go down, and what will become of all the other poor souls who were unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire.
(Note: If you're wondering why I gave the “Music” category a slightly lower score than last time, it is because Netflix has removed “For the Love of Life,” the haunting ending theme by David Sylvian, from every episode of the show. This is presumably a rights issue, but it's still a shame. Hearing those opening bars of “And slowly, you come to realize/It's all as it should be” had become a welcome component of the Monster ritual)
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ As suspenseful and atmospheric as ever, the growing cast and web of conspiracies make the story feel even more epic in scope, Johan is much more of an actual character in these episodes
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