Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Episodes 46-60 Streaming
After the detectives sent to question him are found shot in his apartment, Detective Suk finds himself in a bind. No one will ever believe he's innocent now. He goes to ground with fellow fugitive Grimmer, but they can't stay hidden for long. The former Czechoslovakian Secret Police are too good for that. Nina is pursuing her own line of investigation elsewhere in Prague, seeking Johan in her own past. What she finds is as elusive as it is terrible—and as destructive. Lunge brushes up against it as well as he traces the origins of the eerie picture book that set Nina on her course. At the end of the tangled path lies a haunted place called the Red Rose Mansion, where an author with many names carried out a mysterious experiment at the behest of the communist government. Tenma in the meantime is hot on Johan's scent as well, but his chase hits a snag when the law finally catches up to him.
These episodes cover one of the most complicated stretches of Monster, and also one of the least satisfying. The former comes from juggling a sizeable cast, each with their own storylines; the latter comes from the failure of a unifying story to materialize from their knotty intersections. We're given a lot of puzzle pieces here, but no matter how you rearrange them they never quite fit together. There's nothing here like the icy comprehension that grips your gut when Monster really comes together—the way it did when Tenma first saw the monster he created, when Johan came to Heidelberg to claim his sister, or when the Munich library burnt to the ground—just a lot of different stories connected by tenuous threads of Johan's past.
If you know what's coming, you know there's a logic to everything that happens here, governed by Johan and the ends he seeks, but that doesn't make this patchwork of dark tales any more compelling—as a whole, that is. Each is plenty compelling within its own confines. Suk's story remains a chilling exercise in cold war paranoia. Lunge's investigation of the Red Rose Mansion bumps up against a classic horror of the unknown. Nina's investigation takes a turn for the creepy yet romantic. Tenma's trouble with the law transforms into an escape yarn driven by unrelenting suspense. The final arc finds Eva playing femme fatale in a world-weary thug's personal neo-noir. Finely-crafted tales all. But lacking in the deadly confluence of events that signals the workings of some vast, evil, existential master plan.
As well as the confluence of storylines that signals a storyteller in full control of his story. That is perhaps the most damaging impression left by these episodes: that Naoki Urasawa's grand Cold War parable has gotten so gargantuan that not even he can manhandle it into doing his bidding. Not that that stops him from amassing a wealth of disturbing sequences, or from cracking our necks like whips while steering his plot. The series has a habit of throwing characters in the hoosegow or hopping the tracks to introduce a new protagonist whenever we start getting too comfortable, and its facility for unpleasantness is consistently impressive. The kicker at the end of the idyll Nina shares with a damaged puppeteer is a nasty one, and the episode in which some orphans investigate Johan and suffer the consequences is as awful—once again in a good way—as anything the series has done to date, matched here only by Martin the thug's surreal meeting with a "fan" of Johan's. Even if the show isn't in prime condition, it moves with such intelligence and unpredictability that it's never less than interesting...and often considerably more.
And at any rate, we've come too far to turn back now. We must know what happened at the Red Rose Mansion, what it is hidden in Nina's memory that nearly destroys her whenever glimpsed, and who the faceless picture book artist is and where he fits into Johan's creation. We must know the fates of the people that we've spent the past fifty episodes digging deep into: Tenma, Nina, Dieter, Grimmer, Eva, Lunge. We must know how Tenma's quest ends, how his internal dilemma—kill or let kill—plays out. We must know the reason Johan burned his Munich power-play to ashes; we must resolve the greatest mystery of them all: Johan himself.
At this point the series could jump the shark and then eat it and we'd still finish watching. Urasawa could get lobotomized, Madhouse could hire trained monkeys, Masayuki Kojima could channel Ed Wood, and the cast could record while falling-down drunk and we'd still be there, in front of our TVs (or computers, or whatever), watching. Of course, none of that happens. Even when straining at the edges of his storytelling ability, Urasawa is nothing less than great; Madhouse's visuals are dark, dangerous and tastefully restrained; and the cast is sober and Kojima isn't messing with the black arts. The series manages to be both stylish and anally faithful to Urasawa's aesthetic, as well as to his plot. Kuniaki Haishima's terrifying score is pretty much the only stylistic weakness, and then only because a key song ("Over the Rainbow") is omitted—one assumes due to licensing issues.
No, this stretch is by no definition a disaster. It's merely an intermediate run of episodes that has the temerity to add up to the sum of its rather excellent parts. It's only because Monster's arithmetic usually results in so much more that we're disappointed. That's a problem that many a lesser series would kill for.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Well-written short stories that run the gamut from modest drama to straight-up film noir; upsetting developments and sudden twists aplenty; Eva's arc.
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