Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Episodes 61-74 Streaming
Nina regains her complete memory. Tenma is injured while pursuing Franz Bonaparta's right-hand man, Peter Capek, and ends up staying with an old friend of Capek's. Gillen and a soon-to-be-retired detective find a frightening tie between three unrelated serial killers. Eva tracks Johan through the young man that has apprenticed himself to the monster. Grimmer and Lunge independently arrive at the same conclusion about the identity and whereabouts of Bonaparta, the man whose program created the twins. He's in a tiny German backwater called Ruhenheim. They aren't the only ones who've found him, however. Johan wants a reckoning with the man who made him what he is, and Ruhenheim will bleed before he gets it, bleed in the way only Johan can make something bleed: by its own hand.
As ambitious and complicated and just plain huge as Monster is, no conclusion is going to be entirely satisfactory. Someone is bound to get short-changed, loose ends are bound to be left dangling, and even if they weren't, the simple truth is that no climax could ever live up to the series' build-up.
That said, the massacre in Ruhenheim comes pretty close. The idea alone, of someone getting a town to kill itself off, is great. The show misses some of the concept's possibilities, mostly in quickly moving the threat away from mass internal hysteria to Johan's external army of killers, but it's still a harrowing and occasionally disquieting experience. Beginning with a distant gunshot, the tension in Ruhenheim mounts artfully, swelling as neighbors begin to suspect neighbors, as two longtime Monster�-ites descend like harbingers of doom, guns are distributed, and the powder keg at lasts ignites in a predictably bloody conflagration. It's a bracingly mean jolt of raw suspense punctured by unexpected (and expected) tragedies and hands-down the most powerful run of material since Johan burned the Munich library down around Tenma and Nina's ears. What Johan does to the happy little town of Ruhenheim far outstrips anything he did to Munich library-goers. His work in Ruhenheim makes plain the series' conception of evil as a contagion...and Johan as its primary vector.
You could easily see the Ruhenheim episodes making a cracking good film—the kind of neo-Hitchcockian thriller that you imagine Naoki Urasawa would make if he made movies. It's kind of a shame that it isn't one. If it was a film, it wouldn't be preceded by a series of interconnected short tales that never quite add up. Good tales, admittedly, especially the one in which Eva confronts Johan's "apprentice," but full of niggling little gaps and inconsistencies and ultimately of little consequence to the tragedy in Ruhenheim. If it was a film, it wouldn't be saddled with episodes detailing Johan's complicated and increasingly preposterous origins—a cardinal mistake on the series' part. Johan's chilling charisma is saved only by the fact that the series' "explanations" are so convoluted and obtuse that they cast very little light on his darkness. If it was a film, then it wouldn't have had the long, intense struggle that makes the facile resolution of Tenma's dilemma seem so very much like a cop-out. If it was a film, it wouldn't have the series' first half to make its every flaw, inconsistency, and plot hole stand out like pigeon poop on a well-waxed Mercedes.
That's the danger in criticizing Monster's final episodes (and last half in general). It's easy to get so caught up in the unfavorable ways that they compare to the opening episodes that we forget that, by the standards of almost any other show, they're works of great skill. It's easy to notice, for instance, that the tragic end of Peter Capek's childhood friend is rendered in a series of clumsy stills, while forgetting the fact that they only seem clumsy in comparison to the circling cameras and silk-smooth zooms that heighten major developments in other episodes. We note Tenma's badly simplified face in one Ruhenheim scene only because it never was before, even during the most complicated animated maneuvers, and because the town around him is so intensely detailed. The times when Kuniaki Haishima crosses the line into musical overkill stand out mainly because his score is so unpleasantly appropriate and devilishly effective the rest of the time. We cringe when the show tries to get to know Johan because it displayed such genius in making him an unknowable force of elemental evil. We chafe when its detours dead-end because we've been spoiled by the devious ways Urasawa once wove seemingly unrelated stories together. We feel vaguely let down because we spent so long elevated to such heights.
We feel vaguely let down when what we should really be doing is glorying in the somewhat messy, yes, but exhilarating final throes of one of last decade's great series. Try not to think too hard about the less logical turns (why, for instance, Johan extinguishes a whole town when his aim is the assassination of one man), give up on fitting every truncated piece exactingly together, and just appreciate these final episodes for the great anime that they are. It's no haphazard or anemic finale that burns the sight of the Magnificent Steiner roaring into existence into our memories, that chills as easily with a glimpse of the moral vacuum behind kindly eyes as with mortal struggles, or that uses the language and imagery of the apocalypse to dress its final confrontation between man and monster. Major players fall, minor players make major plays, and a whole episode is given over to following up on the cast—and delivering one last shock. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But it is a finale of grand scope, fierce intelligence, and monumental ambition, as well as real emotional consequence—all things in desperately short supply in this or any other entertainment medium. Celebrate that; you're not likely to see its like again anytime soon.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A-
+ The potent final act of a sprawling, unique epic.
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