by Casey Brienza,


GN 16

Monster GN 16
To his dismay, Dr. Tenma finds himself unable to stop Milan from trying to assassinate Peter Capek, one of the conspirators aiming to complete Franz Bonaparta's sinister legacy. Milan dies in the attempt, which means that Tenma's brief respite from violence and vengeance has officially come to a close. Meanwhile, Inspector Visbaugh and Dr. Gillen interrogate a series of serial killers who seem to be taking orders from someone who is writing names of victims in a sandbox. Could that someone be Johan? And then finally, Nina catches up to Capek while Tenma confronts the young Johan follower Christoph Sievernich. Both of them are now hot on Johan's trail. What will Nina do when she is face to face with her twin once more?

After over 130 chapters and fifteen compiled volumes, even Naoki Urasawa, a mangaka of prodigious storytelling talent, is having trouble holding it all together. What began as a tense, tightly-woven tale of a doctor on the run has become a bulging, unseemly concoction of lengthy digressions, red herrings, and tangled character relationships that are nearly impossible to keep straight—and, though richly imagined, are intended to conceal the Urasawa's own lack of narrative control under the pressure of twice-monthly deadlines. One should not assume that a confusing story is so intelligent that it defeats the comprehension of less than worthy minds; one may generally assume, rather, that the confusion is a function of a storyteller desperate to conceal his own artistic shortcomings …like an orator who uses lots of big words so that his basic, underlying logic is not questioned.

And sure enough, the majority of volume sixteen is mind-bogglingly obtuse bulge, most of it busy developing minor characters who are likely to be dead or forgotten just a few dozen pages later. The first subplot, for example, explores Milan's past history with Capek. Seems that they were childhood friends in Czechoslovakia, and after many years apart, he helped Capek settle in Frankfurt. Capek returned the favor by causing the death of Milan's son. Now Milan wants revenge, despite Tenma's attempts to dissuade him. Guess vengeance doesn't pay, though (you paying attention, Tenma?); Milan gets killed attempting to assassinate Capek.

The worst waste of space, however, comes in the middle. Inspector Visbaugh and Dr. Gillen interrogate three serial killers, one a taxi driver intent upon ridding the earth of human “scum,” another who fancies himself a vampire and drinks only virgin girls' blood, and a third who believes himself to be killing at the behest of extraterrestrials. Visbaugh and Gillen are intrigued by their cases because all of them have committed one murder that does not match their respective profiles. All of them, it turns out, were acting on the orders of someone they met in the same park. Of course, the reader is supposed to recognize this personage in the park as Johan after it is revealed that the taxi driver met the twins when they were children. Any other relationship to the overarching storyline of Monster is tangential at best, and these chapters felt like Urasawa was just making his page count and marking time till the grand finale.

The rest, though still terribly bloated, it at least more relevant. The Baby, for example, meets an ignominious end at the hands of a prostitute, and a now-paranoid Capek has a run-in with Johan, who leave him alive so that his sister can have the pleasure of doing Capek in. (She resists, but this is likely to be the effective end of Capek in the story.) Meanwhile, Eva is at long last briefly reunited with Tenma, but it is disappointingly anti-climatic and over with in the blink of an eye. What should have been an emotionally fraught scene ends up an afterthought in the rush to apprehend Johan. We also get some background on the twins' mother, an unwilling participant in Bonaparta's eugenics program. And finally, we end on a cliffhanger: Nina pointing a gun at Johan (again), on the brink of telling him something that will, presumably, be important in the context of the manga's forthcoming conclusion.

The series consistent strength remains its handsome, gekiga-influenced artwork. No matter how convoluted or uncontrolled the story gets, the art is unflinchingly clean and cinematically precise. No matter how obtuse the action gets, it is never visually confusing, yet it manages to convey the correct noir punch. Even the huge cast of characters are all visually distinct; no two people look exactly alike…except when Urasawa intends them to, that is.

All in all, this is definitely not one of the series' better installments. But there are only two volumes of Monster left to go after this one, so hopefully Urasawa will step up the pace and bring this magnum opus of suspense to a satisfying finish.

Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B+

+ Precise, pitch-perfect artwork and plenty of dramatic tension that will keep readers coming back for more.
Signal to noise ratio is becoming less and less favorable. The story needs to get back on track--fast.

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Story & Art: Naoki Urasawa

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