This manga may hands down be one of the best that I have ever read. And I do not make that statement lightly. I may not have the biggest manga shelf in the world, but what I have read of Monster makes me want to sing its praises from the rooftops. It's very rare in my history of reading manga for me to have given such high ratings with every single volume I've read. Usually with manga you get one bum volume every now and again, with a story arc that goes nowhere or just silly one-shot gag settings that may have seemed hilarious to the creator at the time, but are lost in translation.
Not in Monster. Oh no. Urasawa has a gripping, clever crime thriller to tell, and you're going to want to be with it every step of the way.
Monster tells the story of Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a brilliant Japanese neurosurgeon working in West Germany in the 1980s. He has a beautiful fiancée, he's the head of the neurosurgery department at his hospital, he has the blessing of the hospital director, and the respect and admiration of all his colleagues. However, Dr. Tenma is shaken one day by the hospital forcing him to operate on a rich patron rather than a poor Turkish man, who had more severe injuries.
So when the hospital try to force him to operate on the town mayor, suffering from a stroke, rather than a little boy who's been shot in the head, he follows his heart and saves the life of little Johan Liebert.
This act puts Tenma in incredibly hot water, though. His fiancée breaks off their engagement, he loses his position as chief of neurosurgery, and the hospital director now refuses to back him at all, following this 'irresponsible' act. Dr. Tenma refuses to be shaken, however, and after ranting to an unconscious Johan, he assumes it's the end of his career and just continues working day to day.
...That is, until the hospital director and two other doctors mysteriously die. And oddly enough, around this time, Johan and his twin sister escape from the hospital. An investigation is launched, and even though from an objective standpoint, Tenma had the greatest motive to kill those men, no evidence is ever found, and the case grows cold.
Nine years later, Tenma is now chief of surgery at the hospital, and taking care of a patient named Adolf Junkers, who was hit by a car after running away from a 'monster', and is being questioned by the police for his involvement in a spate of recent serial burglaries/killings. One night, terrified out of his wits, he escapes the hospital, with Tenma in hot pursuit.
Tenma follows Junkers to a construction site, where he meets with the real serial killer who's been terrorising Germany: Johan Liebert. All grown-up.
I just love the moral choices of this story. Tenma loses everything but then gains it back, and Johan claiming to be responsible for this (basically, he killed those hospital staff, having listened to Tenma's 'wishes' and giving them poisoned sweets) really struck a chord for me.
Johan is also a genuinely terrifying presence. He's attractive, has a sweet, childish lilt to his voice, but on the other hand, he's utterly brutal and heartless. The way he taunts Dr. Tenma before killing Mr. Junkers... and then he just walks past Tenma with a calm, gentle smile on his face - I've never gotten chills reading a manga before, but I have now, thanks to Monster.
Tenma is also an incredibly interesting character. He followed his heart to move to Germany after reading a medical paper written by the current director of the hospital, and while he's a very kind and wise doctor, he's polite enough to say he's still got a long way to go. The reader feels Tenma's heartache when his waxen wings mount above his reach, and he loses everything in the space of a few hours. It also makes the reader question what they would have done in that situation: would you have followed orders, or let more lives die on your watch because they couldn't afford their health insurance or weren't financially affiliated with the hospital? And what would you do if that one crucial misstep in your career ended up working out for the better... then took a horrifying turn for the worse?
I may have started this series rather haphazardly (I found volumes 10-17 in a comic book shop and read them last weekend), but I'm going to finish the series come hell or high water. I just want to know why volumes #3-9 are out of print and so bloody expensive. Come on, Viz! Reprint some of them. If I could afford upwards of £50 every time I wanted to buy a manga volume, well... I'd be a lot richer than I am now. 10/10.
This review has no comments. Leave one now!