Allow me to reveal a cold, hard, and very ugly fact: This past year has been nothing but a plethora of the Annoying (Madlax, Samurai Champloo), the Average (Elfen Lied, Midori no Hibi), and the Awful (Gantz, Konomini). As the year wore on, I worried that maybe only Koi Kaze lingered on the side of good. Fortunately, I was wrong. There is one other title, just one, that is not only good, but outstanding. Monster very easily blows away all anime released of late and is truly the best anime of 2004.
One decision (made with the best of intentions) is the catalyst for the events that unfold. Dr. Tenma's decision challenges the age-old idea that institutions exist only for the benefit of "high society." Monster is the first anime I've seen that seriously touches on the issue of bigotry and elitism. There are many ideas illustrated throughout Monster, but none more prominent than the theme of redemption or forgiveness. Is there such a thing as redemption even for the greatest sinners? Many of the characters (the alcoholic ex-detective comes to mind) have been broken-whether physically or emotionally-and seek that one thing that may save them. Dr. Tenma, in particular, undergoes a desperate and poignant journey in order to alleviate guilt for something he has done. Not only is the story fantastic, but its execution must be admired, as well. Although slated at seventy-eight episodes, Monster has, as of yet, a multifaceted story that has remained compelling.
Only Satoshi Kon draws characters this ugly.
Eerie is the perfect term to describe both the opening and ending themes. The OP is an odd, but excellent instrumental peppered with haunting voices in the background. The ED is just as odd (if only for the pictures that accompany it), but I really like the song. I don't know the name of the singer, but I really like the way he sings the lyrics. "We could lose it all, but we'll go down fighting." Heh. The second OP sucks. The background music can be overly dramatic at times, but that doesn't happen very often. The voice acting is solid, with the stand-out being Eva and Johan. Johan never raises his voice, and this fact puts chills down the spine. But most importantly, a guy plays the part.
The story is only outmatched by the characters, most notably, Dr. Tenma, Johan, Eva, and Detective Lunge. On Dr. Tenma's part, he is almost unrecognizable from the beginning of the series (ala Twelve Kingdoms). In the beginning, he's an unremarkable character- submissive and indeterminate. He's the type of person that doesn't care about being used. He's the type of person that will hesitate to make a decision. However, it's not long before Dr. Tenma transforms into a strong-willed human being capable of murder and giving up everything- his position, his credibility, his life- in order to retract his decision made in the past. Eva is a novelty; in fact, I wish there were more female characters like her. Gone is the silly, frivolous cardboard and in its place is a lonely woman willing to do anything for the sake of her wounded pride. The insomniac Detective Lunge is always fun to watch and I wait patiently for a back-story. But as great as the characters are, all of them are bested by the villain.
Likened to Hitler and Jesus Christ, the title character is the best villain to grace the anime scene since Griffith. Exploiting those who have been psychologically damaged, he positions himself as either healer or cold-blooded manipulator. He has very rarely appeared on screen; in fact, until a certain point, he has had only one dominant scene. In Elfen Lied, viewers are often exposed to images of Lucy's depravity, but Monster's approach is subtler and not so easy: his intricacies are not revealed through dialogue spoken by him seasoned with maniacal laughter, explicit acts of cruelty, or murderous rampages, but through other's reactions when speaking his name. I see that others, even ones closest to him, are terrified of him, and this is much more horrifying than had I been constantly exposed to gluttonous brutality. When viewers finally see him in actual action, it's a supplement- it strengthens his character, surely, but it is not wholly necessary. At this point, had his physical appearance been omitted, I would still be scared to death of him, and that is perhaps the most meaningful praise I could give.
Save for a few episodes that probably could have been omitted (at one point, the anime was almost episodic), Monster has been the most engaging anime I've watched in some time. The show is intelligent without resorting to surreal metaphors in the likes of Boogiepop Phantom or Serial Experiments Lain. Gripping, intensifying, and bloody brilliant, Monster is one of the best anime I've seen.