Anime to Watch: Monster
One of the best anime out there.
I’ve never seen an anime that kept me so on the edge of my seat. I would go to bed some nights and have to avoid looking in the dark corners of my room, scared to see a serial killer.
Monster is a 2004 anime, one that no one seems to have the rights to. You have to dig to find it, but the dig is worth it. It’s a 74 episode ride of thrills, twists, and turns. The plot of the show starts simply. Dr. Kenzo Tenma, an up and coming brilliant neurosurgeon, finds himself in a dilemma: his boss tells him to operate on a prominent government official who has just been brought to their hospital, promising a promotion if he does. However, a young pair of twins come in; the girl catatonic with fear and the boy needing immediate surgery to remove a bullet in his brain. The boy has a more difficult surgery, and Tenma realizes he’s the only one who can do it. Disobeying his boss, he decides to operate on the boy, saying that his life is just as important as the government official. Fast forward about nine years, and the boy comes back, only now he’s an emotionless serial killer.
That’s all the plot you’re getting from me. It’s the bare bones, but it sets the stage for a wild cat and mouse chase with emotional depth and gripping suspense. There isn’t a thing I dislike about this show. I need to talk about Tenma. Tenma almost overnight became one of my favorite protagonists ever. He has a big heart and no matter what will drop everything to help people in need. At the same time, he’s determined and passionate about getting justice and making difficult choices he believes to be right. It’s so easy to root for him.
The amazing thing about this show is that it’s a perfect balance of plot and character driven action. There are just enough “filler” episodes to break up the intense plot without getting boring. I put filler in quotes because even the episodes that don’t focus on main characters end up being important, or showing some form of growth for a side character. It makes for a super well-rounded story and a world that makes you feel something about characters who may only appear for a single episode.
To go on about the characters, I can’t stress enough how awesome Tenma is! Each episode gives you more of his values, his decision-making process, etc. You get to learn how he thinks, and I love when you can get such a strong grip on your protagonist. Tenma has some awesome characters on the ride with him too. There’s Johan’s sister Anna (or Nina, as she later calls herself), who is a rich and complex character. She has a lot of trauma to work through, and her journey hits you hard emotionally. Of course there is Lunge, a detective trying to unravel Tenma’s case. I won’t say much about him, but he’s fascinating. And also a little annoying. I have to admit, I don’t love him, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching my roommate groan every time he appeared. He’s not the most likable guy, but it works once you see him in action. Special shout out to one of my favorite characters to watch for, Grimmer. GRIMMER! He appears later on in the series, but his arc might be my favorite in the series. I’m declaring myself Captain of the Grimmer Fan Club, right here right now.
On to some other aspects of this show. I’m big on paying attention to the music in shows, movies, etc. Scores are just as important as every other part of entertainment, and I enjoyed the soundtrack to Monster quite a bit. It gives tremendous weight to the emotional moments, and there are some songs in there that are creepy as hell. I was thrilled that the music was able to make me shiver a bit, and keep me on the edge of my seat.
Speaking of the creepy factor, this anime is visually so appealing. It’s nothing crazy or flashy, and it definitely looks like it’s an older anime. That being said, they use the simplicity to their advantage. The shots of Johan in shadows are terrifying. The way they animate his eyes at times left me freaked out. On the flip side, we get the most wholesome animation for characters like Tenma, Nina, Grimmer, Suk, etc. that make them even more endearing to the audience. The standout in the animation for me are definitely those shadows though. The lighting is always perfect and gives off the most eerie atmosphere you can imagine.
Another thing to point out would be the opening and the ending. When I tell you I tried to poorly sing the high vocals in this opening, I mean it. You can ask my poor roommates and their damaged ears. The opening itself is nothing special, and like the rest of the show, it’s low key. There are no crazy characters fighting each other, there’s no energetic rock song. There’s an eerie, choral song while Tenma hides around the streets of Europe. It gives you glimpses of important people and places, but that’s about it. I loved it. It got me hyped for the mysterious plot every episode. The ending is similar. The two songs they use for the endings are soft, and they show images from a picture book. It’s cool because as the plot progresses, so do the pictures. You get to see more of the story as the show goes on. I thought this was super unique, and I was always waiting to see what the next image would be.
Monster is an absolute whirlwind of an anime. It put me through all sorts of emotional turmoil, and if I had watched it on my own instead of with two other people, I’m sure I would have binged all 74 episodes in a weekend. When I say this is the most overlooked and underrated anime of all time, I genuinely mean it. Definitely add Monster to your watch list.