Every now and then an anime comes along that completely redefines the posibilities of what can be achieved through the medium. This is the nature of Monster, a 74 episode epic that weaves together a sprawling tale of murder, mystery, crime and evil forces. At its heart is the story of a doctor attempting to track down a serial killer, but Monster is much, much more than this.
Ignoring title and credits sequences, Monster is roughly twenty minutes an episode. Times by seventy four and you have a little over twenty four hours worth of story. Sure, this doesn’t equal the overall length of many popular shows, we’re talking roughly a third of LOST, but for a single series this is notably long. There’s one story with a clearly defined beginning, middle and end. The entire narrative has been perfectly constructed into a mammoth ark, and takes its time to pick up an immense momentum. Everything feels perfectly planned out, with tiny strands and side stories weaving together to form a complex and detailed plot which is held together masterfully. Did I mention it’s really long?
In terms of payoff we’re talking about a seriously rewarding show, although early on Monster does have a tendency to move at a slow pace. The introductory episodes are captivating, but it’s also the beginning of a conflict that won’t be resolved for a pretty long time.
We begin with Doctor Temna, an exceptionally talented neurosurgeon who’s strong sense of right and wrong is challenged by a moral dilemma he is faced with at the hospital. After saving the life of a young boy who was shot in the head, he inadvertently sets in motion a chain of events that make up the core story. In many regards he’s an unlikely lead, and certainly an unusual one, but he’s a likeable and intriguing character. In particular his strong morality serves as an important pillar in a story of political corruption, cruelty, and violent crime.
But Monster isn’t just the story of a Doctor, and Tenma is quickly surrounded by characters quite unlike any you’ll find in your ordinary anime. The support cast are often moved to the forefront of the story in experimental and unusual ways, and whilst this is one of the reasons the show initially moves at a slow pace, it’s an ultimately rewarding endeavour that gives the viewer a chance to get to know each of the characters individually.
At times this means taking risks unusual for a show of any kind. In particular, main characters such as Tenma are absent for extended periods of time. There’s even moments where the entire cast is replaced for several episodes, and it’s only once we’re familiar with the new characters that it’s made clear how they are connected to the main story.
For the show’s first half this can make for a demanding watch, and I ended up taking several breaks before I’d made it through the first forty episodes. But by this point you’ve got an entire cast that have been proven capable of holding the story together on their own, and they’re all pulling at different strands of a giant Gordian knot of crime and conspiracy. The result is a show of unimaginable depth and complexity.
In fact Monster builds up to such a pace that perhaps no ending could ever truly fit such a detailed labyrinth of story, although the climactic episodes are extremely intense. Its final episodes are certainly satisfying, although it’s undoubtably the journey there that stands out as the incredible element of Monster that truly benefits from all of its complexities.
That and the work of a certain story book author, who’s life and works impact the plot in a number of wonderfully brilliant ways. For potential viewers I certainly don’t want to ruin any of the moments where your jaw will hit the flaw, and there’s quite a few of these to look forward to.
I should mention that Monster is adapted almost line for line from the manga by Naoki Urasawa, which was published between 1994 and 2001. If you prefer the idea of reading over watching then it’s an easy recommendation, although the anime is a competent and faithful adaptation of the story. The English voice dub is also superb, although as the show was originally broadcast in 2004 (five years before its English air date) the animation quality isn’t quite up there with the high production values many more recent anime have spoiled us with.
Monster is a demanding show, and it’s a long one too. But that’s because it is experimental by nature, and this is also what makes it epic and incredible. Even with a few flaws I personally wouldn’t chance anything about it. Apart from the episode where Tenma undergoes his training, that one really is quite dull. But Monster is so beyond anything else that the sheer awe and disbelief it so frequently leaves the viewer in easily overshadows anything bad that can be said about the show. It’s something special, captivating, and completely unforgettable.