Promotional image for the anime series featuring Kenzō Tenma and a partially-shadowed Johan Liebert.
|Genre||Mystery, Psychological horror/thriller|
|Written by||Naoki Urasawa|
|Magazine||Big Comic Original|
|Original run||December 1994 – December 2001|
|Written by||Naoki Urasawa|
|Published||21 June 2002|
|Anime television series|
|Directed by||Masayuki Kojima|
|Written by||Tatsuhiko Urahata|
|Music by||Kuniaki Haishima|
|Original network||Nippon TV|
|Original run||6 April 2004 – 27 September 2005|
Monster (モンスター Monsutā, sometimes referred to as "Naoki Urasawa's Monster") is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa. It was published by Shogakukan in their Big Comic Original magazine between 1994 and 2001, with the chapters collected and reprinted into 18 tankōbon volumes. The story revolves around Kenzō Tenma, a Japanese surgeon living in Germany whose life enters turmoil after getting himself involved with Johan Liebert, one of his former patients who is revealed to be a dangerous psychopath.
Urasawa later wrote and illustrated the novel Another Monster, a story detailing the events of the manga from an investigative reporter's point of view, which was published in 2002. The manga was adapted by Madhouse into a 74-episode anime TV series, which aired on NTV from April 2004 to September 2005. It was directed by Masayuki Kojima, written by Tatsuhiko Urahata and featured character design by Kitarō Kōsaka. The manga and anime have both been licensed by Viz Media for English releases in North America, with the anime having been broadcast on several television channels. In 2013, Siren Visual licensed the anime for Australia. Monster has been critically acclaimed, with the manga having won several awards and its anime adaptation being called one of the best of the decade.
Dr. Kenzō Tenma is a young Japanese brain surgeon, working at Eisler Memorial Hospital in Düsseldorf. Tenma is dissatisfied with the political bias of the hospital in treating patients, and seizes the chance to change things after a massacre brings fraternal twins Johan and Anna Liebert into the hospital. Johan has a gunshot wound to his head, and Anna mutters about killing; Tenma operates on Johan instead of the mayor, who arrived later. Johan is saved, but Mayor Roedecker dies; Tenma loses his social standing. Director Heinemann and the other doctors in Tenma's way are mysteriously murdered, and both children disappear from the hospital. The police suspect Tenma, but they have no evidence and can only question him.
Nine years later, Tenma is Chief of Surgery at Eisler Memorial. After saving a criminal named Adolf Junkers, Junkers mutters about a "monster." Tenma returns with a clock for Junkers, he finds the guard in front of Junkers' room dead and Junkers gone. Following the trail to the construction site of a half-finished building near the hospital, Tenma finds Junkers held at gunpoint. Junkers warns him against coming closer and pleads with him to run away. Tenma refuses, and the man holding the gun is revealed to be Johan Liebert. Despite Tenma's attempts to reason with him, Johan shoots Junkers. Telling Tenma he could never kill the man who saved his life, he walks off into the night, with Tenma too shocked to stop him.
Tenma is suspected by the police, particularly BKA Inspector Lunge, and he tries to find more information about Johan. He soon discovers that the boy's sister is living a happy life as an adopted daughter; the only traces of her terrible past are a few nightmares. Tenma finds Anna, who was subsequently named Nina by her foster parents, on her birthday; he keeps her from Johan, but is too late to stop him from murdering her foster parents. Tenma eventually learns the origins of this "monster": from the former East Germany's attempt to use a secret orphanage known as "511 Kinderheim" to create perfect soldiers through psychological reprogramming, to the author of children's books used in a eugenics experiment in the Czech Republic. Tenma learns the scope of the atrocities committed by this "monster", and vows to fix the mistake he made by saving Johan's life.
Written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa, Monster was published in Big Comic Original from December 1994 to December 2001. The 162 chapters were periodically collected into 18 tankōbon volumes published by Shogakukan, the first on 30 June 1995 and the last on 28 February 2002. While writing Monster, Urasawa began the series 20th Century Boys in 1999, which would continue after Monster had finished. Monster received a nine-volume kanzenban re-release between January 30 and August 29, 2008.
Monster was licensed in North America by Viz Media, who published all 18 volumes between 21 February 2006 and 16 December 2008. They released the kanzenban version of the series, titled Monster: The Perfect Edition, between July 15, 2014 and July 19, 2016. The series has also received domestic releases in other countries, such as in Germany by Egmont Manga & Anime, in France and the Netherlands by Kana, in Spain by Planeta DeAgostini, in Brazil by Conrad Editora and later by Panini Brasil, in Argentina by Larp Editores, in Taiwan by Tong Li Publishing, and in Mexico by Grupo Editorial Vid.
The manga series was adapted into an anime by Madhouse, which aired between 6 April 2004 and 27 September 2005 on Nippon TV. Directed by Masayuki Kojima and written by Tatsuhiko Urahata, it features original character designs by long-time Studio Ghibli animator Kitarō Kōsaka which were adapted for the anime by Shigeru Fujita.
The anime includes an instrumental theme by the Chilean folk music group Quilapayún, "Transiente", which originally appeared on their 1984 album Tralalí Tralalá. David Sylvian was commissioned to write the ending theme, "For the Love of Life", on which he collaborated with Haishima Kuniaki. In the cover notes to the official soundtrack he said, "I was attracted to the Monster material by the moral dilemma faced by its central character. The calm surface of the music giving way to darker undercurrents, signifying the conscience of the lead protagonist and the themes of morality, fate, resignation, and free will."
An English dub of Monster was produced by Salami Studios for Viz Media, which had the North American license to the anime. The show aired on Syfy's Ani-Mondays with two episodes back-to-back each Monday night at 11:00 pm EST, beginning 12 October 2009, as well as on its sister network Chiller. A DVD box set of the series, containing the first 15 episodes was released 8 December 2009. However, due to low sales of the first box set, Viz decided not to continue releasing the remaining episodes on DVD and later dropped the license. Monster began airing on Canada's Super Channel on 15 March 2010, and on the Funimation Channel on 3 April 2010 on weekends at 12:30 am. The series is also available digitally from several internet retailers. Siren Visual licensed the series for Australia in 2013, and released it in five DVD volumes beginning in November 2013.
New Line Cinema acquired the rights for an American live-action film adaptation of Monster. Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Josh Olson (A History of Violence) was hired to write the screenplay. Although the studio initially announced a 2009 release, the project apparently fell into production limbo.
In 2013, it was revealed that Guillermo del Toro and American premium television network HBO were collaborating on a pilot for a live-action TV series based on Monster. Co-executive producer Stephen Thompson (Doctor Who and Sherlock) was writing the pilot, while del Toro was to direct it and be an executive producer alongside Don Murphy and Susan Montford. In 2015, del Toro told Latino-Review that HBO had passed on the project and that they are in the process of pitching to other studios.
Monster has been generally well received. It won an Excellence Prize in the Manga division at the first Japan Media Arts Festival in 1997, the 46th Shogakukan Manga Award in the General category in 2001, Grand Prize at the 3rd Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize, and placed on YALSA's 2007 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. Viz Media's English release was nominated several times for Eisner Awards, twice in the category Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Japan (2007 and 2009) and three times in Best Continuing Series (2007, 2008, 2009). In 2009, Oricon conducted a poll on which manga series the Japanese people want to see adapted into live-action, Monster came fifth. Monster won the award for Best Drama Manga at the 2009 Anime Expo.
Reviewing the Monster manga for Anime News Network (ANN), Carl Kimlinger called Urasawa a master of suspense "effortlessly maintaining the delicate balance of deliberate misinformation and explicit delineation of the dangers facing protagonists that only the finest suspense thrillers ever achieve." He commented that even the stories and characters that had felt unrelated to the greater picture are "eventually drawn together by Johan's grand plan." He called the art "invisible perfection," saying there is nothing "showy or superfluous," and noted that the panels are so well laid out, that it is easy to forget how much effort is put into each and every page. He said the characters "wear their personalities on their faces, communicating changes in their outlooks, psychology, inner thoughts and emotions with shifts in expression that range from barely perceptible to masks of rage, hate and fear," but that their physical designs are not attractive.
Carlo Santos, also for ANN, called Monster "a one-of-a-kind thriller", and suggests that one of the most overlooked qualities of it is that "amidst all the mystery and horror, there are moments of love and hope and all the good things about humanity." Despite giving them good gradings, praising the art to be "cinematically precise", never confusing the reader, and that despite the large cast of characters each person is visually distinct, Casey Brienza was much more critical in their review of the last three volumes. Finishing up the ANN review, they felt that too much time was spent developing minor characters "who are likely to be dead or forgotten just a few dozen pages later," and that the series' ending "went out with a whimper." Brienza expressed disappointment that "there is nothing satisfactory ever revealed to fully account for [Johan's] supremely scrambled psyche," but that as long as the reader doesn't look for "deep meanings or think too hard about whether or not it all makes sense in the end" they will enjoy it.
THEM Anime Reviews called the anime adaptation "complex" and "beautiful", stating that it features "sophisticated storytelling and complex plot weaving, memorable characters, godly production values and excellent pacing". Carl Kimlinger commented that "If the [anime] series has a weakness, it's in its unhealthy fidelity to Naoki Urasawa's original manga.", "there isn't a scene left out, only a handful added in, and as far as I can tell not a line of dialogue changed or omitted." Kimlinger praised Madhouse's animation for not only keeping up the dark "cinematic quality of Urasawa's art", but improving on it, and that Kuniaki Haishima's score adds "immeasurably to the series' hair-raising atmosphere."
Kimlinger also called Viz Media's English dub one of the best in recent memory, and noted how they had licensing problems and were not able to acquire the original ending theme song. He explained that Monster has the habit of having the main cast just drop from the spotlight with a whole new cast replacing them, so that viewers who don't like that might want to stay away from the series, but "It cannot be overstated how brilliantly apart from the anime mainstream this unsettling, fiercely intelligent, and ultimately uncategorizable journey into darkness is."
On the ending, Kimlinger wrote, "As ambitious and complicated and just plain huge as Monster is, no conclusion is going to be entirely satisfactory. Someone is bound to get short-changed, loose ends are bound to be left dangling, and even if they weren't, the simple truth is that no climax could ever live up to the series' build-up.", "We feel vaguely let down when what we should really be doing is glorying in the somewhat messy, yes, but exhilarating final throes of one of last decade's great series." Darius Washington of Otaku USA also called it one of the ten best anime of the past decade.
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