Naoki Urasawa's Monster: A Spoiler-Free Anime Review
Monster, more than just a recommendation.
I was first introduced to Naoki Urasawa's Monster after I'd finished watching Death Note and was looking for something similar to watch. After searching around a bit, I came across Monster since many people were recommending it as something similar to Ohba and Obata's famous work. Seventy-four episodes later and I can safely say that I was not disappointed. Monster is an absolute classic. While certain thematic and character similarities exist between the two anime, I don't think that people have done Monster justice by simply providing it as something to watch that's “like Death Note”. This show is unique and brilliant in its own way. More people should be watching it and below I'll explain why.
Overview: Why Monster Is a Good Anime
There are three main reasons why Naoki Urasawa's Monster is an anime worth watching: story, atmosphere and characters. Each of these will be discussed below. As I mentioned in the title of this article, I won't be spoiling anything here. When I talk about characters and the plot, it'll be in broad strokes only, so you don't have to worry about me going into too much detail.
The Story: Long with No Filler
Monster is incredibly rich in so many different ways. I can think of no better way to show this than by talking about its story.
The series is set in Europe during the years just following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Our hero is Kenzo Tenma, a promising young medical doctor who has recently emigrated to Germany from his native country of Japan. Without giving too much away, something happens early on in the story that alters the course of Tenma's life and the series follows what happens to him from that point onwards.
The pacing of the anime is really good. The first major plot event occurs in the first episode and the story continues to be interesting all the way to the end, with essentially no filler content. And even though the anime is 74 episodes long, it very rarely gets boring. I'd say never, but that would be dishonest, as there were parts that were less interesting than others for me. However, I find that to be true for basically any series I've seen, so asking more of this show would be unfair. For the most part, there's always something happening to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Additionally, the plot is incredibly multi-layered. Although the main storyline involves Dr. Tenma and another character, there's a lot more to it than that. The story is revealed very gradually in bits and pieces, like any good mystery. Many key events occurred years before the main plot, so there are a great deal of flashbacks and a lot of retrospective storytelling. By the end, you probably still won't have the complete picture as it isn't really spelled out for you. You have to pay quite a bit of attention to what's going on and even if you do, you'll probably still want to watch Monster a second time. I've only seen it once, but I'm definitely going to go back and watch it again because there are certain things that I myself would like to clarify about the plot. The only real downside about the story that I can think of is that it seems to leave several lose ends untied. Now, it could just be that I missed something that was explained on the show, but I'm pretty sure that there are some things that are never explained. I'm not the biggest fan of that. On the whole though, the story is very good and it touches on a lot of different historical, thematic and emotional issues. Most people should enjoy it.
The Atmosphere: Dark and Gloomy
I started off this article by stating that I found out about Monster after finishing Death Note. Death Note is, in my opinion, a dark anime, but it also has some humour in it.
Monster is much more serious.
The atmosphere to the show is terrific. It truly is a psychological thriller in every sense of the phrase. Although Monster isn't really a horror anime, it does tend to border on that genre at certain points. You'll recall that I stated at the outset of this article that Monster is set just after the Cold War. At this time, in Germany and the surrounding areas, there was still a lot of bitterness and hostility between various different groups and political factions. This setting is, understandably, supposed to be quite bleak and Urasawa does an excellent job of exploring this environment in both the German and former Czechoslovakian storylines.
Probably the best way to get a sense of Monster's atmosphere is to watch the opening sequence of the anime (which I've embedded below). Although not all of the soundtrack is like the opening theme, several of the tracks are. Couple the music with the actions on-screen and you get a lot of very unsettling moments.
In summary, anyone looking for a darker, more serious anime should take a look at Monster. You won't be disappointed.
The Opening Sequence of Naoki Urasawa's Monster
The Characters: A Large, Thoughtfully-Written Cast
When it comes to characters, there are many of them on this show. Most of these characters are secondary characters. In fact, there are really only two main characters and only one of them (Dr. Tenma) is seen regularly on-screen. Nevertheless, almost all of the characters, no matter how insignificant, are used to push the plot forward (or add some type of backstory).
There are a handful of characters that do have larger roles though, and all of them are quite well-developed in terms of personality. However, if you're looking for an anime with characters that are over-the-top in some way, you won't find that on this show. There are some characters who have notable quirks (e.g., Inspector Lunge), but the overall tone of this show is one of seriousness and realism and the characters reflect that.
Additionally, the voice acting in this anime is very good. I watched the English dub and, in my opinion, it was very well-acted. I can't recall any of the typical awkward lines that you get in a lot of dubs and every character seemed to be very believable. In particular, the voices for the detective Heinrich Lunge and the antagonist (who I won't name for spoiler reasons) really suited those two characters. I can't speak about the quality of the subbed version since I haven't seen it, but if you watch the dub, you'll get a good experience out of it.
The Many Faces of Monster
Conclusion: Should You Watch It?
All in all, if you're looking for a serious anime with lots of suspense, drama and a deep plot, at least consider taking a look at Monster. If you're looking for wacky characters, there really isn't too much here for you (though there are few of them in this anime). I think that everyone should watch Monster at some point though. It's a really solid show with a great story that should appeal to you whether you're a fan of anime or not.