The writer Naoki Urasawa has a distinctive way of weaving stories, and he is one of the most capable writers when it comes to creating an element of mystery. His secret is that he knows exactly how much information is appropriate for each event, and when he should move from one event to another, so much so that he is able to take the viewer from an important and interesting event without showing it, to a completely shattered event without losing the viewer’s interest at following the story, and this is a difficult way of writing to achieve. Most writers only use it once in the script because it is a dangerous and unreliable technique, and it may cause the viewer to lose interest in the narrative, but Urasawa walks on it continuously as if he were walking happily on a circus rope. To put it simply, he is able to create a sense of mystery in a story that does not have any mystery elements in the first place. His most famous works are Monster and 20th Century Boys, and today we’ll be taking a look at his magnum opus, Monster, and seeing if it is truly the masterpiece many people rave about.
The story opens up with our main character, Tenma, a doctor of Japanese origins who studied in Germany and became a very skilled surgeon, to the point where any operation he leads turns out to be successful. He is in a close relationship with his boss’ daughter of a prestigious hospital, and is promised a high position and a bright future by his boss. One eventful day, a gunshot hits the head of a young boy. Tenma rushes to treat the boy, but is then interrupted by a phone call informing him that one of the city’s top officials needs immediate treatment. Tenma is puzzled - does he prioritize the life of the person who came first, or does he choose to save the big head? Tenma chooses to treat the boy since he came to him first, knowing how badly he would be hurt by this unwise choice, and his predictions turned out to be true in the end. What Tenma wasn’t expecting though, is that by saving the life of this young boy, he would open up a passage for a dark and grim future that would affect him and everyone he knows. Will Tenma be able to close the passage which he had opened? This is the body structure of the story, and as many of you can see, it is rather special and full of potential energy. The basic settings of the narrative are realistic and international, and here the writer completely stuck with these rules, and he uses the nationalities of the characters to assert that fact, but unfortunately to an average extent. This means that only from the conversation can the viewer deduce a person’s nationality, with the exception of the Turks, whom the writer distinguished through their facial hair. If the mangaka had used a more efficient way for distinguishing, then recognizing the nationalities would have become a lot easier, since the viewer could then recognize the characters through their appearance, their dress code, their movement and the general characteristics of the people from their particular country. This meant that the writer needed a light touch of the stereotyping element for this to work out. For example, Italians are known for moving their hands a lot when conversing with others, the English are known for their tact and quiet accent and back pitching, the Japanese are known for their general shyness and bending when greeting each other, the Turks are known for their facial hair and their love for tea, etc. That is why the level in which the writer was able to bring each nationality to life is average, and the story was in dire need of a higher level of national characteristics, and the reason for this is that the narrative’s backstory talks about the effects of the second world war on the countries of Europe, the lobbies which formed due to that war, and the wall which Germany built, etc.
The writer also uses the atmosphere of adventure in his story, and research and investigation, all wrapped up in a sense of greater mystery. These are the essential elements which form Monster’s narrative, and they are elements that are not as equally strong as one another, so which element is the strongest? Many will point out towards the mystery element being the strongest, due to the fact that the writer is more than capable of using that element to it’s strengths when it comes to his stories, but from what I am able to see, although the mystery was built up in a correct manner by the writer, the lengthy seventy four episodes were able to lessen the effect of the mystery in the long run. The biggest nemesis when it comes to the mystery element is time, because when a mystery presents itself to it’s viewers, their nerves grow tight and their anticipation grows bigger and bigger, and if the time lengthens, then those tight nerves will undoubtedly become relaxed, or will get used to the tight feeling, and the anticipation will be killed off due to having to wait for a lengthy period of time. If the writer desired to prolong the age of the mystery, then he must not keep it in one form for a long period of time, and must add in new things to keep the viewers interested. Unfortunately, the writer made the grave mistake of never changing his mystery and keeping it in one form, where the mystery during the whole narrative revolves around one character only – Johan Liebert. So, if the mystery aspect is not the strongest element in the story, then what is the strongest element in the story? From what I can gather, it has to be the element of adventure, and this element depends on the plurality of the characters. Each case during the adventure is found to be centered on a particular character or several characters we meet and learn more of, until we finally leave them to go to the next character. The beauty about this is that all of the characters are filled with a variety of personality traits, and each character is easily memorable and hard to forget, due to how well written and credible they are in their actions, but as I said, they are quite lacking in how their nationality is displayed, because it is found to be foggy and weak in most of them.
The research and investigation elements effectively serve ambiguity, but their fuel which drives them to continue being effective is the dialogue. The dialogue is very good, but if in addition to the dialogue there were more movements and motion added to the characters, then that would have made for a much better result, and would have moved the story to a level of excellence. Throughout the show’s long run, there happened to be a few times where the place effectively helped and played a role in the search and investigation elements, an example being the mysterious room in the red rose mansion, but it did not succeed at being spectacular, and the reason for that is there not being a reward after deciphering it’s secrets, and no significant turns to the story either. There was a very important example of research and investigation that was not centered on dialogue in the first place, but was rather centered on certain items instead, one of those items happened to be a children’s story book written by an obscure writer. It is believed that the content of his stories have the greatest impact on the whole case, and is found to summarize the main concept of the whole story. Every single thing that relates to the children’s book, and what it contains from drawings to story, was creative and breathtaking, and the reason being the fact that it carries with it a concrete explanation of the actions of the nameless monster and his ways of thinking, and it terrifyingly predicts about the events that will take place in the near future. With that being said, I find that the highest level presented by the writer in his story as a multi-component art is this children’s book.
Let us go back to the mystery aspect of the show, because it is very important. Despite the writer’s ability to create excellent mystery, he managed to mess it up and made a serious mistake. Mystery equals a puzzle in a frame, which may be complex or singular. An example of the singular is a door you need to solve the mystery of it’s lock to know what it entails behind, then the mystery gets solved. As for the complex, it may be a mystery that you decipher to discover what is behind the door, then find out that what is behind the door is a book that contains information about a person, you travel to that person so that you can get something important, and so on and so forth. This is how the mystery increases with the increase of complexity of the puzzle, a positive relationship, and it decreases whenever data, time or hints unnecessarily increase. Of course, the time cannot be a zero, because if it were non-existent then that means there is no mystery or puzzle in the first place. The summation of the hints and the data should not be equal to zero as well. After unlocking the mystery by solving the puzzle, then there must be a result which could be a reward, or a loss, or anything new or extraordinary to the story. The result may also be a new mystery which is bigger or smaller than the previous mystery, and with that we get a series of mysteries. From all of this, I find that the most prevalent form of mystery during Monster was like this: Singular puzzles, carefully weighted data, and very clever use of hints throughout the story, and I find the latter to be the strongest aspect of the show, and the diamond that helped elevate the story’s sense of mystery to another level. There were two elements the writer was very misguided in using, and those were the time, which is found to be longer than necessary, and that weakens the mystery. The other element is the result, as often after solving the mystery, a simple effect is made on the course of the story or the characters, and that weakens the importance of the mystery. Why must the viewer care if the mystery did not result in a reward or a loss? The only mystery which has a significant result after the viewer deciphers it, is the mystery behind the children’s book which Bonaparte wrote. Despite this error, the writer was able to create a story of networked compositions using the element of mystery. It’s appearance seems complicated, especially since it’s mysteries are fundamentally dependent on the ideology of the characters and their large number, but the way he arranges the events which are mysterious makes it very convenient for the viewer to follow the story.
The biggest problem that the Anime suffered from was the writer’s lack of developing two characters who were the most important to the story - Doctor Tenma and Johan Liebert - Yes, unfortunately these two have many flaws within their characters throughout the Anime, which became even harder to overlook or to ignore when the Anime was reaching it’s weak conclusion. As for the ending, it is very weak and borders on incoherent stupidity and illogicalness. This also showed that the writer, during the end of his story, was overwhelmed by emotion, so he ignored all logic for an ending that did not make sense. Although that is the case, I don’t find it to be an ending which ruins the Anime, but it decreases the impact it has on the viewers and the memorability.
The character design is taken completely from the artstyle of the mangaka Naoki Urasawa, and the best thing about it is the drawings of the noses, and the unlimited diversity when it comes to hair and hairstyles, as the nose and hair are the features which make a human look unique. What is the most obvious thing you can see on someone from far away? Their hair and their nose. On top of that, the mangaka is very skilled when it comes to drawing the rest of the characters’ facial features, and he made a smart move by choosing the characters’ heights. Other than that, there are small features that help the viewers distinguish characters from one another, despite the similarities in those characters’ body language, and despite the lack of any nationality sticking out. Also, the style of the character design is realistic, which means that the mangaka cannot add the element of exaggeration like most other Anime and cartoons, and that makes differentiating between the characters easy. With that, the character design of Naoki Urasawa was more than able to achieve memorability and excellence. As for the movement, it is really standard, and it does not have it’s own feel nor does it excel in what it does, and this shows the weakness of the animators in giving the characters the appropriate movement, as they chose to play it safe with the standard movement and the few frames. The drawings of the backgrounds and places is weak and is nothing memorable, and this is a very big problem, since the story was in dire need of the the spirit of places due to it moving through Europe when it moves from one event to another. When it comes to a mystery adventure, the writer must work hard in distinguishing places from one another, otherwise the travel and mobility are of little value. As for the music, it is nothing special, and will be forgotten after finishing the Anime.
In conclusion, Monster’s story has a strong main concept and an interesting story structure and many characters which are realistic, with the exception of the titular characters Tenma and Johan. The lack of building them up and developing them in a correct manner, obstructed the story from excellence which could have been reaped easily. Moreover, the psychology of the monster and the psychopath symptoms were ill explored and how they were implemented was almost non-existent. When the writer is forced to show them, I find them to be bordering on failure. There is poor violence implemented into the Anime, and this Anime is made for those who are over the age of eighteen, so where is the problem in presenting the violence in it’s full detail? The mitigation of the violence turns the Anime into one for an age above fifteen, not eighteen. It seems that the Anime’s producers wanted more space for a larger audience.
Monster takes seventy four episodes in a story that revolves around one character, and this is truly very lengthy. If the Anime were twenty six episodes, then it would have been more useful and more appropriate for both the producers and the viewers. This was an Anime which excelled in the quality of certain things and elements it showed, but lacked a lot to be excellent, and a lot more so that it could be considered a masterpiece. On a personal level, what really impressed me and attracted me in this story is the children’s book. It’s art is memorable, and the color palette is striking, and the movements, and the way the narrator talks, and the dialogue which she was reading. I found in this children’s book a summary to all the ideas of the writer, and that the effort in many of the episodes is lost when compared to the quality of the episodes featuring the children’s book.
Monster is an Anime that had a lot of positives, but also had many negatives, which were enough to detract from the whole experience. Monster is not a masterpiece at the end of the day, as it has many glaring flaws which cannot be ignored.