Saturday, July 15, 2017

Anime Corner: Monster (2004-2005)

I'm usually a fan of animes that only last 26 episodes (or thereabouts) and find longer shows a little less sharp and focused. Well, this isn't the case at all with Monster, a show that digs its nails in you and drags you to some pretty disturbing depths without ever wasting your time. It's brilliant in how it weaves through stories, all of which returning to the main focus on the value of individual lives, how one can become a monster, and whether or not all lives are truly created equal. A majority of the show seems determined to question these moral truths we often take for granted.

This is a show of almost endless twists and turns. Every time you start to get comfortable with a plot thread or characters, something comes along and mixes it all up on you by killing people off unexpectedly or shifting focus to seemingly unconnected threads for several episodes of time. In the end, the only real consistencies are in Dr. Tenma and Johan Liebert; the yin and yang whose parallels and distinct differences make up a great deal of the drive of the story, also serving as catalysts for the God/Devil and apocalypse themes found in the show.

When it comes to anime villains, it's incredibly rare to come across many as truly evil as Johan who aren't depicted as psychotically over-the-top screaming maniacs. Johan is restrained, soft-spoken, gentle, and uses his hypnotic charms to manipulate people into commit murder, suicide, or other depravities. He's more of a cult leader in personality than your typical psychotic murderer. In a medium often filled with caricatures and exaggerated psychopaths who cackle and scream and twitch, it's quite chilling to come across one as tempered as this.

But it's not just Johann who's given a special treatment, this show doesn't allow even the smallest characters to come into play without being established as actual humans. Even characters who are only around for a single episode are full of backstory, motivation, and personality -- and with a cast of dozens, this is pretty damn impressive. As far as visuals go, this is a pretty unremarkable show. The music is also relatively forgettable, but this isn't a show that requires surface qualities like this to be effective. It's character and story-driven from beginning to end.

As I said before, a lot of animes with more than a couple dozen episodes often meander without much focus, but Monster was tight, and used every episode to further the plot, characters, and flesh out backstories. Very few things established in this show don't come into play later on, but the way it all ties together never feels forced. It's concise, captivating, and one of the most disturbingly effective serial killer stories I've ever seen unfold.

Episode count: 74

My grade: A
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