Naoki Urusawa’s Monster

monsterGenre: Drama/Suspense

Studio/Creator: Madhouse/Naoki Urusawa

Distributor: Viz, also streams on Hulu (Note: Only a small amount of the series is on DVD.  You’re really better off watching it on Hulu.)

No. Of Episodes: 74

Suggested Age: 17+

My Rating: 10/10

Summary: Dr. Tenma is an accomplished Japanese neurosurgeon. One night fraternal twin children, a boy and a girl, are admitted to his hospital.  The boy, Johan, is suffering a bullet wound to the head, and the girl, Anna, is catatonic.  But before Tenma can even begin operating, the mayor is also in need of an operation.  Tenma’s boss insists that he stop what he’s doing and operate on the mayor, but he refuses. When Tenma stands his ground, the boss eventually gives in, but there’s a catch–Tenma will have no hope of promotion. Tenma is furious, but controls his anger, ranting to his comatose patient instead.  Some days later, Tenma’s boss and a few other surgeons are murdered and he is the prime suspect.  However, there isn’t enough evidence to convict.  Several years later, Tenma has moved up in rank. But he soon learns that the boy he saved is now full grown and has become a serial killer.

Review: This is, without doubt or hyperbole one of the best titles I have ever watched. Often, when I watch something over 52 episodes, it becomes something of a chore, but this is not the case. The story is both well-written and well-paced.  Madhouse is one of the best studios in Japan and it shows.

Doctor Tenma is an excellent and instantly relatable hero.  He places high value on life and the whole series makes you wonder if he will abandon his principles and kill Johan.

Anna Liebert is made of awesome.  She has been traumatized by her brother, but it only fuels her resolve. She becomes a black belt in Aikido and maintains a tough exterior.  However, she is still broken mentally.

Johan is the devil incarnate!  Don’t let his pretty-boy looks fool you.  The man is cold, emotionless, and treats everyone as if they were his marionettes.  He befriends potential victims with a silver tongue, getting to know them little by little, so that they drop their defenses.

Often assisting Johan is Robert, a heavy-set, scary person.  He is extremely devoted to Johan, and almost as dangerous.  He doesn’t use the same tactics as Johan, but is still ruthless and bloodthirsty. He is the perfect complement to Johan.

There’s also Inspector Lunge. He is a meticulous detective who boasts that his mind is like a computer.  He is often seen making typing motions with his fingers, which he explains is his way of memorizing information he has gathered.  He is a lot like Inspector Javert in Les Miserables. He firmly believes Tenma is guilty of murdering his superiors. What’s more, he believes Johan doesn’t even exist.  To him, Johan’s just a figment of Tenma’s imagination, a fabrication created to make people think he’s innocent.  He even attempts to figure out Tenma by method acting, envisioning himself as what he thinks of Tenma.

The central theme is one of my favorites: the problem of evil.  Are we born evil, nothing more than intelligent but savage creatures?  Or is evil more a product of environment and upbringing?  As a Christian, I believe in free will. After all, not everyone who has abusive parents becomes abusive themselves.  Conversely, one can have compassionate parents and still be capable of evil.  But evil is a choice, not an inevitability.

The series actually makes a case for both sides of the nature vs. nurture argument.  There are times when it favors our nature, and others where it shows us each character’s past and how it has determined where they are. It is a challenging story.

If you can handle a story on this scale, I highly recommend this title. It is not attempting to shock for the sake of controversy.  Everything happens to advance and enhance the story.

Music/Score: Very good. Gothic chants are heard throughout the story, and the opening has a very eerie feel to it.

Sub/Dub: I caught the dub on Syfy’s extremely short and poorly-managed anime block.  I liked it and it really sucks that Viz was unable to release the whole thing on DVD. Liam O’Brien was excellent as Tenma.

Violence: (10/10) Lots of graphic scenes, as well as a few rape scenes.

Language: (5/10) I heard quite a bit of cursing.

Nudity: (8/10) The rape scenes I mentioned fit in under here as well.  Please note: this is not fanservice. It has a point.

Religion: (1/10) Only a verse from Revelation is used, and it’s at the beginning.

Related Media: Based on the manga of the same name.


  1. #1 by aghammer99 on March 29, 2013 - 2:02 pm

    I enjoyed Monster (got through about 20 episodes)… very intelligent adult Anime. Now, I need to finish the rest of the series… thanks for the review

    • #2 by rocklobsterjwt on March 29, 2013 - 10:04 pm

      I hear Tenma was inspired by Black Jack, a manga created by Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astroboy. Having seen some of Black Jack, I can see the similarities. Both are about a doctor who works outside of his field. And both explore the meaning of humanity, although Black Jack gets into sci-fi at times.

      • #3 by aghammer99 on March 29, 2013 - 10:59 pm

        Interesting, I never thought of that but yeah, I can see it.

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