Have you ever experienced a moment when you made a decision that drastically altered the course of your life? I’m not talking about something as relatively simple as deciding whether or not to go out with someone (although one could argue that might eventually also end up in something life changing). No, I’m talking about something that is so powerful that it will effect the rest of your life, and even the lives of other people. I think it’s safe to say that most people can answer that question with a resounding no. It’s a scary premise though and it offers up quite a lot of food for thought. Once a decision has been carried out, it’s done, and there usually is no turning back. What though if what you decided to do, ends up being the wrong choice and in the process ends up hurting people, maybe even killing them? I caught your attention with that last one didn’t I? This whole introduction served the purpose of doing just that: to grab your attention and prepare you for a review of one of the most powerful stories that I have ever read. I know, that is quite a statement. But when you are finished reading through this post, I hope I have managed to convince you as to why the 9 volume manga series Monster is something that you simply MUST read.
To start with, let’s begin by introducing you to the basic story. I’m purposefully keeping it basic, because this manga is best experienced by not knowing too much about the tale contained within these pages. Monster revolves around the succesful Japanese brain surgeon Kenzo Tenma. Everything seems to be going his way. He is good at his job, has a loving girlfriend and is regarded by his peers as someone who can be depended on and has a good chance to make it to the top. One night though, everything changes. When a young boy named Johan who has a serious head injury, is brought into the hospital Tenma is his best chance for saving his life. But shortly thereafter the critically injured mayor arrives, and Tenma is ordered to operate on him instead of the boy. However Tenma refuses and operates on Johan instead. He manages to save his life, but the mayor has died. After this things go downhill. Kenzo loses his social standing in the hospital. Things become even more grim when the director of the hospital and a few other doctors who were in Tenma’s way are mysteriously murdered. Tenma becomes the prime suspect in this case but something far more terrifying is behind it. The young surgeon will soon find out that saving Johan’s life might not have been the best thing to do…….
When one reads the title of this manga, one might think that eventually some kind of supernatural force in the form of a terrifying monster will be introduced within these pages. Especially since most of you know I really like monster movies and horror. But no, this story has absolutely nothing to do with that. In this case the tale that unfolds when you begin to read has everything to do with a human monster. And finding out what exactly makes someone a monster. What we have here is a truly psychological horror story, blended together with thriller elements and action into a rollercoaster ride that gives Steven King and Alfred Hitchcock a run for their money. The moment you begin reading you are sucked in and want to continue reading, and reading and reading. You know those books where you just say to your self: “Okay I will read just one more chapter and then I will switch of the lights and go to bed”? (And end up reading way more than that one chapter?). This is one of those. Over the course of nine volumes you follow along with the struggles of doctor Tenma, as he tries to uncover the truth. Along the way he meets up with a host of other characters, both friendly and some with more sinister plans.
Monster’s setting is also quite unique. Instead of taking place in Japan, Tenma is working in a hospital in Germany during a time in which the country is still largely devided into East and West. This alone gives the series a pretty dark edge. Speaking of which, this manga certainly has an abundance of dark and grim moments and is definitely not for the faint of heart. But where the story truly shines is the moments of hope and true humanity that give this otherwise horrifying tale some much needed specks of light. This is mainly in part because the hero of the story, Kenzo Tenma, is a character that has an incredible charisma that you just can’t help rooting for. You want him to win. You want him to find out the truth. But just when you think you might have the story figured out, it throws another curveball at you. Again, and again, and again. And that’s another thing I loved about this manga. There were so many twists and turns along the way that kept it fresh with each new installment. Even though there are occasionally some slower moments, these serve mostly in giving the reader some spaces of breath, until the next shock is thrown at him or her.
What I haven’t yet talked about is the art. But just like everything else in this manga, it’s pretty much as good as the story. I have included a small slideshow of pictures below to give you some insight into what to expect here. As you can see, it looks amazing and the quality of these drawings doesn’t go down even once. Monster was re-issued in 2014 in these nine volume perfect editions. The covers and layout of these alone are worth the purchase as they look amazing on your bookshelf. This manga didn’t feel like a manga at all. And by that I mean you pretty much forget that you are reading a comic book as the way this story is written, it just feels so much more like a normal book. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am in absolute awe of this manga. I also know I will revisit this one many more times in the future: it’s simply that good. One interesting thing to note is that there is also a 74 episode anime adaptation. You can expect a review for that as well somewhere later this year. All I can say for now is: go and track this one down and read it. I guarantee you will have a monster of a good time with it! (Oh come on, I had to include at least one pun right?)
I give Monster a 10 out of 10 score.