Disclaimer: This review is going to an analysis so if you havent finished the manga I advise to do so. After rereading this manga for a second time I finally feel comfortable enough to review it. Its difficult to put my thoughts into a cohesive manner as the ending always leaves me both empty and at a lost for words. The differing perspectives provided on humanity and the exploration of the human condition offer an insightful outlook towards how ones life can change in a matter of seconds. The poignant storytelling coincides with the post Cold War setting and truly sets an alluring atmosphere for the events that occur with nihilistic and narcissistic behavior running rampant. A good portion of this review will focus on the main cast as each embodies the core themes of the series and interlock with important events that transpire. The story begins with introducing us to our main protagonist Tenma and his daily life as well as his philosophy he adheres to. We promptly see the corrupt nature of the hospital hes employed for. A common theme reiterated throughout the story is showcased here the idea of one life being more valued than another as Tenma saves a highranking official rather than an ordinary Turkish citizen who arrived first. Subsequently this leads to the death of that average citizen. This causes a conflict deep within Tenma as he is wellaware of the immoral action he performed. Later on when Tenma is having dinner with his thenfianc Eva Heinemann she assures him the action he took is justified as some lives are simply worth more than others. A smooth transition then occurs to the crime scene where Johan is shot in the head which sets up the central part of the story. Tenma chooses to save a young boy over a highranking political official which leads to the death of the official and Tenmas subsequent demotion within the institutions ranks. This is where the duality is set between Tenma and Johan. The first few episodes establish how Tenmas ideology contrasts those around him. The irony of it all is that he ends up saving the one who couldnt be more of an opposite to him. The story is so heavily focused on the journey around him that we continuously witness his moral code to receive opposition and how it affects those he encounters. People like to point to Tenma as too simple as a protagonist but this is why he works so splendidly as the main character for Monsters narrative. He represents humanity our fundamental principles while Johan is a distinct difference who challenges basic moral principles with his nihilistic philosophy. Johan brings out the darkness in individuals which Ill expand upon later and we see how Tenma humanizes those around him the two couldnt be more of a contrast. Throughout the manga Tenma was carefully molded into this angelic type being. He was becoming filled with compassion the adamant nature contrasting Johans evillike actions and growing long hair which connects back to Christian symbolism. Their relationship can be viewed as good versus evil but this shouldnt be downplayed as some basic idea. Everything Johan does has a direct or indirect consequence towards Tenma he affects him to an almost neverending extent. Tenmas ideology is confronted by opposition consistently yet he never succumbs to failure to follow it. This is what makes him such a superb character. Johan as an antagonist is explored in almost every aspect. We see his backstory which explains as to why he acts the way he does. His manipulative power is put on display through many different manners. The juxtaposition between him and Tenma works as it forces Tenma to question his ideals over the manga course. Both represent two sides of a coin that exist within our reality which can be viewed through a philosophical lens. The dynamic between Tenma and Johan is similar to that of an angel vs. a demon. Early on in the manga were shown a passage from Revelations highlighting a beast. This beast would be Johan. This is perfectly recapitulated by Wims father who says he saw an A sevenheaded monster covered in horns was attacking my son. Another Christian reference is to the three frogs. They alluded to the Bible verse Revelations 16. Specifically it talks about the Seven Bowls of wrath God will pour upon his followers. With the sixth bowl as the river Euphrates dries up three froglike demented spirits came out the beasts mouths. The three frogs represent the twins and their mother as their apartment complex had the triple frog sign. Johans manipulative power is showcased in an unorthodox manner throughout the story. Most of the time we dont see direct manipulation from him instead we see unordinary actions taken by criminals due to his past influence on them. For example even as a child when he escapes from the hospital he can convince a grown man to follow an ideology of murderous action. He taps into the bit of darkness someone shows and makes it come full circle. Other criminals who surrounded themselves with false personas were selfaware that Johan was the real thing. He can make their killings go offpattern just for his convenience. The reiteration of his manipulative capabilities is executed so elegantly and it shapes his character to influence even the worst type of human beings. Eva beautifully highlights his relationship with Christof as being similar to Mephistopheles and Faust. Mephisto traditionally means demon in Germanic culture. The original story has Faust make a deal with Mephisto in hopes of pleasure and knowledge. However in the end he will have to give him his soul and go to hell with him. By the end Mephisto wins the bet and Faust is the one to be taken advantage of. This is fitting for Johan and Christof as Johan initially saved Christof from the brutality of Kinderheim and promised to rise to the top. This would not be the case however as Johans world without names omitted Christof in it. Roberto can be seen as the secondary antagonist for the right amount of the story. He carries out Johans dirty work and continually opposes our protagonists. The reasoning behind his motivations was to be able to witness what Johan was attempting to create. He abandons any sense of individuality just for this which speaks volumes of Johans power over someones psyche. Originally he was known as Adolf Reinhart but was sent to be a part of the Kinderheim experiments along with Grimmer. He follows Johan as he gives a him reason for existing this is mainly due to him losing his individualism like many others who endured what he did. Unfortunately for Roberto he was never meant to see the ideal world Johan was creating Johan tells him this nonchalantly while Roberto is on the brink of death not even an ounce of assurance offered. Lots of scenes could be interpreted as Johan reflecting on his past. The best example being his talk with Milos and how this connected to how he perceived himself as an unwanted child. He questions Milos mothers actions for abandoning him and sending him to the Red Light District to show if he was wanted or not. After a horrific encounter Milos soul is crushed which consequently led him to fall into nihilism. One of the essential parts of Johan is the identity in which he creates for himself. He forms it around the story of the Nameless Monster a monster consuming everyone in an attempt to find a name for itself. This derives from his memories mixed up with Nina and her experiences at the Red Rose Mansion. He lost a good portion of his memories due to the Kinderheim experiments. Johan kills people who are aware of him as he tries to find himself. An emphasis is put on his nihilism when he states I saw even blacker darkness. This means he saw an absolute nihilistic wasteland which is seen right before death. The darkness he saw connected to many things. Firstly he felt that he was close to losing all of his humanity if his connection to Nina was forgotten. This would allow the Monster to take over completely. Also Bonaparta and his mother are within this darkness. His mothers actions which Ill extrapolate upon later and Bonapartas experiments were shaping the disastrous course of his life. Additionally Johans lack of an identity is showcased when he crossdresses as his sister Nina. Both lacked a definitive identity for themselves at this point in the story so scenes such at these connect back to the core aspects of their character. Prior to this Nina had a few sporadic moments which makes her performing these actions realistic. However I realized how much sooner I should have figured out who this was for two reasons first Nina uses a muscle relaxant on Suks colleague Johans trademark. Moreover the narrative had made it abundantly clear that she was meant to be a clear contrast to her brother in regards to killing. This interlocks with one the core themes of the story that being what is capable of bringing the monster inside of us out to the surface. Johans actual self isnt present throughout the manga. Many people have complained that there isnt enough focus put on him however this is inconsequential as it would be counterintuitive to do so due to what the narrative establishes. He doesnt have a name so theres nearly nothing to trace him by. Its narratively portrayed that Dr.Tenma can only prove his existence which leads to many surmising him being a figment of his imagination. This ties back to how Lunge approaches the case at the beginning of the story. Johans lack of a presence makes Lunges method seem the most logical. No evidence or traces of him are left behind leaving the only possible outcome being Johan originating from Tenmas mind. Its essential to highlight that Lunges subtle progression began once he went to Johans hotel room and discovered zero evidence. He notes that anyone who could do something like this isnt from this world. This goes well with how Johans character is shown throughout the story. Johans absence from humanity makes the Perfect Suicide he was hoping to achieve even more demented. Johan perceived himself as the unwanted child due to his mothers actions. This shook Johan to the core as at that moment. He realized how pitiful life and existence truly is so he figures that nihilism and the erasure of his presence would be the best way to present a true expression of love as mentioned by Nina. What makes it perfect is that there wont be anything to remember him by. You completely erase any trace of your existence. Its as if you were never even born hence a perfect suicide is achieved. He arrived at this conclusion as he believed it would compensate for the lack of compassion hes received throughout his life. Its worth noting that his goals changed over the manga course interwoven with what was aforementioned. At first he had his memories mixed up with Ninas. He was subconsciously recreating the events in The Nameless Monsteradding to what was established in the narrative of them being one entity. However he wasnt fully aware of this due to losing a good portion of his memory from the Kinderheim experiments. His mother giving away Nina is the leading cause of all this. As she had no idea of knowing who was who as Johan thought. He felt that he was worthless and had no recollection of identity since a persons worth is determined by those who know you. A world without names is what was being created unknowingly by him in a similar fashion to how the Monster did in the book while also reaching the pinnacle of society. This is showcased with him running underground crime syndicates taking over Schwualds finances and gaining control over the Czech secret police. However after stumbling upon that very same book at the library his memories gradually begin to return to him. To substantiate my interpretation Ill display a parallel between St.John the Baptist and Johan. To offer historical context St. John the Baptist was acknowledged by Jesus Christ as the greatest prophet thus Saint Johns Eve serves as an immortalizing of the man. A recurring symbolic element associated with the event is fire which is employed as an honor. Additionally its a commonplace for baptisms to take place on this day. The event at its core can be viewed as a commemoration for birth a saint eulogized for his message and role. 500https://media.discordapp.net/attachments/585634886354993173/783888612063182888/image0.png 500https://media.discordapp.net/attachments/585634886354993173/783888612764155914/image2.jpg This relates to Johan as what occurs during the library burning remains akin to Saint Johns Eve. With Johan having discovered the book which precipitated the reawakening of his suppressed memories he is in a sense reborn and is now striving towards an ultimate goal as aforementioned. Furthermore in the image he has both the index finger and thumb pointed up the former symbolizes fire with the latter representing water. Its staunchly similar to the Sea of Flames which serves as a symbolization of humanitys desire for power and control. According to the legend the only method available to shatter the curse is placing the diamond in the ocean thats why the twofinger pointed up showcases both a rebirth for Johan and destruction of what he worked for prior. 500https://media.discordapp.net/attachments/585634886354993173/783888612470685706/image1.png 500https://media.discordapp.net/attachments/585634886354993173/783888579143139328/image0.png He goes on a redemption mission against Bonaparte and his associates. Which is intertwined with him wanting Ninas forgiveness and hoping that Tenma would shoot him to validate the inferiority complex he had. The Perfect Suicide either ends with Tenma or Nina shooting him while in actuality he never wished for that as he was searching to live as an individual. When Nina shot Johan as a child that destroyed him as he felt she was all that he had left in his life which is why he cries when the doctors bring them together earlier in the story. So to summarize Johan his goals changed after the library incident as his memories began to return to him. He shapes the narrative of Monster either directly or indirectly with almost every action taken by him. He creates dynamics with numerous characters in the story that works well and perfectly plays his role as the representation of evil against Tenmas pure humanity. His style is the highest standard the pinnacle of what an antagonist can reach not just in this medium but also in all of fiction. Anna Liebert/Nina Fortner for the rest of the review Ill refer to her as Nina plays a vital role in shaping Monsters narrative. A majority of her development derives from recovering her lost memories throughout the manga. Which in turn leads to her psyche degrading due to how traumatic these memories are. Her connection with Johan is executed brilliantly by Urasawa which elevates numerous aspects of the story. Nina reiterated the duality set between her and Johan very early on. Theyre established as one entity through multiple methods most evidently with Johan having his memories mixed up with hers. Shes initially portrayed as the lighthearted one of the pair but we see she has a dark side to her when she threatens The Baby at gunpoint and many other instances. She attempts to suppress these temptations which in turn creates this distinction between the two. Most prominently when she chooses not to kill Mueller the same man who killed her parents. She knows killing him would be doing the same thing he did to her since he had a family that loved him now while also trying not to be like her brother a perpetrator of death. Along with her realizing what Johans real aim was the Perfect Suicide. With her knowing that as long as she keeps her memory of Johan his Perfect Suicide wont succeed as it aimed to complete a total erasure of his existence. She feels at fault for herself due to her inability to forgive Johan. Johan was striving towards gaining her forgiveness as mentioned before and she realizes all these people wouldnt have had to die if not for her. Nina sets a superb dynamic with Johan to the point that almost every one of their actions correspondingly affects one another. Her character showcases the recurring themes of identity and life splendidly by realizing that even if her memory is clouded with dark thoughts as long as she makes happy ones she can positively remember herself. This is why by the end she chooses her name to be Nina over Anna as a way to renounce the previous identity she had for herself. Wolfgang Grimmers entire character arc is one of the high points of the manga. The reader initially perceives him as having an allaround cheerful personality when first introduced. When hes unable to feel a large number of emotions in actuality this is most prominently showcased by when he tells Tenma he had no sorrow over him when his son passed away. This is why hes so adamant with his research towards 511 Kinderheim. Grimmer symbolized what it meant to become human again most notably through The Magnificent Steiner persona set for him through the experiments. We see a sharp contrast with the socalled products of 511 Kinderhiem. They didnt completely lose their emotions they just had to find them again. We see Christof was unable to comprehend why Eva was crying when Tenma left to go to Ruhenheim. He cant understand such things due to the experiments performed. Grimmer on the other hand can regain his emotions as seen with Milos at the Red Light District and his actions at Ruhenheim. He throws himself on the front lines repeatedly to save residents. His death speech brilliantly shows his return to humanity. He tells Tenma No. He didnt show. I did it. I did it myself in a fit of rage This is why he believes the man in the final episode of the Magnificent Steiner turns back into a human being. What this symbolizes is his death being the last episode and his emotions returning to him. He realizes how traumatic losing his son indeed was and he makes the comparison of a letter arriving decades after it had been sent out. Eva Heinemann is undoubtedly one of the most wellwritten characters in the manga. It would be fair to say shes the most human character. Her reactions to what she experiences are understandable due to her upbringing. Someone who has been catered to all their lives suddenly has their life flipped upside down wouldnt be in the best state of mind. This is why she turns to alcohol frequently as a coping mechanism. Her development is carried out elegantly due to how she progresses from these experiences. Her development isnt something that comes all at once though. Many events change her throughout the story. Most notably however is her pairing up with Martin. She was arguably in her worst state of mind by this point in the story because she knew that her time to live was running up short from her involvement with Peter Capek. He shows her compassion even after putting him through numerous degrading experiences the most prominent one dressing him as Tenma to compensate for his absence. The fact that he was willing to go give his life up for her affects her to the core. By the end of the manga we see shes a changed person who can move on from traumatic experiences but still realize the importance they held. This is made more notable when highlighting how prominent of a theme narcissism is in the series. Eva was just the absolute pinnacle of it and realistically showing how much it takes to inspire a change. Heinrich Lunge can be viewed as both the rationality and irrationality of humanity. His objective analysis allows him to swiftly resolve crimes while also straying him further from the truth regarding the case of Johan Liebert. Alongside his obstinacy he encapsulates humanitys inherent derangement within an environment engulfed in tension and cynicism. This is why he has a vehement passion for proving Tenmas guilt no matter the cost. The recurring theme of identity is also shown by him when he thinks as the criminal while investigating cases to become his criminal. The highlightable events that triggered his progression were him stumbling upon Franzs sketch of the twins and finding no evidence of Johan in his hotel room. He realizes the possibility of an error occurring. The mystery surrounding numerous events starts to become unraveled by him eventually discovering Bonapartas whereabouts. The cultivation of his development is when he apologizes to Tenma near the end of the story. Him and Eva can be seen as the most human characters in the story due to their apparent flaws. They are products of the environment a post Cold War setting with corruption narcissism and greed running rampant which leaves minuscule room to escape. Bonapartas picture books represent significant events occurring throughout the story. All of them have deep meaning and set thematic parallels to whats transpiring . First lets look at The Man With Big Eyes and the Man with the Big Mouth. This story is portraying how Franz was going through his struggle. Hes reflecting on the experiments performed by him and how his morals are being affected. How many people have been driven to insanity just for personal gain? By the end of the story the man with the big mouth was at the brink of death due to starvation this symbolizes Franz contemplating if he would have been better if he chose to stay as his former self. However the man with the big eyes says he should have made a deal with the devil. I interpreted this as Bonaparta realizing he wouldve never witnessed his potential had he not performed the experiments. Additionally The God of Peace shows a god offering children an identity in the form of names. This represents how Bonaparta felt about the horrific effects his experiments had hence he sees a devil in the mirror when he wears Johans hat. These books serve as a perfect way of reiterating events occurring in the story as well as interlinking to the psychological deterioration of Bonaparta himself The ending of the conflict in Ruhenheim is without a doubt the peak of the story. Monsters depth reaches its high point as Tenmas character has to decide whether to abandon his morals and shoot Johan. Their standoff is the cultivation of good against evil a true nihilistic crime against humanity bloodshed apogee and hostility. The juxtaposition of dark and light represents the converging forces of good and evil Tenma and Johan reaching their climax at this very moment. However it is not Tenma who shoots Johan its Wims drunken father. This portrays many things firstly it showcases the drunks trope being able to see the truth seeing as his father saw Johans pure monstrous form. Also thematic consistency is held in place with Tenma not shooting Johan and going as far as to save him again. Tenma continues to offer savior towards others and Johans plan towards a perfect suicide is ultimately stopped as well as his ideology being effectively disproven. The idea of the Nameless Monster is dismantled with us learning that Johans mother had given him a name something hed always wanted due to the lack of identity he had. Ruhenheim portrays humanitys natural compassion prevailing against pure nihilism. The final chapter of the manga adds further extrapolation to this. Its titled The Real Monster Which serves a larger purpose which concludes the primary question of the series Who was the real monster? Multiple interpretations can be had here and I believe most to be valid. Some could say it was their mother since she gave one of them away which subsequently led to Johan being engulfed in nihilism. You could say it was Johan as hes most commonly portrayed as one throughout the manga. Some even go as far as to say the mastermind of the experiments himself is the monster. Franz Bonaparta orchestrated the events that put their mother in the situation to choose between them in the first place. He even acknowledges he created a demented force through his experiments. This is works if you look through it from Johans perspective. Everyone can have an inner Monster in them they need to suppress we see this through the moral dilemmas continuously portrayed throughout the series. The story ends with Johan telling Tenma of his mothers actions but then were shown Johan mightve escaped from the hospital. So the question is raised did Tenma even have a conversation with Johan? This ending was foreshadowed and paralleled with Johan escaping from his hospital bed in the earlier chapters. The few ambiguous aspects of Monster manage to connect back with Johans characterization alongside portraying the evil some of us convey which fits with the central message of the series the environment creates a monster out of you rather than being born as one which Johan thought he was. Monster is the type of series that can spark numerous interpretations from readers. The exploration of identity and an individuals value amplify it to the highest level of storytelling Ive seen. The contrasting philosophies of our main two characters work so splendidly as it affects all those around them. The dichotomy between the two reaches outside the boundaries of the fictitious world with the deconstruction of basic moral principles and truly questioning the value our lives hold. Every event that transpires is vital to the main plot and operates alongside exceptional character progression. Its a story where I can find something new each time I read it while still appreciating the meticulousness Urasawa put forth in crafting the story. Its a series thats gained unparalleled depth with extraordinary writing.
100 /100
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