Monster Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, February 02, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, February 21, 2006
What They Say
Brilliant doctor Kenzo Tenma risks his reputation and promising career to save the life of a critically wounded young boy. Unbeknownst to him, this child is destined for a terrible fate. Conspiracies, serial murders, and a scathing depiction of the underbelly of hospital politics are all masterfully woven together in this compelling manga thriller.
The hit manga that has spawned a 74-episode anime, spin-off novel, and a live-action movie has finally been translated into English. This psychological thriller with a fresh setting and rich script is just what I needed.
For the most part, VIZ uses the original Japanese tankoubon cover art here with a few textual changes. I was never really a fan of the original cover to begin with, as it really is just a giant “MONSTER” logo with a small image of Dr. Tenma and a whole lot of white space. A nice effect added by VIZ here is that the logo is raised off the cover (on the back cover as well), which is a nice little touch. There is a review blurb on the cover from Steve Hamilton that could (and should) have been placed on the back cover. Not a big fan of text blurbs on the front covers.
As far as the insides go, I’m a little disappointed. Perhaps I had my expectations set too high, but I had hoped that these “Signature” titles would have had some extra special care applied to them for the more “sophisticated” target audience. The print reproduction is okay, but maybe only a small step above their Shonen Jump titles. It’s a tad bit dark, not that noticeable, with some issues of moiré happening in some areas. Again, this might just be my hyper-sensitive critical eye picking stuff out because of my expectations that most people would not notice. I also noticed that the binding is a bit stiff, but luckily there is enough of a buffer with the pages that I didn’t have to pry open the book to see all the artwork. The alignment looks very solid. There are no color plates used and no extras as well.
Having been familiar with Urasawa’s more recent works in 20th Century Boys and Pluto, it is interesting to see the progression of his art from one of his earlier titles. The character designs are very realistic in style, which fits this type of story perfectly. There is even a distinction made between the Japanese character Dr. Tenma and his German cohorts in their facial features. The facial features do lack the stronger detail that I’ve seen in Urasawa’s later works, like 20th Century Boys. It is a different type of artwork that is not found in most other English translated manga, so I hope others are receptive to it.
One thing Urasawa is great at is expressing fear and shock in his characters’ faces. It is quite essential in a thriller type of story to put the reader in a state of anticipation, and so far Urasawa has used this technique quite well. There is a good amount of background art that is really detailed and clean, but I hope to see more of it in the future as I really dig this German landscape.
SFX are left untouched and translated using a glossary in the back of the book. While I am glad that Urasawa’s artwork was left alone, I’m wondering if this approach might be a bit troublesome later. Having to flip back to the glossary while reading could break the sequential, suspenseful nature of story.
Editor’s notes appear in the margins when necessary, like explaining the BKA. There is a time warp here as “floppy disc” was changed to “hard drive” when referring to how Detective Lunge types thoughts into his brain. This feels a bit frustrating, as the “Signature Series” is supposed to be titles aimed at a “sophisticated” audience--an audience that I think would know what a floppy disc is. I was really impressed with all the medical jargon and terminology that was translated at the beginning of the story, very complicated material I imagine, although translator’s notes would have been beneficial. Aside from these issues, the translation reads quite nicely and feels quite appropriate.
Contents (Watch out spoilers ahead):
Dr. Kenzo Tenma had it all. He was a Japanese neurosurgeon, considered to be the top of his field, working for a prestigious hospital in Dusseldorf, Germany. Engaged to the hospital director Dr. Heinemann’s daughter, Dr. Tenma was on his way up the ladder to become Chief of Surgery and was free to do whatever research he wanted. With the respect and admiration of his peers, Dr. Tenma’s world was looking quite bright. However, when a young boy named Johan is brought into the ER with head trauma from a gunshot, Dr. Tenma’s world begins to take a dark turn that will forever change his life.
Naoki Urasawa’s hit seinen manga originally was serialized in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits, which has since spawned a 74-episode anime, spin-off novel, and now has a live-action adaptation in the works by New Line Cinema. This psychological thriller starts off in the year 1989, set in West Germany before the Berlin Wall was torn down--a very fresh and unique setting for a manga. It is a tumultuous period of history where many East German families fled their communist homeland for the freedoms of their western neighbors. In this story, Mr. Liebert, former East German Head of Commerce, fled with his wife and two fraternal twin children, Johan and Anna. Soon after their defection, Mr. Liebert and his wife are found murdered, with Johan suffering a possible fatal gunshot wound to the head and Anna left in a state of shock and unable to speak.
Johan arrives at Eisler Memorial Hospital where Dr. Tenma immediately gets prepped for surgery, only to be pulled off by Dr. Heinemann because the Mayor is currently being rushed to the hospital with a cerebral blood clot. Johan has the more severe case, but the political pull of the Mayor--who is set to increase the hospital’s funds--puts Dr. Tenma is quite a situation. The question is asked, are all lives created equally? Dr. Tenma refuses the Director’s orders and proceeds with the surgery on Johan, a decision that indirectly takes away the life of the Mayor and sends Dr. Tenma’s life down the drain as the Director and his peers turn on him and shun Dr. Tenma in disgrace. The only comfort he is left with is that he saved this young boy’s life, doing the job that all doctor’s were supposed to do instead of playing hospital politics.
However, in one night everything changes as Dr. Heinemann and two other high-level doctors are found murdered from eating poisoned candy along with the two twins, Anna and Johan, missing from the hospital. Dr. Tenma is the prime suspect, but he has a motive as he was out drinking. In a sick, ironic twist of fate, Dr. Tenma ends up being promoted to Chief of Surgery, where he now still holds the position 9 years later. All is well and good until his past begins to catch up with him and his beliefs are shattered to the core when he finds out that the boy he saved has become a feared murderer.
Without a doubt, this is one of the most engaging introductory first volumes I have ever read, grabbing my attention within the first few pages and holding on to it with a tight grip throughout the entire book. The German setting, both before and after the Berlin Wall, is very appealing and a nice change of pace. There are a lot of possibilities to explore with this backdrop given the great conflict that surrounded the division of Germany at that time. The story also has a flow that I have not experienced in English translated manga. It’s a psychological thriller that takes its time slowly getting all the main characters in place, which in this volume is Dr. Tenma and Johan, as well as providing hints at things early on that a reader will most likely miss the first time through. Urasawa puts the reader on quite a rollercoaster with the introduction of Dr. Tenma, who goes from top surgeon, to nothing, to Chief of Surgery, and then to a man who has the biggest bomb possible dropped on him. This is all done with a lot of care so that I never really felt overwhelmed or rushed, attaining that perfect balance to get me attached to Dr. Tenma and very interested in what’s to follow.
Besides Dr. Tenma and Johan (who remains a mystery for the most part), there are also some other interesting characters that should have an interesting part in volumes to come. Eva Heinemann, the rich snob daughter of the now deceased Dr. Heinemann, is one who is consumed with wealth and power. She starts off as Dr. Tenma’s fiancée, drops him after he is no longer in the running for Head of Neurosurgery and finds a new promising doctor, only then to try and get him back after he is promoted. She’s also now most likely fueled with anger after her father’s death, and a little put off by Dr. Tenma after giving her the cold shoulder. She has that “ojo-sama” personality that could really becoming quite entertaining as she spins her devilish webs.
My favorite character so far though is the BKA agent, Inspector Lunge. The BKA is also known as Bundeskriminalamt, a federal police agency that is in charge of enforcing federal criminal law as well as working with local police. The death of Dr. Heinemann and the other doctors brings Lunge to Dr. Tenma’s presence, where he begins working Dr. Tenma with great skill and wit. The one thing that is interesting about Lunge is that while he interviews others, he makes typing motions with his fingers as though he is entering data through a keyboard onto his memory. He is able to recite exactly what anyone said no matter how long ago they spoke. It’s obvious that Lunge is going to provide some conflict and other good moments with Dr. Tenma and Johan in the future, and I can’t wait to see how their battle of wits plays out.
Finally arriving after initially being leaked a year ago, Naoki Urasawa’s smash hit thriller exceeds all my high expectations that have been brewing for quite a while. I was a little hesitant with grading this first volume so high, as I’m sure things will only get better and more intense, but as far as first volumes go this is one of the best I’ve read.
The psychological thriller type of story telling is very refreshing and works quite well in the sequential art format. The flow of the story is very engrossing, with the dialogue scripted in a way that feels quite rich and more mature than many other English manga titles out there. The German setting is also quite a treat and I can’t wait to see what Urasawa does with this backdrop and European landscape. Urasawa scripts quite a setup that neither overwhelms or feels rushed, achieving a nice balance with the necessary cliffhanger ending for a thriller type of story that left me gasping for more.
My small disappointment with this release lies more with how VIZ has handled the production. Perhaps I had my expectations too high, but the production values do not quite meet what I had expected for an imprint that had been marketed as “sophisticated”. The one time warp translation snafu was a tad frustrating as well, but I hope that the editing team will have more care in the future. Looking at future releases, it looks like the schedule will remain bi-monthly. Given the ongoing suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat type of storytelling with cliffhangers galore, this is very much appreciated.
Even with the small issues, it couldn’t ruin my enjoyment for this release that many have been waiting for for a long time. I have no doubt that this will be one of the top titles released in 2006, and I would highly recommend everyone checking it out.
Mania Grade: A
Art Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
Orientation: Right to Left