Mania Grade: A
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- Audio Rating: B+
- Video Rating: B
- Packaging Rating: B-
- Menus Rating: B
- Extras Rating: B
- Age Rating: 17 and Up
- Region: 1 - North America
- Released By: Viz Media
- MSRP: 59.90
- Running time: 325
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Monster
Monster Box Set 1
Monster Box Set 1 DVD Review
By Chris Beveridge
April 05, 2010
Release Date: December 08, 2009
Monster Box Set 1
© Viz Media
When Kenzo Tenma does the right thing as a doctor, it costs him far more than he could have ever imagined as he has let a true monster live.
What They Say
What would you do if a child you saved grew up to be a monster?
An ice-cold killer is on the loose, and Dr. Kenzo Tenma is the only one who can stop him! Tenma, a brilliant neurosurgeon with a promising future, risks his career to save the life of a critically wounded young boy named Johan. When the boy, now a coldhearted and charismatic young man, reappears nine years later in the midst of a string of unusual serial murders, Tenma must go on the run from the police, who suspect him to be the killer, to find Johan and stop the monster he set loose upon the world.
Contains episodes 1-15.The Review!
Monster receives a solid stereo mix for its two language offerings as both the Japanese and English language tracks are encoded at 256kbps. The series is mostly dialogue and it has a full feeling to it but the dialogue is definitely handled well here as much of it is soft and understated at times. The music in the opening and closing sequences are really very strong, though I'm very saddened that the original closing song is not here due to music licensing issues. The English language mix feels a touch louder but overall the two sides of the presentation serve the material well and are clean and clear with no discernible issues affecting playback.
Originally airing from 2004 to 2005, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This collection contains fifteen episodes spread across three discs in a five/five/five split. This series has a distinct look to it and is one of those series that takes the approach of almost doing a photorealistic design to it with the backgrounds. The transfer here falls short of capturing that a lot of times as it feels somewhat soft and noisier than it should. The character animation makes out a bit better with a more solid feel but the colors and overall nature of the show with an average bitrate doesn't give it as strong of a look as it should have. It's not a bad transfer but it's weaker than it should be.
The packaging for Monster feels like something from a few years ago as we get three keepcases in a thin cardboard box. Viz has worked almost entirely with digipaks for awhile now and this feels out of place and you almost wonder if they were thinking of selling it as singles for awhile. The box has some very appealing illustration work of the characters in anime style on the front with a large gray version of Tenma dominating the back while a pink hued Johan is shadowed in the foreground. The logo has long been a favorite since I saw it and they also include the rating clearly on the front by making sure we know it's mature, with explicit content for 18+ audiences. Of course, it's all violence here so it's interesting to see Viz taking a proactive approach with it based on that. The back of the slipcover is familiar Viz territory with the stone style background filling it out with no artwork and just a summary of the premise. The rest is given over to production credits and a rundown of the technical specs of the release.
Inside the slipcover we get the three black keepcases which all have decent shots from the show used as their main pieces but it feels somewhat out of place overall, again almost like something from the past being done now. The first cover has a good image of Tenma in his scrubs in the darkened hospital corridor while the second cover has a split shot of Anna and Johan that's appealing and creepy. The final cover is my favorite though as it lets Eva's anger flourish with her looking possessed as she strides out of the burning house. The back covers are all the same with the same kind of design as the back of the slipcover while listing the disc number and the episode numbers and titles on it. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for this release feel pretty weak and uninspired. With a minute long loop of instrumental music playing, clips from each particular disc play out while set against a piece of cloth bandage that has blood splatters flowing onto it before disappearing. The logo has movement to it, and it does dominate the screen, while the bottom has the navigation that's simple and straightforward. Language selection is nice, though it doesn't read our players' defaults, as selecting Japanese language automatically changes the subtitles as well, though you can turn them off and keep it in Japanese. Submenus load quickly and there are no real issues to be had here other than it looking weak and simple.
The extras for this release are all found on the third volume and there are some good things. The most noteworthy is a 16 screen interview with the series director as he talks about the why and how of approaching this particular manga to anime project. The world report section is slim but useful as it talks about the real world locations of places within Germany and some basic data as well as a timeline. The characters section is slim as well as each of the ten main characters of this first fifteen episodes are covered with a small picture and a brief bio piece for them. I was glad to see they included the Japanese voice actor but would have liked to have seen the English one credited as well. Also included, and probably more useful later down the line, is the Story of Monster segment that breaks down each episode over a couple of screens with what the central idea is and how it's progressing.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the eighteen volume manga series release from 1994 to 2001 by Naoki Urasawa, Monster is a seventy-four episode adaptation that plays it straight and adapts it very closely to the original. While some things are rearranged in places and tightened up for the transition from one medium to another, the series gained a lot of attention during its original run because of how well it hewed to the original. Urasawa created something powerful with this book and the anime adaptation has taken that and breathed a different kind of life into it, one that was wholly captivating.
At its heart, Monster is a mystery story that's wrapped up in an engaging setting with intriguing characters. The show starts off in 1986 in West Germany where we're introduced to the rising star of Eisler Hospital, a young man named Kenzo Tenma who has been given a great career by the hospital director who helped him to come there from Japan. Tenma's life has gone exceptionally well since coming there as he's now vying for the chief of surgery position and gets to spend his time writing papers and doing research – when he isn't with the director's daughter, Eva, to whom he's engaged. Tenma is a highly gifted surgeon who is able to do amazing things that have helped to raise the profile of the hospital, which of course is a huge part of why he's continually making progress in his career. But as much as he gains, he really only wants to do research and to help people. He's not a career focused person in a way but he's gotten caught up in some of the things that go with the politics of being in such a position.
The politics that play out in a hospital are what ultimately changes Tenma's life. Because of his skill and position, he's often drawn away from the more ordinary patients that come through and instead placed on high profile patients. When a grieving wife accosts him over it, saying that he should have helped her husband who was there first, it starts him thinking more about it. Pressure applied on him by the director makes it worse, so when he comes back to the hospital to deal with a critical patient, a young boy with a gunshot wound to the head, he's torn when he's told to leave him be in order to help the mayor who was just brought in. This puts him squarely at a crossroads where his life will go in two very different ways.
That choice is what really sets things in motion with the series. Saving this young boy, who was brought in with his sister who was unharmed after the two watched their parents killed, reminds Tenma of what it means to be a doctor and he handles his change in position well. Taking everything very seriously, he's beyond frustrated when the director decides to use the boy and his sister as photo ops for the hospital, a situation that causes the two to react horribly when they first encounter each other again and then has the boy, Johan, disappear. Tenma's situation takes several curious turns at this point before the story shifts nine years into the future, taking us to 1994 where he's now gained prominence and remained a very dedicated and personable doctor for the citizens he deals with.
Though the case of the children and the deaths surrounding them has long since fallen from his mind but it's about to come barreling back in. A slow methodical series of murders of middle aged couples across the country has brought Inspector Lunge into Tenma's life for the second time as the case of the director's death was the only one he has yet to solve. When Tenma shows up with a connection to everything, events don't fall into place but rather Tenma becomes seriously entwined in events that are out of his control. Though Johan and his sister Anna were placed in homes years ago, Johan had disappeared and moved from place to place and has now come back for his own reasons as yet not completely understood. With death in his wake, and seemingly impossible powers that allow him to get close to people and control them, Tenma realizes that his saving of the boy has allowed a monster to live that should have died years ago. And he's entirely responsible for it and now must save Anna before Johan goes to claim her on her twentieth birthday.
Monster is very much a precise mystery that's being built. The series spends several episodes from the start laying the foundation where we see Johan's arrival in West Germany with his sister and parents and then having the shooting incident occur that brings Tenma into the mix. Tenma's natural curiosity is a big part of what gets him after time when Johan's case come back to the present and he comes to understand exactly what it is that he's done. The mystery itself is fairly well layered as Johan's past is explored towards the end here but it's the lead-up to it in the middle half that's really engaging as Tenma takes an extended leave from his work to find him and we see Inspector Lunge working in parallel along a different track doing the same. The crossing of paths and the arrival of others being used by Johan for his own goals creates a lot of tension and uncertainty which makes the mystery even more engaging.
My first experience with work by Naoki Urasawa was when Geneon licensed Master Keaton. I fell in love with his style of storytelling, the locales he wanted to play in and the character designs themselves. Monster uses a lot of the same elements as he's weaving a story of sizable scope here that's being teased out piece by piece. Much of what is covered in the first fifteen episodes here would take fifty episodes in many others, and we're still only a fifth of the way into the show. Urasawa's interest in having the stories take place outside of Japan is a big appeal as well and having this one set in Germany and during a pivotal time at that gives it much more weight. But I especially love the character designs as they are so non-traditional in the anime world. They stand apart while keeping true to the basics as there are definite differences between all the people. Tenma looks distinct in a country of German's and that little facet really does help when you see so many series that have an international cast but they all look the same.
Monster is one of the few series where I've got some advance knowledge on it because I actually read some of the manga. Though I only made it a few volumes in before I couldn't bring myself to buy any manga anymore, it made a huge impression on top of my already favorable view of Urasawa from Master Keaton. These opening episodes set up a whole lot of things and explores a lot of the past. Going from 1986 with the arrival of the twins into West Germany and then advancing nine years to tell the next phase is engaging storytelling. Having the exploration going back before their arrival and roping in some fascinating conspiracy elements only heightens it. This is the kind of anime series that can be used to engage traditional non-anime fans to show them something different. This is the kind of series that has so much to it and manages to keep you completely engaged even during some of the side stories. The next set can't come fast enough for me as I want to see more of Tenma's journey to stop Johan from whatever evil he really has planned. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Interviews, World Of Background, Story Summaries
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.