Monster Vol. #01 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A

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  • Art Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: N/A
  • Text/Translatin Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Released By: Viz Media
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 224
  • ISBN: 1-59116-641-1
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Monster Vol. #01

By Jarred Pine     September 21, 2005
Release Date: October 04, 2005

Monster Vol.#01
© Viz Media

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Naoki Urasawa
Translated by:N/A
Adapted by:

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 Review
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.

Since this an uncorrected galley proof, there will be no packaging grade. There is no peek at the cover or possible extras, so this will be filled in at a later date when the final version is received.

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. It is a different type of artwork that is found in most other English translated manga, so I hope others are receptive to it. I did think that the facial features lacked a lot of that detail that I’ve seen in Urasawa’s later works.

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.

Since this is an uncorrected proof, I will not grade this section but instead offer some overall thoughts of what I am seeing. SFX are not translated, but I hope there will at least be a glossary with the final version. Editor’s notes appear in the margins when necessary, like explaining what the BKA 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. Overall the translation is great, it has that rich, more mature feel to it that I would expect out of an Urasawa seinen manga.

Contents (Watch out spoilers ahead):
Dr. Kenzo Tenma had it all. He was a Japanese neurosurgeon considered the top of his field working for a prestigious hospital in Dusseldorf, Germany. Engaged to the hospital director Dr. Heinemann’s daughter, daddy’s little rich girl Eva, 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 critically wounding gunshot wound to the head and Anna left in a state of shock 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 people’s 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.

I apologize for that long introduction, but that was about as short as I could get it in order to help illustrate just how rich the setup is for this debut manga thriller. 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. 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 a 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 manga 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. In fact, the one negative thing I could say about this release is that I foresee many painful moments of waiting ahead. I only hope that VIZ will stick with the bi-monthly schedule with this title. I haven’t been this hooked in quite a while. Urasawa’s Monster could quite possibly be the shot in the arm of the English manga industry that I have been waiting for.


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