What makes us human? What gives us identity? These are questions that philosophers and psychologists have tried to answer and pinpoint. Despite many debates and theories, what appears to be common consensus is that humanity, who we are, is important. One anime that gives insight into human nature is Monster.
Monster is a masterful, suspenseful dive into the human mind as characters battle in a cat and mouse game of wits and twists. To some, Monster is one of the most underrated anime series of all time – a deep psychological study that is rich with dark themes, social commentary and multi-layered mystery. However, to the vast majority, this series goes completely unnoticed, and that is a shame.
What makes this 74-episode anime, faithful to Naoki Urasawa’s original manga, so enthralling? It’s the exploration of that which makes us human. That said, Monster isn’t successful because it tells a tale of the things that make us human. Instead, it is about what happens when that humanity, that sense of identity and personality, is stripped from someone.
Our story begins with the introduction of Doctor Kenzo Tenma, a brilliant Japanese surgeon living in Germany. His life is turned upside down when his decision to save the life of a young boy, involves him in a dangerous situation. He comes to learn that the child he saved is and will grow into a ruthless serial killer.
I can’t say more about the plot as this series is one best experienced without knowing much. Many may say this series is a slow burn but in actual fact, it contains plenty of twists and turns and more than enough fast paced action. Meanwhile, all the characters and the situations they find themselves in grip. The decision that leads Tenma to save the boy is based on an earlier one, a decision that many doctors likely hope they never need to make – the choice to save one person over another. From the first moments, we see a moral dilemma unfold, the first of many that run through the series. This is as every character has their own flaws and moral mazes to navigate, each questioning how and why they fit in the world.
This series has been compared to The Fugitive, in that a doctor goes on the run to clear his name and identify a true killer. Yet, the show is deeper than that. In Monster, we get characters who all contribute to the overall plot but in ways that are unexpected, ways that make them rounded studies into the mind – causing viewers to become emotionally invested in them as the series progresses.
This only serves to shock us further when a character is mercilessly killed or removed from play. Yet, at the show’s core, we always see humanity. Monster is excellent at probing how humans are affected by their surroundings. This is no better explored than with the series’ orphanage setting 511 Kinderheim. While from the outside it is a place to house children, it is more like an experimentation facility. The sole purpose: to create emotionless soldiers through abuse and punishment. The best character we can look at in Monster to truly show what humanity means is Grimmer.
Grimmer is a man who as a child was living at the aforementioned orphanage. Through his time spent self-discovering and journeying with Tenma, he tries to find his place and his emotions that were taken from him in his youth. He is a deeply flawed character who approaches the world with a smile, a gesture that hides his true lack of emotion. Even when he buries his child, he feels nothing. In fact, he feels more pain in his lack of emotion than in the emotions that he should actually feel. Grimmer is just one of the many characters in Monster who shows us the terror of losing oneself, the horrors of not knowing who one is.
This article only scratches the surface of the deep, multi-layered studies into the nature of humanity. This is because it is an aspect of our minds and bodies that we can never really express in such simple words. Watching Urasawa’s masterpiece might be the best way to truly make sense of it. Because Monster isn’t just a series – it is a look at ourselves, how we love, how we feel, how we hate, how we grieve and everything in between. It shows us what the world can be like, what we wish it could be like, and what happens if we can’t find our place in it. It shows us what it means to have an identity, to have feelings, and as monstrous as it may be, to feel nothing at all.