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July 14, 2014

Bento Bako Weekly: Monster volume 1 (Perfect Edition)

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Written by: Kristin
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monstervol1Title: Monster
Author: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 1, Perfect Edition (2-in-1), $19.99
Vintage: July 2014
Genre: Mystery, horror, psychological thriller

Dr. Tenma has it all. He’s a surgeon in a prestigious German hospital, he’s engaged to the hospital Director’s daughter, his career is going strong and he’s on the rise, he’s an exceptionally skilled neurosurgeon – and all he has to do is follow the Director’s instructions. Life is looking pretty good, until the Director decides Tenma is to stop his personal research and write a paper for him for an upcoming conference. That’s just the beginning, ash Tenma’s assignment to a high profile surgery for an opera singer results in the death of a working husband and father. The preferential treatment the opera singer received put the hospital’s best surgeon on his case rather than where it would have been better served. That makes Tenma a little uncomfortable, but it’s when he’s pulled away from a critical surgery on a boy whose family was just murdered (mom and dad dead, son shot in the head, sister traumatized) to perform surgery on the Mayor that the doctor takes a stand. Johan’s surgery is ready to be performed, and no one else in the hospital could handle such a delicate surgery – without Tenma, the boy will surely die, but the Mayor should be fine in the hands of one of the other surgeons. Miraculously, Johan is saved, and Tenma’s skills is celebrated, but the Mayor dies, and the Director demotes him immediately for refusing to follow orders. Now treated little better than a resident, Tenma is overworked and assigned to low profile cases. To top it off, his fiancée, Eva, dumps him unceremoniously. The upside is that this gives Tenma more autonomy on his cases, but another consequence soon follows. Tenma is removed as Johan and Anna’s doctor for interfering with the investigation into the murder of their parents and the hospital’s attempt to gain media attention. When the children are brought together too son, Anna faints and develops amnesia. Soon it doesn’t matter, as the Director, the Chief of Surgery, and the twins’ new doctor wind up dead, and the children vanish. Flash forward nine years – Tenma is the new Chief of Surgery and well known throughout Dusseldorf. There’s also been a string of murders of middle-aged childless couples around Germany. The BKA (Federal Police) agent from the previous murders of the hospital staff, Inspector Lunge, is on the case. A random car accident lands a man into Tenma’s care, but the man is on the run and fears for his life, claiming he’s been working with a Monster. The man bolts, and Tenma gives chase, only to come face to face with his past. The Monster the man spoke of is none other than Johan, the boy Tenma saved years ago. Johan is grateful to the doctor, even viewing him as a sort of father figure, and is happy to have provided Tenma the opportunities to advance in his career. Tenma tells Lunge everything, but given how outrageous the story sounds, the Inspector doesn’t really believe him, especially as he views Tenma as his prime suspect. Tenma drops everything to pursue the mysterious circumstances surrounding Johan, which lead him to his missing twin sister, Anna (now Nina, adopted into a new family, and unaware of her own past). Anna is leading a cheerful life and studying to become a public prosecutor, but has been plagued by strange nightmares her entire life. In pursuit of the girl, Tenma enlists the help of a reporter from the Heidelberg Post, Maurer. Maurer doesn’t believe Tenma’s story at first, but is intrigued by the doctor’s obsession and agrees to help him follow up on a lead. Unfortunately, they’re down to the wire, and Anna has already left to meet her mystery admirer. Tenma rushes off in pursuit, knowing that Johan is coming for his sister, but tragedy strikes once again. Four more people are murdered, and Tenma, suspecting the police themselves are somehow involved with Johan, takes Anna and makes a run for it. The indomitable Lunge is once again on the case, however, and he has his sight set on Dr. Tenma. His life once again in shambles, Tenma sets out to correct the mistake he made nine years ago.

Alright, first things first: This edition of Monster is gorgeous. The cover, the presentation, the sixteen color pages. It’s a collection deserving of Urasawa. Second: I am so happy to be reading Urasawa again after the completion of 20th Century Boys. I’ve never read Monster before, though I was aware of it and familiar with the basic concept. If you’ve never read it either, this is the perfect opportunity. Viz will be releasing these 2-in-1 editions every three months, and if you’re at all familiar with Urasawa, you know each volume will be better than the last. Volume 1 is a kicker already, with two falls from grace, and a descent into a world of horror. One good man destroyed by one good choice he believed in, which turned out to be the worst decision of his (and many others’) life. Tenma is a truly tragic figure. Early on he struggles to balance what is right and what is best for his career. The struggle is made easier by his willingness to be used and led around by those above him. He ignores (or perhaps is actually unaware) of the consequences of his decisions, which are also influenced or outright made by his superiors. Still, his life is pretty good. He’s climbing up the surgical ranks in his hospital, he’s engaged to the Director’s daughter, and his research is progressing. Then it all comes crashing down when his conscience causes him to disobey the Director. Then his life turns around for the better when the hospital’s leaders die. He’s able to do good work again, really good work, and save a lot of lives. Then his past comes back to bite him in the ass, and his life completely crashes. Throughout it all, Tenma is just trying to do his best and help people in need. He’s got a strong noble streak, and favors those who can’t help themselves over those who pay to be moved up in line. Unfortunately, the second chance he received to do such work was provided by a monster. The very monster he saved and unleashed upon the world. This throws his conscience into conflict. Something truly evil has provided him a chance to do so much good. And he’s done a lot of good as a result. But Johan has also done a lot of evil, with no intention of stopping. Tenma saved his life, so he decides it’s up to him to end it, which means throwing everything away to pursue a monster. As expected, the artwork is detailed and smooth. Urasawa clearly studied some medical textbooks in order to render some very realistic surgical representations, not to mention the vocabulary used. Characters are distinct from each other and all very emotive. Tenma becomes more disheveled as the story progresses. And then there’s Johan – the devil disguised as an angel. Now, I have seen some reviews of the series’ first run that complain about the ending, but it’s likely to be a real trip getting there, so I’d suggest checking it out anyway. It’s the perfect chance.




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