Only a few psychologists and philosophers understand questions like what gives humans identity and what makes humans human. However, what seems to be the consensus is that humanity is important. One anime that provides insight into human nature is Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, an extraordinary dive. When the characters compete in a game of wits, it goes deep into the human mind.
It took a cat-and-mouse twist, becoming one of the most “underrated” anime series of all time. People are ignored as a result of in-depth psychological studies, layered mysteries, and social comments. What makes the series faithful to the original manga so compelling is its exploration of what makes humans human. The reason is that the series also failed to tell the story of the things in the initial question.
However, it is about what happens when an individual strips away that personality, identity, and humanity. The series takes the audience to a world between good and evil. Despite disappearing so quickly, it strives to create a realistic yet dark environment. On the other hand, it is eerily mysterious. The story centers on the genius neurosurgeon, Kenzou Tenma. He practices at the top hospitals in Germany and lives a perfect life.
The Manifestation of Evil
With Tenma’s best position and ideal fiancé, his utopian streak suddenly dissipates when he decides to save a boy, Johan Liebert. From such a point, the story slowly begins to unravel, stretching into a riveting 74-episode-long journey. Tenma aims to correct the mistake he made by appearing to save the young Liebert. In the process of uncovering a shocking truth that will change the world, his life journey, and the people he meets also begin to be affected.
So, the audience familiar with Johan’s personality has a good idea of such character boundaries. He is the manifestation of “evil.” He watched his loyal followers die terribly while taking young children to the red-light district. Aside from that, he murdered his nanny and another elderly couple. In essence, one of his goals in life is to cheerfully destroy the individual who saved him from death.
Although he has no moral justification for his actions, he also does not care one bit about whether the person he is about to kill is guilty of anything other than offering help to the wrong person. Johan exists not because of the extraordinary love that he bears for his sister.
Johan and Anna
It’s also not because of the mental anguish Johan endured throughout his childhood. Besides, it wasn’t because his sense of identity had been very unstable since he was born. Explicit and subliminal messages only weaken him. In contrast, it was not because of his loyalty to his mother’s revenge. If it’s neither sympathetic nor admirable, everything together makes it both sad and horrifying.
The recognition of the monster in him makes him a very guilty person. However, he is a product of his environment or an individual without a clear sense of self. External forces can also be the scapegoats that pervert his morality. One interpretation could be that Johan is purely a product of his environment. At the same time, his sister was also going through the same thing that he was.
Only then did he turn into a killer maniac. At first glance, Johan seems like a normal kid. He was happy until he and his sister separated from their mother. At the same time, he begins to ravage and kill people a little too quickly when thinking that way, turning him into a monster. From birth, he was trained to be an emotionless, amoral soldier, regardless of his having no impact at all on Anna Liebert, a.k.a. Nina Fortner.
Understanding Johan Liebert
It’s because Nina’s childhood did not create evil in Johan. However, it merely gives shape to what was already present. In the main plot, he is so evil that he is bored with his evil and is doomed to become evil. As everyone knows, Johan is the definition of evil. What makes his character terrifying is the realism of the story. He couldn’t control someone’s mind through the use of a strange ability that only required eye contact.
Likewise, he cannot kill people using the supernatural, which only requires a name to kill its target. Rationalizations for his behavior neither exist nor seem to be beyond the understanding of the layman. What makes him truly terrifying is the banality of his methods for causing human suffering. It is not his ability to commit actual acts of violence. Apart from his charisma and mind, his true talent lies in his ability to bring out the worst in people and make them do the dirty work for him.
He had made many serial killers across Europe work for him. While convincing people to commit suicide, he also convinced those in positions of power that he did not exist or that they did not believe him.
Because of such things, people equate Johan more with the Anti-Christ. As with Tenma, the audience knows very little about the brutish man. Tenma’s journey is mostly about Johan’s riddle. The audience then gets a little insight into Johan’s past. Another plot twist is introduced in the series. Once again, the audience asked Johan why he did that. Monster is probably one of the best anime that many people haven’t watched.
The series still manages to stand outside and above most of the others. It is because of the interesting characters and storytelling. Despite not being as flashy as most anime, many critics and fans consider Urasawa to be one of the most influential manga artists in the medium’s history. It is because of his distinctive narrative and solid style. Many people also call him the Japanese master of suspense, and not without reason.
His works won various awards. It’s no surprise that the masterpiece by the so-called reworked mangaka is being adapted by Madhouse. Madhouse designs scene by scene without making any changes to the scenes from the manga. There’s not a single line of dialogue that the studio changes when changing it on a page-by-page basis. It is an allegiance to the source material itself; it would seem plausible to even a discerning audience.
A Perfect Adaptation
However, as far as anyone is aware, such justifications are frequently lacking from studio executives. The series is as close to a perfect anime adaptation of a manga as anyone has ever seen. Additionally, Monster dedicates a great deal of time to its narrative through its allusions and motives. For example, the usual references are scattered throughout the story. Eva plays a sleeping beauty in the first story, while in another story, Nina’s classmate teases Johan as prince charming.
Nina and Johan also separately claim that they are from a fairytale town. The way most of the tropes work in the series gives the characters an archetypal dimension. If not completely basic, Johan does not only act as a serial killer or brainwashing victim. Instead, he plays the monster who plays the Antichrist. Tenma wasn’t just a doctor with a heavy conscience. His strong sense of right and wrong made him a messiah in shining armor.
On the other hand, the series establishes itself as having a dimension that is more universal and bigger than just the criminal story of a Japanese surgeon. It becomes a typical story about the balance of evil and good without sacrificing its originality or realism.
Maintaining Realism and Narrative
By maintaining originality and realism, Monster, therefore, becomes a narrative that focuses on the main character in covering such a series. On the other hand, its aspect of thought is how such concepts (personalism, nihilism, and idealism) serve more as a basis for the story, conveying the ideological nature of the theme. Tenma has the right foundation after a difficult but exhausting journey.
He was on the verge of succumbing to Johan’s political games and nihilism at every turn. Both characters are opposed to each other. However, the similarities that exist between them reveal both loneliness and an examination of how close the viewpoints are. Such a small change in the status quo can cause two characters to think the same way. It is not entirely extraordinary but unique and connects the audience to paradoxical-seeking tendencies and isolation.
Above all, Tenma believes in the kindness of others and how important it is for humans to support each other. He is the type of character who is always entertained but feels comfortable alone in a crowd. However, his thoughts about the world are terrifying, a characteristic parallel to that of a charming blonde.
Tenma’s fear when Johan intimidated him to date was not because of something he never knew. However, it is because of his destruction that he values human connection more than anything else. In short, Tenma just tends to not let himself alone. He often experienced it, appreciating the fact that he is a half-person who is full of idealism and optimism. In the dark story that frightens the reality of the world, the monster’s psychology is examined almost sadistically.
Even the most morally righteous idealist can lose faith in humanity, but he firmly believes in his ideals. On the other hand, he is in the black hole of the abyss, trying to suck him in but forcing him to submit to the meaningless. Johan’s evil smile will always hide until it emerges from the darkness. Additionally, the main narrative threads of the series are much more complex yet meaningful.
The audience will always find out the background of each character or see what Tenma looks like at the end of the narrative. By exploring Tenma’s internal struggles, the audience always believes that it is good out there.
The Idealism of Kenzou Tenma
While everything Tenma is going through seems to always suggest it’s the opposite of Tenma’s idealism, his steadfast, undying hope coincides with a fear of loneliness. His entire philosophy is based on the principle that human beings are, after all, equal in value. When he tries to operate on Johan, a high-class man complains when Tenma doesn’t operate on the man first. It is due to reasons that benefit the hospital rather than orders from his superiors that he selected the man to operate on Johan.
The answer is very simple: Tenma is fair because all life is equal. However, considering that Johan ultimately becomes a mass murderer who goes against his philosophy, it naturally makes him feel the full brunt of responsibility. He began to question whether his decisions caused him as much pain as his words. He saw the case as the absolute worst mistake—one that only he could correct.
His mistakes were based on principles he fully believed in. He, therefore, seeks answers to whether this world is nihilistic and meaningless as Johan sees it. Just like Tenma felt, he was a human who would always stick to his belief in humanity.
Nihilism and Optimism
On the other hand, Tenma’s surroundings slowly began to darken, indicating that he was being torn apart. He felt separated from other people. Given everything Tenma has dedicated his life to, the outcome of such ideological battles meant more to him than to anyone else. Lies and tragedies for Tenma will always crumble and collapse under pressure when he tries desperately to maintain his hope in life and people themselves.
Tenma grapples with or rejects the concept of nihilism as a whole. It is because if he admits that the world is completely meaningless, he will lose everything. The point is that because of how invested he is in the idea of light if Tenma found even a shred of evidence to show that he had been wrong all along, he likely wouldn’t be able to find much value in anything. He was miserable with his growing fear that he could be wrong.
He could become depressed as a result of his search for Johan. While Tenma and Johan have slightly similar viewpoints, Johan represents the polar opposite of Tenma’s idealism. In essence, Tenma overlooks the nihilism that has hindered his views by realizing that life is precious.
The Same Coin
In temporary reality, Tenma and Johan have never faced each other, either literally or figuratively. They were simply closer in perspective than they should have been. When one believes in darkness, the other believes in information. It distinguishes the monumental despite their different ways of thinking, Johan always thought surprisingly similarly about what they valued. As a result, they are two sides of the same coin.
If those with different convictions are so close to one another in their views of the world, then it would not be an exaggeration to say that most of society is like that. In the end, Tenma almost gave up. However, his reason for holding on rather than giving up early before it becomes meaningless is because of his beliefs. His beliefs have never been wrong, and people’s hopes for a better day will continue to be demonstrated from many perspectives.
Such thinking may seem personally useless in certain situations. Through Tenma’s journey, it is clear that it is not just about vain romanticism. Such a belief can save many people. It makes all the difference that Tenma subtly changes throughout the story. Significantly, Tenma only believes that people are inherently good.
Last Man on the Edge of the World
When Johan told Tenma that his goal was to be the last man on the edge of the world, he still managed to find a way to survive. Instead, he implies that Johan could be the one to hit the explode button. The audience will think that, with such a rich character, Urawasa squeezes every drop of narration out of Johan. However, suspense experts are much wiser. If the deconstruction of the classic Hollywood monster saga is far more gruesome to people’s eyes, the deconstruction of Monster is far more gruesome.
The reason for this is that people like Johan will always be present, casting shadows over everything. In essence, people like Johan not only don’t respect human life, but they also don’t respect their own lives. The series is a heart of darkness, a series with many ideas, philosophies, questions, and enigmas for its audience. Most of these questions revolve around the intimate yet extraordinary tussle between a charming psychopath and a rebellious surgeon.
Finally, the audience will always be perplexed by numerous details, beginning with the series’ philosophy and theme. However, everyone must have thought while watching the series that Johan is the personification of evil.
- Drummond-Mathews, A. (2010). What boys will be: A study of shonen manga. Manga: An anthology of global and cultural perspectives, 62-76.
- Kawamata, K. (2009). Preliminary research on the creation process of Japanese manga. In Proceedings: AIMAC 2009 International Conference on Arts and Cultural Management.
- Park, H. R. (2018). Analysis of comic ‘Monster’ based on J. Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory-Focused on desire theory. Cartoon and Animation Studies, 153-185.