You Should Be Reading: Naoki Urasawa's Monster - Part 2 (Perfect Edition Volume 4 - 6)

As I covered in this post, you should be a Monster fan. If you aren’t, now is a wonderful opportunity to read Naoki Urasawa’s tale of good and evil, suspense, and redemption thanks to Viz Media’s beautiful Perfect Edition re-release. These omnibus editions include two volumes of the original manga, leading up to an eventual 9-volume collection. With a new volume being released today, it’s the perfect time to catch up on the first two-thirds of one of the most beloved manga series of the past 20 years.

The Lowdown

The action has moved to Munich. The elusive serial killer Johan Liebert has ingratiated himself to Bavarian business magnate Hans Georg Schuwald and a group of college students, including Karl Neumann, a young man who thinks Schuwald holds the key to his past. Dr. Kenzo Tenma, still on the run, is close behind on Johan’s trail. These three volumes take us across Germany, the Czech Republic, and even deeper into the mind of the “monster.” The middle chunk of the series, which spans volumes 4-6 of the Perfect Edition, is slightly less focused on Tenma and Johan’s twin sister Nina Fortner’s personal journeys and instead zeroes in on the stories of the characters who get swept up by the terror of Johan.

How Was It?

Fans of darker seinen manga are bound to enjoy Monster, but anyone who seeks out mystery, suspense, and psychological thrillers should give it a try. If you like Cold War and post-war German history, hard-hitting character drama, or Les Miserables (I’m serious), you will probably loveMonster too.

Urasawa once again shows that he can incorporate n+1 characters into a story without compromising the flow, the quality, or our attention. The heart of volumes 4 and 5 are the intersecting stories of Karl Neumann, a student searching for his father, and Richard Braun, a private investigator and recovering alcoholic. Karl and Richard are both led to Hans Schuwald, a reclusive business tycoon, the most likely candidate for Karl’s estranged father, and Johan’s latest pawn. Richard’s story brings him tantalizingly close to the truth about Johan, but is a beautiful arc about a man seeking peace and forgiveness in and of itself. It also introduces Dr. Julius Reichwein, a counseling psychologist who will go on to play an important role in the overarching story. These volumes are possibly the height of Johan’s creepiness thus far. He preys upon the weaknesses and fears of characters we grow to love and all we can do is watch.

Volumes 4-6, in terms of emotional investment, build on and perfect the formula established in earlier volumes of a minor character being introduced and having a usually preconception-shattering, touching arc devoted to them over a few chapters. Whereas volumes 1-3 felt more frantic in fitting with Tenma and Nina’s chase, the middle third is more subdued and character-driven (though if there is a ceiling for excellent character writing, Urasawa hasn’t found it yet). The explosive action, when it comes in volume 5, is all the more nerve wracking after the slow burning lead up. Volumes 5 and 6 include both one of the most uplifting and one of the saddest, most infuriating subplots in the entire series, so have the tissues and something soft to punch on hand.

The last part of these volumes takes place in the Czech Republic, where Nina and the orphan Dieter, Tenma and his new companion Wolfgang Grimmer, and Johan have all converged at what they believe to be the place where Johan and Nina’s story began. Grimmer is another seamless addition to the cast. Behind his lighthearted demeanor are tragedies that allow him to understand Johan more fully than most. The mystery of Johan and Nina’s childhood has always been portrayed as a sort of dark fairy tale, and the haunting atmosphere is only sharpened in Prague as the twins realize the secrets they’ve buried and forgotten may lie in a strange picture book, a mansion surrounded by roses, and a shadowy figure who goes by many names.

Final Thoughts

Monster volumes 4-6 only build on the painstakingly real and flawed characters, constant suspense, and fully realized settings of the first three volumes. Despite being a long series, the story remains evenly paced. The mystery never feels rushed or inorganically stalled. There are myriad reasons why Monster has cemented itself as a manga classic, and the final third of story is bound to bring more what made the journey so thrilling. Stay tuned later this week for a review of Volume 7!

The original print of Monster was published by Viz Media in 18 volumes between February of 2006 and December of 2008. Both story and art are by Naoki Urasawa. The two-in-one volumes of the Perfect Edition are currently being released every three months. Monster received an anime adaptation by Madhouse in 2004. The 7th volume releases January 19th, 2016.

Translator: Camellia Nieh

Author: Naoki Urasawa

Publisher: Viz Media