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Dated 24 September 2006: School Rumble and Monster

Otama and Ure
Otama and Ure.

Monster
Monster.

Is it wrong that the first thing I thought of while Yakumo was reading the Otama and Ure story was "the monster inside me has grown this big"?

With regard to the episode itself, I'm not sure what to think...at least as far as the ending goes. Were I not so certain that a non-ending ending to Ni Gakki is assured, I would be somewhat troubled by the half-hearted efforts at digging up some plot development this late in the game.

Dated 13 August 2008: This Monster review has grown so big (Part One)

Nina
Nina is the Best Girl in Monster,
but with its cast that's pretty much a given.

How does one talk about Monster within the framework of a (mostly) diligent spoiler-free policy? It is difficult to discuss the plot of this 74-episode series without spoiling many of the key episodes that hinge on ambiguity and mystery for their hook, and it is impossible to provide episodic discussions without abandoning a spoiler-free policy altogether, since even trivial details from later episodes answer questions about events that happen (or don't happen, as it were) in the earlier episodes.

Dated 16 August 2008: This Monster review has grown so big (Part Two)

Nina
See no evil. Hear no evil.

In order to discuss Monster in a spoiler-free fashion, I have to avoid discussing the plot almost entirely, and may only speak of the characters in general terms. These restrictions are probably why I have not mentioned Monster much on these pages before, despite it being one of the few shows that I heartily recommend.

Dr. Tenma and Nina
This scene sort of reminds me of an unrelated scene from Kaze no Yojimbo.

I don't recommend very many shows, but I do recommend Monster. Usually I don't broadly recommend shows because so much of what makes a show good or not depends on personal tastes and opinions. This is not to say that my reputation for being unusually tolerant of really shitty shows is at all warranted—merely that I acknowledge the shows I enjoy may be different than the shows y'all enjoy. Monster, on the other hand, is simply too good not to recommend.

George and Miyuki
George and Miyuki are a bit happier than Kenzo and Nina, supra.

I suppose I have to talk about the plot at least a little bit. Concisely put, Monster is anime's answer to the old The Fugitive television series. I presume only a small percentage of today's anime fans have ever seen an episode of The Fugitive, so maybe I need to discuss the plot of Monster just a little bit more.

Nina and Tenma
Nina and Dr. Tenma.

Doctor Kenzou Tenma is a Japanese physician living in Germany. He makes an ethical decision that proves politically unpopular. Dr. Tenma soon learns no good dead goes unpunished. His good deed continues to haunt him a decade later, eventually forcing him to run from the law while he in turn pursues his nemesis. Unlike Dr. Richard Kimble from The Fugitive, Dr. Tenma's prey is far more dangerous and murderous than "the one-armed man."

This is about all I can say about the plot without giving away clues that I wouldn't have wanted to know when I was watching Monster the first time. Now what?

Dated 21 August 2008: This Monster review has grown so big (Part Three)

Mauler and Tenma
Google Maps disavows the existence of a
16 Neckarstrasse in Heidelberg, Germany.

If I can't talk about the plot of Monster, what else does that leave? Well, for one thing, there's the setting.

Nina begins her ascent to Heidelberg Castle
Nina begins her ascent to Heidelberg Castle.

Monster is one of the few anime series set outside Japan. Nearly all the scenes take place in mid-nineties Germany, as Dr. Tenma, his nemesis, and Inspector Lunge chase each other around. The settings are well-researched, with accurate cityscapes, landmarks, and other details (such as bus stop signs).

Heidelberg Castle
Tourists mill below the real Heidelberg Castle.

Monster is also the closest thing to a road movie that you're likely to find in anime. Thanks to Dr. Tenma's travels, the viewer is treated to new locales (mostly in Germany), many of which are introduced almost as characters themselves.

Tenma and Nina at Heidelberg Castle
A troubling moment at Heidelberg Castle.

For example, when Monster introduces us to "The Girl from Heidelberg," we don't only get to meet the lovely Nina Fortner, we also visit the Heidelberg Schloss.

Heidelberg Castle
A quiet moment at Heidelberg Castle.

Various landmarks and landscapes are depicted accurately and prominently without detracting from the story. Other shows depict well-known settings similarly, but such settings are usually in Japan. (How many times have we seen Tokyo Tower or Big Site, for example.) The mere fact alone that Monster takes us into Europe makes the show worth a look, although I suspect most viewers will be too quickly hooked by the captivating story to go sightseeing.

Dated 29 August 2008: This Monster review has...you get the idea

Nina
Nina Fortner having a good day.

There is another reason to watch Monster that I haven't mentioned: Nina Fortner may be Noto Mamiko's best role. It allows her to play against her typecast with a good character in an excellent series. (Monster isn't Witchblade. Okay?) Nina is pretty easy to like because she's the damsel in distress who can take care of herself but is still limited by what she can accomplish herself. I.e., Nina is vulnerable, but far from helpless.

Nina
Nina Fortner having a bad day.

As an aside, I think Noto Mamiko should do more Nina Fortner-type roles. There's no question she is typecast by her outstanding Shimako and Yakumo-type performances as gentle and well-mannered, unapproachably beautiful girls. Her enthusiastic Narue in Narue no Sekai is unusually chipper, but usually any other departure from her usual mold leaves Mamiko either playing left field for a sinking ship (e.g. Witchblade) or as unassertive male characters (e.g. Girls Bravo) that could really would have been just as good if not better had they been female (e.g. Full Metal Panic!).

Nina wrestles a patsy to the ground
When Nina Fortner has a bad day, you have a bad day.

I'm not going to go so far as to say that nobody besides Noto Mamiko could have played Nina Fortner as well, but I do believe the softness of her voice contributes a great deal to the role and helps balance the dichotomy of the character that makes Nina so engaging. It's MAMIKORE.

Dated 6 January 2010: A Monster dilemma

Eva
Eva is displeased.

After years of waiting, the first batch of Monster DVDs is now available. No-brainer, right? Unfortunately, it's not so simple. Reportedly, there have been some changes to the musical score in the form of rearranged background music, the addition of music to previously silent scenes, and the elimination of vocals from the ED. Now, it would be easy to simply blame Viz for these changes. After all, I'm still waiting for them to release more Full Moon wo Sagashite. After more than two years, however, I have to assume Viz has abandoned the title entirely in the face of a collapsed anime market.

Dieter
I normally hate kid characters, but Dieter is all right.

I am inclined to pass up DVD releases where someone has monkeyed around with the original material, but from the looks of it, this may not be Viz's fault, or even something they had any control over. If, as the above discussion on the mania.com née animeondvd.com forums suggest, there really are two sets of masters in play—the masters used for the Japanese R2 release, and an interlaced set of masters with changes to the audio used for European and North American DVDs, then it is possible Viz was stuck in a take-it-or-leave it situation and should be commended for offering this exceptional series in a 13-episode batch (of 74 episodes total) during a soft market.

Dr. Tenma
Dr. Tenma is displeased.

I'm probably going to buy this anyway, despite my hostility towards the changes to the original material. This is Monster, after all. Considering I bought ADV's release of Azumanga Daioh (with the inexplicable use of MISS SAKAKI) and Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu (with the inexcusable dot crawl), I almost have to buy this out of general principle. Still, I have to wonder how much of an effort Viz made at securing the original masters used for the Japanese DVD releases. I hope they're not just half-assing it here, because owning all of Monster even at 45% off MSRP is going to run about $200 providing Viz doesn't abandon the series halfway through, like they did with the best series of all time.

Nina
Nina is Noto Mamiko's best role.

Is it all right to call this a Prisoner's Dilemma? Start buying it from the get-go and take the risk the releases will stall, or wait until the entire series is available and thereby increase the chances Viz won't complete it because nobody has been buying the discs. From a casual look around, it appears as if anime sales really are in the toilet. This surprises nobody, I'm sure. I really am still waiting for Blu-ray releases. Really! I will buy the shit out of Blu-ray releases even if the video is merely upscaled from SD masters. At a minimum, it means escaping the horror of that bitmap subtitle format DVDs have inflicted on us for more than a decade now.

Dated 29 April 2016: This Monster manga has grown so big

Monster and Full Moon wo Sagashite
Monster Perfect Edition volumes compared to standard Full Moon wo Sagashite volume.

Monster is one of my favorite anime, but its DVD release was doomed to fail. If I remember right, the R1 release was a Viz license. Viz at the time already had a reputation for abandoning shows partway (e.g., Full Moon wo Sagashite) and even optimists didn't like the odds of a full Monster release. With replacement music for the ED and rumors of interlaced video, fans of the series were trapped by a Catch-22: They had to buy enough of the early discs to ensure a successful full 74-episode release, but the likelihood of that happening was so low that these fans would almost certainly suffer the same fate as FMoS fans. As you may have guessed, the DVD release as a whole did not go especially well.

Cardcaptor Sakura and Monster
Not quite as big as the Cardcaptor Sakura omnibus volumes.

Thankfully, the manga release appears to be in much better shape. Although also a Viz release, all 18 volumes did get releases. The last of these volumes came out in 2008, and I'm pretty sure they're out of print now, but Viz currently publishes the Monster manga in large double-length compendiums with the final (ninth) volume due out in July 2016. I haven't actually started reading these yet, thanks to my ever-prodigious backlog, but picking these up is a no-brainer, even if the manga lacks the anime's MAMIKORE voice acting.