DVD Review: Urasawa Naoki's MONSTER, Episodes 16-30
Last weekend, the whole world seemed to be watching marathon sessions of House of Cards when its second season arrived on Netflix. Not me though: I had some thriller binge-viewing to do of my own, courtesy of a package I had just received in the mail. In it: the second DVD-set, out of a planned five, for the anime series Monster. It will be in shops from today onward, and despite of the series being almost ten years old, this marks the first time these episodes have been released on DVD, WITH English dub and subs, anywhere in the world.
My review of the first discset last month was pretty damn positive, and I was very eager to find out what happened next. So does this second release deliver? You betcha!
Doctor Tenma is still on the run, mistakenly sought by the police for a string of murders committed by the mysterious sociopath Johan. As a child, Johan was shot and Doctor Tenma was the surgeon who saved his life. Since then, Tenma seems to be just about the only person in the world Johan is not willing to kill. Johan even leaves messages and clues, so Tenma can give chase.
Tenma indeed tries to find and stop Johan, but quickly discovers he is not the only one. Several organisations are after Johan as well, some wanting the charismatic murderer to become their new leader, others fighting his growing influence tooth and nail. And both Tenma and Johan's sister Anna are cogs in all these factions' plans...
It's always a good sign when a series starts to give me goosebumps when I hear its opening music, and with Monster this is definitely the case. If there is one thing I will remember from this series, it is the vague feeling of unease which pervades it, the creepy tingle that not everything is right, and watching the opening credits immediately takes me back to that place.
Frankly, I almost had goosebumps when I held the discs, knowing how angry people were in 2009 when the US DVD release got cancelled. And now, five years later, I'm finally owning it, albeit released on the other side of the globe. More about that later.
In its first 15 episodes, Monster had one hell of a start and a cliffhanger for an ending. It is therefore no surprise that this set starts strongly, resolving that particular storyline and setting new directions for everyone.
But what IS a surprise is that the series only gets stronger after that. As the plot thickens, so its scope widens. Supporting characters get space to breathe, subplots turn out to have threads intermingling, familiar faces pop up in different places.
I do want to avoid going into details, to avoid spoiling either this release or the previous one. Rest assured the blunt-axe approach to moral issues is still here, but with more things happening it's now less of a flaw. The strong focus on story and characters starts reaping its own awards as the series continues, and the artwork is still pleasing to the eye.
The biggest asset of Monster remains its atmosphere and mood, and its compelling suspense. What is Johan's plan? What is Tenma's plan? Is this good versus evil, or are we being royally screwed with? Needless to say, episode 31-45 cannot arrive soon enough for me.
On To The Discs:
A very popular anime based on a very popular manga, Monster was actually shown on English-language television channels from 2005 onward, and a full English dub for it exists. For that reason, the absence of a proper English-friendly DVD release has been very annoying, especially since you can easily buy the entire series as a boxset in French or Spanish. Viz released the first 15 episodes in the US as a boxset, but sales were so disappointing that the releases of the other 59 episodes were cancelled.
Coming to the rescue here is Siren Visual, the same company which was the first to successfully release When They Cry in its entirety. A good thing it is too, as Monster isn't just some endlessly meandering series, to occasionally sample a few episodes from, but one contained story told in its entirety through a 74-episode run. I'll keep my fingers crossed Siren Visual manages to make this one reach the finish line as well!
Content-wise, we get the same things as in the first 15 episodes, meaning a barebones release with good sound options. The image is still somewhat flawed, with certain areas of the screen being softer than others. I have contacted Siren Visual, and it is indeed a known issue with the transfer, which was meant for old SD CRT screens where the flaws wouldn't even be noticeable. Siren Visual decided not to tinker with the transfer and release it as-is, even keeping it NTSC instead of converting to PAL, to avoid further harm to the image quality. Thankfully the look is not a showstopper. Colors and contrast are fine, and I stopped noticing the softness soon enough.
All in all this is an excellent series, and it's good to see it finally getting a decent release. I can hardly wait for the next installment!