Monster – 1-2
This week I am starting something that should be fun for me, and hopefully fun for all of you: One of my favorite anime, Monster, was recently dubbed in English and began airing on SyFy’s Ani-Monday block. To celebrate, because I honestly never expected Monster to air on TV, I’ll post about the series once a week for its 37-week duration (or however long it ends up being). Let’s get cracking!
The series opens with a quote from The Book of Revelation: “And I saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads, the names of blasphemy. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?'”
It does not take a Bible scholar (which I am not, haha) to know the viewers are in for something sinister after that beauty is dropped upon them. This is not coming into play quite yet, however. The beast — young Johan Liebert — has not yet received his power, though interestingly enough, even as a powerless child he is worshiped in a way. In ep2, while Johan recovers from neurosurgery, gifts and well wishes pile up in his room, all from people who are charmed by the story of twins suddenly orphaned by the violent murder of their parents (Johan’s sister, Nina, is in a near catatonic state through the first two episodes). But it does not stop there.
Even the head of the hospital, Dr. Heinemann, worships Johan in a way. Or, he at least worships Johan’s ability to get Dr. Heinemann what he desires: More power, money and prestige. He gets much more than he bargains for, however, which is a common theme with Johan. Even as a kid who is nearly killed after literally being shot in the brain, Johan is someone nobody can take advantage of.
These two episodes are more about Dr. Tenma than Johan, though. In this prelude to the real story of the series, Tenma slowly opens his eyes to gaze upon the terror of the world and establish his own morality, which will keep him sane as he journeys deeper into the abyss. Compared to what Tenma faces later, hospital politics are small beans, but they are what inspire him to act more as he believes he should rather than acting how other people want him to act. Tenma has to put up with a lot of bullshit in these two episodes . . . a LOT of bullshit. He gets into medicine to save lives and to do research that will help save more lives. Instead, he has to play the game (even though he is terrible at it) so that he can eventually receive enough power to make his own decisions. Playing this game involves writing papers for Dr. Heinemann, operating on patients specified by Dr. Heinemann and even becoming engaged to Dr. Heinemann’s beautiful daughter, Eva.
Part of what makes Monster so interesting is that it is easy to get outraged at the hospital doctors being such assholes and to declare Dr. Tenma in the right without actually thinking about things, but the actual moral choices are not that cut and dry. True, the doctors are greedy bastards who would rather operate on an influential person, such as the opera singer who is brought to the hospital in the first episode, instead of a “normal” person, such as the Turkish construction worker who dies from injuries suffered in a workplace accident, but the hospital does put forth excellent medical research and employ doctors such as Tenma who are able to save an extraordinary number of lives. Their method of advancement is utterly callous; only the most cynical and cold hearted of people would probably deny that. But their results . . . is that enough to give a person pause for a moment?
It is enough to give Dr. Tenma pause until the difficult choice he must make sends him over the edge. That choice, by the way, is an interesting moral dilemma in and of itself. The viewer is prodded toward Tenma’s side due to the events of the episode, but it is a bit difficult to tell exactly whose fault the Mayor of Dusseldorf’s death is. Was the hospital in the wrong for trying to switch Tenma’s assignment at the last minute and not having another competent doctor on call? Or is it Tenma’s fault for abandoning his new post to operate on Johan? If it is Tenma’s fault . . . ah, that is interesting. In a rage after successfully operating on Johan, Tenma declares his belief that all lives are equal, no matter what. But did he not make a judgment on life when he chose to operate on Johan rather than the Mayor? Tenma sees in Johan the spirit of the man he abandoned the day before, and in the Mayor he sees the ruthlessness of a system that chooses power and prestige over saving the lives of the greatest possible number of people. However, is it really the Mayor’s fault he is an influential person whom Dr. Heinemann wants to keep alive?
Tenma dislikes the politics of the hospital, but by rebelling against those politics, Tenma becomes, in a way, like the doctors above him, choosing who he will save and who he will leave out in the cold. Now, I don’t think it is quite as callous a choice as that. I think Tenma honestly believes in the skills of his peers and hopes they can save the Mayor, while also logically deciding that his skill set is best employed for the trickier job. Nevertheless, it is still a calculated judgment of life, and one that will haunt Tenma for years down the road.
(I will say that I am on Tenma’s side here, because it strikes me as unprofessional to suddenly switch a surgeon’s assignment right when he is about to operate on someone and has put in a crapload of time prepping for the surgery. And of course Heinemann switches Tenma for terrible reasons.)
I do not want to be too hard on poor Tenma, though. What these two episodes show, and what is reinforced throughout the series, is that even though Tenma is a good man with strong morals, he is still human. He is flawed. He makes mistakes. Tenma tries to play the game by swallowing his pride and agreeing with the repugnant views of Dr. Heinemann, who sees no value in patients who can offer nothing in return for taking up precious space in his hospital. Tenma is shocked when Eva expresses her belief that human lives are inherently unequal, but he is shocked further still when she drops his engagement to him after he is demoted from his position as head of neurosurgery at the hospital. When the stress of everything catches up to him, Tenma briefly loses it and shouts self-righteously at Johan’s supposedly unconscious body, and utters his belief that a man like Dr. Heinemann would be better off dead. And in a scene that strikes me as being half-funny (because it is so strange to see Tenma like this) and half terribly sad, Dr. Tenma gets drunk and stumbles around Dusseldorf, shouting about how wrong the other doctors are and about their mistreatment of Johan and Nina.
This is the worst the viewers will see of Tenma for a long, long time, but it is not the only time Tenma will bare his flaws. It is just that, as time goes by, Tenma grows less rigidly idealistic and more able to put his beliefs into action. He becomes more confident in himself as a person and as a humanitarian. Right now he does not have that confidence; he has spent the past few years kow towing to the very worst kind of person. Tenma makes compromises all around, with little to show for it when he actually does one thing according to his beliefs. But what he finds when he defies the corrupt authority above him and goes with his heart, is that he actually enjoys this path he has chosen, even if it is much harder than the path he had previously followed.
Dr. Tenma had better get used to following the rough trail.
A couple of other quick points before I bring this post to a close . . .
— Eva: “Hardship doesn’t suit me.” I lol’d. Oh, Eva, if only you knew . . .
— Tenma: “I lost everything to perform the operation on you. That’s how far I went to bring you back, and I would do it again.” My kingdom for spoiler tags! Suffice to say these are amazingly important words.
— For all my jabbering about moral dilemmas, I have to say, even the second time around I’m glad when Dr. Heinemann bites it. That guy is a douche.