Monster – 9-10
I previously defended episodes of Monster by making the case that certain episodes have a job to do and know their place in the hierarchy. After all, 74 episodes is a good-sized show, and Monster certainly is a long journey. Some episodes just have to build a bit of character or establish a theme so that the later episodes will be that much better.
With that said, however, this pair of episodes is not exactly high on my favorites list. I enjoy watching them, but they’re maybe a bit too simple compared to later stories, and watching Dr. Tenma start on his journey is not quite as interesting as when he gets a full head of steam and is neck deep in the conspiracy surrounding Johan. But I will say that despite this, there are some interesting things pushed forward in these episodes.
There are two main ideas in ep9: One is the opposite nature of killing and loving. Killing is the destruction of life — no more, no less. The seasoned soldier who trains Dr. Tenma in the art of handling a gun makes no bones about this. “That is the sort of thing that happens when you have a gun,” the soldier says after telling Tenma the story of how he killed the little girl’s mother. “If you can’t handle that, then I suggest you don’t carry one.” Wise words. A gun can be used to protect (as it helped protect the soldier’s life), but at heart, it is a tool of destruction. More than that, however, the gun is nothing more than an extension of the person’s willingness to destroy.
Tenma must ask himself: Is killing Johan worth knowing what it truly is to destroy a life? Will he be able to live with that for the rest of his life? The soldier says Tenma is technically proficient. He has perfect aim and the eyes of a killer. But does he have the soul of a killer? When he has the chance, will Tenma pull the trigger? This is Tenma’s most basic struggle throughout the series. Learning the instincts of a killer does not come easy to him. When Tenma first shoots a gun, his hands are unbelievably shaky. He learns how to keep steady and fire but only due to nonstop practice.
But when it comes to being kind, showing love and lending a hand to people, Tenma does not need practice. This is his true instinct. When Tenma locks eyes with the bird that lands on the ground, gets food for its young and flies away, he cannot look away. One being naturally providing for other beings that cannot help themselves is an act that speaks to him on a level Tenma cannot ignore. He has to force himself to use a tool of destruction; when it comes to appreciating an act of life, however, that is easy.
The little girl’s story is one of the most direct approaches to the difference between loving and destroying in Monster. This girl sees the life of her mother destroyed in an instant, and she is taken in by the man who did the killing. The soldier believes this girl hates him because of that; however, I don’t think it is hatred the girl feels so much as an intense emotional numbing. She does not act out, she does not curse the soldier, or even try to hurt him in any way. She simply coasts through life on autopilot. It is as if every feeling she had shut down the moment her mother died. That act of destruction destroyed more than a life — it destroyed the humanity the girl felt within herself.
Or most of it, anyway. The fact that the girl can feel such curiosity about birds and whatnot, and actually think to help out Dr. Tenma when he takes a spill while running, is evidence that she still feels some sliver of love in her heart. She is still young enough to be growing and developing. Someone like Dr. Tenma can still influence her — show her that despite the horrible things that have happened to her, her heart can be healed and she can live a life filled with love, even if it is a love originally born of destruction. Her whole life, the young girl knew only a world where people killed each other. I gather she was born during a long war and lived most of her life with the man who killed her mother. But Dr. Tenma shows her that people exist who do not kill — people who are simply kind and good.
When the young girl smiles for the first time since her mother’s death, it enacts a change within the soldier as well. It can be safely assumed that he has not killed since he took in the young girl, although he still teaches people how to kill, which is why the girl can react the only way she knows how: By shutting down her emotions. The soldier does not really know what to do with the girl either. By assuming she hates him, he avows himself of any responsibility for her other than feeding her and putting a roof over her head. But, again, Tenma shows that love can exist where people believe it cannot be found. The moment where the girl holds out her hand for the soldier to take is a genuinely heartwarming moment, because that simple action — one that moves him to tears — is an act of love that means more to him than destruction possibly could.
While re-reading the Monster manga and thinking about this episode, I wondered about a common theme that runs throughout the series: Parents being cut off from children. Think about it: Johan and Nina are shipped from foster home to foster home their entire lives. Dr. Tenma is estranged from his parents. Eva’s father is killed. This little girl’s mother is killed in front of her eyes. And there are a whole host of other examples I cannot bring up yet because they would spoil a good portion of the series, haha. Tenma and the little girl finding a chick and returning it to its nest is a clear metaphor for that sudden loss of parental influence.
Tenma says the bird cannot survive for long outside of the nest, and that they should return the chick as quickly as possible. The chick needs to return to an environment where it can be loved and cared for, just as the girl needs to grow up in an environment where she can feel love so that she does not become a person who can truly feel nothing. This is a part of what people search for in Monster. Eva spends much of her time trying to find someone with whom she can truly connect and love. The little girl and the soldier find love in each other. Wouldn’t it be interesting if this at least partially motivated Tenma as well? He is definitely a truly kind person who honestly wants to help people . . . but he is also human. How could he live without wanting to feel the love of his fellow people? As a doctor, can he not give people the care he may have been denied as a youth? Just something to think about, since I don’t think Tenma’s family situation is ever cleared up that much through the course of the series.
But, yes, the breakdown of parent-child relationships — through violence of through other means — is presented as part of what could cause people to shut down and forget what it is to love. The first exposure to love any child gets is to his or her parents. What happens when that is suddenly taken away? Or if that love is not quite there? Who grows up to keep loving? Who grows up to hate? Who grows up to feel nothing? For various reasons, this is not the only contributing factor to people’s capacity to love — if it were, Nina would be as evil and screwed up as Johan. But it is something, and it is shown repeatedly.
Ep10 does not provide quite as much to chew on as the previous episode: It is mainly Tenma starting to stumble upon the beginnings of the first big arc and building part of his initial posse. Heckel is the first man who joins with Tenma. He’s not a particularly good man — he almost always looks out solely for himself, and he has no qualms at cutting and running rather than helping people if he believes he has to so that he can save his own skin. I kind of like Heckel, if only because he is kind of goofy, but I’m not really sure if most people like him, haha.
There are two stories in this episode; the way they are weaved strikes me as strange. The first half of the episode feels completely different than the second half, and not really in a good way. Probably hurts that I don’t believe the second half, which revolves around a terrorist who wishes for Dr. Tenma to save his life, is not really that interesting at all. Tenma helping the man understand not only what it is to kill, but also to lose one’s life, is the only really gripping part. The first half of the episode is cool because it shows how crazy Johan is without even showing him at all: He has this insane ability to research people’s pasts and use that to manipulate them as he sees fit. For all we know, the guy who killed the consulate in the beginning of the episode could have been a perfectly ordinary guy with some strange thoughts he never would have acted upon had Johan not shown up. But show up Johan does, and as a result he destroys others, and, eventually, himself.
The other interesting part of the first half is a real confirmation that Johan’s aim for now is to erase his past. Tenma says that a past cannot be erased no matter how much a person despises it; however, throughout much of the series, there is a preoccupation with proving that one has lived through other people. If a person dies, then who is to say that that person lived, unless there is something to mark his or her existence? Johan wants to erase the world, starting with himself and everyone involved with him. It is that emptiness within Johan that swallows him up and everyone else.
Quick notes before I finish off:
— Johan gives Tenma his first big clue, pictured above. For now, however, Tenma believes Johan is mocking him. He’s probably been taking in a bit too much serial killer fiction.
— For all the fangirls (and boys!), Tenma starts rocking the long-haired, scraggly look in this episode. It makes him look weird in the anime, I think, but he looks pretty badass in the manga.
— Poor Tenma is not really in great shape. Damn, is he ever gassed when he begins his training!