Monster – 11-12

The games are over now in Monster.

In these two episodes, Dr. Tenma gets his first whiff of the infamous Kinderheim 511 (referred to as “511 Kinderheim” in the dub and probably in the original Japanese, as well; I just prefer the sound of the former). Everything Tenma has seen and known up to this point is child’s play — even Hartmann himself, horrible child abuser that he is, could be considered small beans next to the cruelty and depravity that threatens to swallow the world. Tenma has walked through the door, and he is past the point of no return. He can move only deeper into the abyss from here.

As much as I absolutely despise Hartmann, I must admit to finding how he relates to Dieter to be a bit interesting, along with completely terrifying. When Tenma first meets Hartmann and they start to chat, Hartmann reveals his belief that the moral development of children depends on the parents who raise them. That it is essential for parents to usher their children down the correct path. It is easy to dismiss this as a bunch of bullshit once Hartmann’s true nature is revealed; however, I think he truly believes in his words — it’s just that he believes in them to a different end than would be assumed by any normal parent/caregiver.

Kinderheim 511 was an experiment to create the perfect soldier. The orphans within were completely cut off from society and raised in an environment where aggression and hatred was the accepted norm. They were separated into factions and thrown against each other for the benefit of a scientific study. Hartmann dismisses the project as “a little experiment”, because after seeing Johan in action, anything less than that is a failure in his eyes. The entire point of Hartmann’s life is to find someone who can be Johan’s equal — he beats Dieter, scars him emotionally and raises him to hold a bleak view of the world in the hopes that his soul will be as empty as Johan’s, and he can lead the world into annihilation. Dieter’s choice between Tenma and Hartmann is the ultimate test: Will Dieter stick with the man who raised him, or will he go with a man who promises a better, brighter tomorrow?

It may seem patently absurd that Hartmann is not only shocked that Dieter leaves him, but is also emotionally distraught. Hell, I didn’t get it at all the first time I watched the series. But it comes back to the issue of parenting: What do parents do? They instill their values in their children. “The world is a bleak place” is not just some catchphrase Hartmann says to Dieter; he honestly and truly believes it. He has seen — and encouraged — the deepest darkness the world can offer. Hartmann is clearly a cruel man, but deep down in his twisted heart, he probably thinks he is doing Dieter a favor by “toughening him up” so that he can meet the bleakness of the world head on. The most probable rationalization in Hartmann’s mind for the abysmal way he raises Dieter is that, in his own awful way, he loves the kid and wants him to be a great person. Unfortunately, in Hartmann’s mind, a great person is Johan.

In that view, Hartmann having a complete breakdown makes much more sense. In a surreal way, it is like every parent’s worst nightmare: Total rejection from one’s child. Dieter isn’t simply running away from Hartmann; he is rejecting everything Hartmann holds dear, the very fabric of his life, beliefs and existence. Hartmann raises Dieter, provides for him, teaches him the ways of the world and, in the end, he is not wanted at all. It is a crushing blow that goes beyond the simple failure of an experiment. This is more that Hartmann’s entire life is a failure. Ironically, an event that would seemingly reinforce Hartmann’s belief that the world is cruel and bleak leaves him broken.

What really strikes me this time around is how Hartmann almost invites this to happen. He is incredibly arrogant to Dr. Tenma once the cover comes flying off. Even from the start, Hartmann drops hints about Kinderheim 511 — despite the high probability that Tenma will find out about Hartmann’s involvement in the experiment — and treats his meetings with Tenma like another step in the experiment. After Tenma leaves the first time, Hartmann beats the holy hell out of Dieter to show the poor little guy there is no room for kindness in the world. And he personally retrieves Dieter from the hospital after Tenma takes him there, so that Dieter knows there is no refuge from cruelty even in a place of healing. Hartmann tries his damnedest to push Dieter along and turn him into a child who can utterly destroy the kindness of someone like Tenma. Instead, he receives rejection; Hartmann seems so sure that Dieter will stay with him, because he knows nothing else, but he completely underestimates the power of the human spirit to seek a better life.

What really turns the tide against Hartmann is the fact that Tenma introduces the element of choice into the mix. With Hartmann, it is either fall in line or be crushed by the world; it is a choice, but hardly a choice at all. But Tenma gives Dieter the opportunity to stand up and take some control of his life. If Dieter wants to stay with Hartmann, he’ll stay because he wants to stay, and not because Hartmann forces him to do so through threat of physical abuse. If Dieter wants to start a new life, then he can do that. Just the simple fact that a choice actually exists for Dieter to take is, I believe, proof to him that the world can be a good place, and that Tenma is worth trusting.

It is the first time in his life that Dieter has felt real parental type of love and not the warped love that Hartmann thrusts upon him. Tenma cares about Dieter. He can’t help it. He sees a child in a terrible situation and wants to get him out of it. What Dieter receives from Tenma, and what he receives from Hartmann, is the difference between “care” and “love”. A person can be cared for without receiving love — Dieter gets food and shelter from Hartmann. Strip “care” down to its most basic definition, and isn’t that what Hartmann gives Dieter (aside from the horrible beatings)? But it is a care without what most people would accept as true love. Tenma, on the other hand, gives Dieter the opportunity to feel love. To Tenma, Dieter is someone who deserves to lead a life of fulfillment and love because he is human. All the beatings, bleakness and terror in the world could not turn Dieter into Johan; however, it took but one act of kindness to show Dieter the potential of love and freedom.

Some notes to close out the post:

— So much in these episodes that did not fit within the angle I wanted to follow, especially regarding Johan’s time in Kinderheim 511, and the orphanage itself. But there are many important things within that retelling, including:

  • Johan’s MO made clear: He tosses an oil-soaked cloth into the fire by keying in on what really makes people tick and manipulating the hell out of it. He also wants to be the last person alive at the end of the world. And, remember, this is Johan at 10 years old.
  • The woman at the orphanage says this of Johan and Anna, “All they had were each other; they were truly alone in the world.” This is the crux of Johan and Anna’s relationship. Remember this.
  • Hartmann says Kinderheim 511 could never have produced someone like Johan because, “He was beyond human from the very beginning; a veritable monster” who was born to lead from the top of the world. This describes a recurring theme throughout Monster — various groups trying to take advantage of Johan and completely failing.
  • You better believe this isn’t the last time the Kinderheim 511 experiments will pop up in Monster. Maybe a minor spoiler for those who have never seen the series before, but whatever: Just because everyone died at Kinderheim 511 that day does not mean everyone who ever stayed at the orphanage was there when the massacre happened.

— I like the symbolism of Kinderheim 511 as a worn down, ramshackle old building, bereft of all life.

— Dieter is definitely one of the best anime kids ever. He’s smart, strong, doesn’t bitch or moan and has a pure, loving heart. Dieter freaking rules.

— I held back as much as possible from taking cheap shots at Hartmann throughout the post, so allow me this brief reprieve: Even though he is by far not the most evil person in the series (which is a scary thought), I absolutely despise Hartmann. He is a completely scummy piece of shit, and if Hell exists, there’s a special wing for his kind.

— Also, that smug nurse at the hospital who talks about how nice Hartmann is really sucks. What a douche.

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