Monster Review - Architecting The Perfect Villain
When we watch a TV show or movie, often our eyes are fixed on the protagonist. We get fascinated by the heroism and exploits of the central character as he saves everyone from trouble.
However, there are certain times when the antagonist drives the story and the protagonist. His decisions, motives, and presence impact the story like a cab driver leading you to your destination. He may not interact much throughout the journey, but he directs you where you need to be.
Earlier this year, I stumbled upon an anime show I know nothing about. I may have heard it from other forums, but I never paid much attention to it. It's not like a famous Shonen manga like Naruto, Bleach, or One Piece that gets talked about online. It's not also in the caliber of the recently gained popularity of Demon Slayer, Chainsawman, and Spy X Family. I was completely blind when I first saw this monstrous anime.
This anime lets you question who the real Monster is, and it grips you from start to finish.
Monster has 74 episodes, but each one is like exploding firecrackers. Unlike your typical anime, this one is set in a more unusual place and time in Germany during and briefly after the Cold War. We are introduced to a brilliant and talented Japanese neurosurgeon Dr. Kenzo Tenma, the protagonist. He works as the top surgeon at Eisler Memorial Hospital in Dusseldorf. He lives a peaceful life with his fiancee Eva Heinemann, the hospital director's daughter. One Day, Dr. Tenma was haunted by a patient's relative, which made him dissatisfied with the hospital's political bias.
One rainy night, the twins, Anna and Johan Liebert, survived a massacre and were brought to the hospital. The boy suffers a direct gunshot wound to his head, while the other is traumatized. Coincidentally, the Mayor arrived later, also needing surgery. Dr. Tenma has to decide whether to save the boy's life or the Mayor's. Since he does not want to be influenced by Director Heinemann, he chooses to operate on the boy and leaves the fate of the Mayor to the other doctors. Johan survived, but the Mayor didn't. Dr. Tenma loses his social standing due to his decision, including his relationship with Eva. However, one night, Director Heinemann and other doctors were murdered, and the police suspect Dr. Tenma, but they don't have evidence to indict him.
Nine years later, Dr. Tenma became the Chief Surgeon at Eisler Memorial. The Cold War has ended, and East and West Germany are now united. He has a patient, Adolf Junkers, who mentions that a monster will kill him. One night, Junkers disappears. Dr. Tenma follows him to an abandoned construction building. Junkers is murdered in front of him. The killer is the boy that he saved before, Johan Liebert. He tells Dr. Tenma that he will not kill him because he saved his life. Since the death of Director Heinemann and Adolf Junkers is directly related to the Doctor, the chief inspector of BKA, Lunge, vows to prove that he is the suspect.
Dr. Tenma tries to find Johan's twin sister Anna, who is now being taken care of by a different foster parent and is now named Nina Fortner. He vows to protect her, destroy the Monster, and fix his mistake by saving the boy's life.
Before trying to dissect the villain, Johan, here are the central characters involved in this anime:
Dr. Kenzo Tenma - A brilliant Japanese neurosurgeon and the main protagonist who initially worked at Eisler Memorial Hospital. He is very dedicated, straightforward, and kind. His kindness was tested when he learned that the boy he once saved turned out to be a mass murderer who stops at nothing to kill everyone he has met. Throughout the story, his personality constantly changes as he tries to follow Johan's footsteps and catch up to him.
Johan Liebert - The story's main villain. Just like Dr. Kenzo Tenma's series-wide search for him and his true identity, we also have no idea about his motives. His character is carefully interwoven into the whole plot that even though he doesn't appear in most episodes, we know he's there manipulating other characters. In the middle of the story, we learn that he came from an experimental orphanage called 511 Kinderheim, where they train children to become emotionless soldiers. Despite his monstrous personality, he deeply cares for her sister and will do anything for them to reunite again. A Neo-Nazi group sees Johan as the next Adolf Hitler that will lead Germany to its glory days before World War 2.
Anna Liebert/Nina Fortner - Johan's twin sister. She starts as a naive teenage girl who suddenly gets intertwined with Johan and Tenma; Her personality changes once she learns the truth about their experiences when they were children. Like Tenma, she also goes on a journey and vows revenge on her brother because he blames him for the death of their foster parents. Her characteristics and history are also carefully interwoven with the story.
Eva Heinemann - Dr. Tenma's former fiancee and the daughter of the Eisler Memorial Hospital's director. After her father dies, she tries to reconcile with Dr. Tenma but rejects her. She becomes an alcoholic, and throughout the series, her personality is cruel, taunting, and manipulative. She is also one of the reasons why the police hunt Tenma because she gave a false statement to them. As the story progresses, she becomes more intertwined with Tenma's search for Johan and redeeming herself from her addiction.
Inspector Lunge - one of the top detectives tasked to solve the murders. He is very devoted to his work to the point that he forgets about his family. He is cunning and follows a logical approach to subdue his enemies. He has a mannerism of typing with his left hand whenever significant evidence presents itself. He suspects Dr. Tenma is the prime suspect and believes that the name "Johan" is just a fragment that he created to escape his crimes.
Dieter - an orphaned boy whom Dr. Tenma saved in his initial journey. Despite knowing the Doctor's true intentions of hunting and killing Johan, he acts as his guardian to maintain his kind personality. He believes that Tenma should not become a killer and instead focus on saving lives as a doctor.
Like all stories, there will always be a protagonist. To match or counteract his actions, an antagonist is needed to complete the plot.
Monster well establishes its plot surrounding the characteristics and history of the main villain, Johan Liebert. As the story goes on and reveals information about him, we learn more about his intentions.
To understand more of Johan Liebert, we need to look at different kinds of villains in films, TV Shows, or stories. We need to look beyond his intentions, motives, and personality as he torments almost every character in this anime.
The Anti-Villain - being an anti-villain doesn't necessarily mean that the character is a hero. You can say that he helps the hero or hates another villain. A good example here is Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. His character guides Clarice Starling, the protagonist, to solve the case of Buffalo Bill, the main antagonist.
The Mirror Villain - this type of character directly reflects the protagonists regarding motives, personality, actions, etc. An example is Thanos from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like the heroes, Thanos only wants to save the universe. The difference is that his methods are more brutal, like using the Infinity Gauntlet to select half the population naturally.
The Looming Villain - the type of character you don't see much in the story but know his presence threatens the protagonist. He may be a criminal mastermind that orders his henchmen to kill the hero or a phenomenon that can't be seen but is deadly. One perfect example is The Eye of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The entity is static and stands in the middle of Mordor, but his presence makes Frodo and the others wary.
The thing about Johan Liebert is that he has the qualities of all these villains. He guides Dr. Tenma on his carefully woven plan. He mirrors him because, like the Doctor, he wants redemption. Throughout the series, he is almost non-present physically, but his actions torment the characters.
What makes Johan intimidating is that he seems to be one or two steps ahead of our characters. He leaves little to no trace whenever he visits different places. He kills everyone who remembers him. Even Inspector Lunge has difficulty believing that a person without a trace could exist. That's why he opts to make the logical choice. His actions defy reasoning.
Monster's story is structured like a carefully laid plan executed to perfection. You may want to be spoiled, but you hesitate because the in-betweens are just as important as the ends.
When the story ends, you can't help but ask yourself who is the real Monster.
Intimidating villains in anime like Uchiha Madara, Yhwach, Gilgamesh, Dio Brando, or Admiral Akainu are typical in Shonen mangas or anime. They are villains that initiate absolute justice or strength to overpower the protagonist. They have otherworldly abilities capable of destruction.
Johan is never about power or strength but carefully plans everything like a storybook writer. He pictures himself not as the next Adolf Hitler but as something that is non-existential. His presence alone intimidates the characters as well as the audience.
If there is a candidate for a perfect villain, Johan Liebert is one of them.
Monster anime deserves a perfect 5 out of 5 stars.