While I did have some problems with the new edition, Naoki Urasawa’s Monster still managed to hold up very well upon rereading and still was just as engaging as it was when I first read the series. The writing, the characterization, the storytelling, and the artwork were still up to par. With the latest Perfect Edition having just come out, let’s see how this continues to hold.
Monster: The Perfect Edition Vol. 2 (Viz Media)
Written and Drawn by: Naoki Urasawa
Translated by: Hiroki Shirota, Agnes Yoshida (Original) and Camellia Nieh (New Release)
Perfect Edition Vol. 2 covers the third and fourth volumes of the series, where we see Dr. Kenzo Tenma finally start actively searching around Germany in search of Jonah Liebert, a mass murderer whose crimes have accidentally been pinned on him. The first half follows Tenma as he investigates previous areas where Jonah has been during his life, hoping to find some clue to discovering his past and where he may be. In the second half, he and Nina Nortner/Anna Liebert, the twin sister of Jonah, crosses paths with an radical organization that has special plans for this vicious killer.
There are a lot of things to talk about and discuss with this series as a whole having read it several times. So if it seems like I’m glossing over some points or areas, it’s only because there’s so much and you should discover these parts yourself. Let’s start off story-wise. This collection (and also the next) will be about focusing on trying to figure out and understand who Jonah is, the influence he has, and what his past is or could be. This part really starts building up the mythology and backstory for this series, raising a lot of questions and avoiding any answers. Hell, even when you think you are reaching a conclusion or answer, the comic flips it on its head and raises more questions and changes the game. It’s a very dense and complicated plot, but it never gets too complex that you can’t understand what is happening.
This book also begins the part of the series where it starts developing its characters and seeing the impact they leave on others. What I mean by that is that at various points in the series, for a chapter or two, the comic will steer away from the main plot and focus on a side character we’ve met or a new character (who may only be around for this issue) who is influenced or changed by one of the cast. These are always rather slow or down points in the narrative in regards to story progression and they are often hit or miss on how effective they are. Sometimes they are rather enjoyable and really add more to characters, but other times they may just add nothing that we don’t already know and doesn’t really contribute to the themes.
For this particular edition, there are more good side/one-off stories than bad. Three of them in particular really stand out. “The Man Left Behind,” which focuses on Lunge and what he has been doing in the meantime since Tenma got away from him. “The Woman Left Behind,” which focuses on Eva Heinemann and is the same sort of thing as the Lunge story. Both of these tales show their worlds’ crumbling down in their own way and leaving them with almost nothing. However, my favorite and probably the best is “The Fifth Spoonful of Sugar,” which is about Nina/Anna after she fled from Tenma in the last edition. It fills in some good background for her and has a really powerful ending, helped along by a lot of the quietness of it in a lot of the story.
Of course, the story is only as good as the characters are and this is where the characters start to shine or at least start developing. Tenma remains a very likeable protagonist, driven by his urge to stop Jonah but never losing his optimism or backing down. Nina is sort of similar, just as driven as him, but never really crossing the line and willing to put herself in danger for other people. The world’s constantly beating down on her in different ways, but her determination and drive keeps her focused and moving forward. Strangely, the main villain of the story, Jonah, is nowhere to be found in this entire volume. He never appears once in the edition, however, his presence and impact are still easily felt. He still leaves an impression on the audience and still remains a mystery at this point, despite some minor details about his past coming to life.
The rest of the supporting cast is fine, even if they don’t have as big of an impact as the other three… to a certain degree. Lunge and Eva only appear in two chapters during the book and that’s only in their chapters dedicated to one another. Even so, their small appearance does help flesh out their lives, how close to the edge they are before tipping over, and how a part of them still has Tenma on their mind (in different ways of course). This edition introduced two new characters to the cast with a young boy named Dieter and a thief named Otto Heckel. Dieter plays more a morality pet to Tenma, sort of there to keep him from going off the wrong path. Otto is a plain thief and he can be rather annoying to a certain degree, being a rather pain and constant troublemaker for Tenma. On the flip side, he’s not around for long since he only makes one more appearance in the next volume before disappearing for a long time in the series.
Then there are the side villains for the story. There’s Hartmann in the first half of the book, a vicious child abuser and former child psychiatrist for Kinderheim 511, still trying to perform the same experiments on Dieter and he makes one hell of an impression, probably being of the creepier and disturbing villains of the series, even if you don’t physically see him do these things. There’s The Baby, the leader of a Neo Nazi group, who is probably the oddest villain of the series who’s hard to take seriously. He’s certainly a threat and proves himself to be, but his appearance and behavior can throw you off. There’s also General Wolf, who you might think is a villain at first, but ends up turning out to be a dark and scary example of what happens when Jonah focuses on you. He’s rather interesting and of all the characters introduced in this volume, he’s probably the best and most compelling despite appearing in only one chapter.
Monster‘s writing remains fairly strong here. The pacing is quite good, even if it does slow down a bit in the middle of the book (this is when we get several one-shot stories back to back). The dialogue is excellent and fairly engaging… to a certain degree (we’ll discuss the translation in a little bit). The transitions are great, the storytelling is excellent, and emotions displayed in the story and characters feel genuine. There’s never a moment where you don’t buy into what the characters are feeling or believing. The story doesn’t have many of the huge twists or surprises the previous volume had, but that shouldn’t matter considering the quality of the writing here. Top notch stuff.
The artwork is a treat as always. Naoki Urasawa’s artwork really just shines and brings his story to life. The layouts are expertly put together, especially when it wants to have a quiet or powerful moment (the ending chapter in particular). The characters are all unique and stand out from each other, while displaying a wonderful range of emotions and feelings. The small bits of action and intensity look great, really allowing you to feel the power in it. The best example of that is chapter 27 when Tenma meets The Baby for the first time. Combined with the level of detail put into the artwork¶mdash;especially the settings—and lovely coloring on some of the pages, this is a beautiful looking book that should be experienced by everyone.
Now we get to the bonus stuff with the volume. The new edition still gets you the French flaps, bigger size, and color pages like the previous volume. You also still have the odd addition of redrawn pages as well like before. I maintain the same opinion on it; these redrawn pages just don’t really fit that well into the book. You can tell the difference in skill and style between the new and old. It also messes up slightly in two of the redrawn pages as well. For the first page, Tenma aims a gun at someone and is holding it with one hand as he reaches for someone with the other. The redrawn page shows him holding the gun with both hands. However, the following panel, Tenma actually picking the person up with the free hand still remains. The second page is messy because it’s a colored page and you can tell the coloring is slightly off between the odd and new pages.
Lastly, there is the translation and that’s where the book is iffy for me. The translation for both versions have good and bad qualities to them (like the more accurate translation of the German writing in the comic panels), but the new translation just is far more troublesome. It still cuts out most of the light swearing from the previous edition for good or for ill (though weirdly it has someone say ‘s--t’ at some point as the only swear in the book). The dialogue can be far goofier, unintentionally funny, or overly melodramatic at parts, like when Nina tells the Neo-Nazi how her brother is really feeling or giving The Baby an accent that keeps appearing and disappearing. The worst example of this has to go to when Tenma pulls a gun on a few thugs trying to attack him. In the original version, he says he has enough bullets for them all. The new edition? He says “Whoa.” That’s it. And what’s even worse is that there is a panel or two that builds up to him saying something big and badass.
One final note about the translation before we end this is that it actually opens up an accidental plot hole. In the last chapter of the book, Rosso, a friend of Anna’s, reveals to her that he figured out who she really was after she quit working for him. He figured out she was Nina Fortner, the girl who went missing after the unsolved death of her adopted parents. However, he says that she is Anna Liebert and seems to imply that the deaths of the parents are of that Lieberts and not the Fortners. This opens a plot hole because he shows her an article with a picture of her as an adult and not a child, which shouldn’t exist since she was never an adult when she was with the Lieberts. This may seem a plot hole because, how the hell would Rosso know this, but it turns out, in the original translation, he says that she is Nina Fortner (she’s using a false name you see). So you see the problem here. Yes, this was a big nitpick, but my point stands. The translation here, as good as it can be in areas, has quite a few problems.
Monster: The Perfect Edition Vol. 2 is the fantastic follow-up to the first volume. The story grows more mysterious and intriguing with each passing chapter, the characters start growing and developing, and the writing and artwork only continue to shine bright. The only thing that holds it back is the messy translation job that was done here and the weird addition of the newly drawn pages. If you are fan of thrillers and dark mysteries, you must seek this story out. You won’t find a better one than this.