Monster 4 by Naoki Urasawa: B+

From the back cover:
Johan is a cold and calculating killer with a mysterious past, and brilliant Dr. Kenzo Tenma is the only one who can stop him! Conspiracy and serial murder open the door to a compelling, intricately woven plot in this masterpiece manga thriller.

As Tenma uncovers more about the infamous 511 Kinderheim orphanage, Johan’s twin sister Anna sets out on her own to stop her brother. Their separate searches lead them both to a powerful neo-Nazi organization conspiring to establish Johan as their new superleader! Can Tenma and Anna stop Johan from becoming another Hitler?

In the last volume, Tenma received a clue from one of the officials involved with the orphanage. He was told to seek out General Wolf. So, what is he doing as volume four opens? Is he seeking out General Wolf?

He is not. Instead, he has gone back to investigating the murder of Nina’s parents and looking for one of the suspicious police detectives who were on the scene that night. The leads he follows eventually (and completely accidentally) lead him to a meeting with General Wolf, so at least that thread isn’t utterly abandoned, but his lack of immedate follow-up left me quite confused.

Most of this volume has to do with some men involved with the orphanage who want to lure Johan back to lead their neo-nazi group. They plan to do this by setting fire to the Turkish part of town. Johan’s sister Anna returns, also on the hunt for her murderous sibling, and agrees to serve as bait for her brother. But, of course, Johan doesn’t care for petty issues like racism, so he kills all the neo-nazi dudes instead. Tenma and Anna separately work to stop the fires, and eventually encounter each other in a climactic scene in a factory.

The fire plot is largely unrelated to the actual story of the manga, but it did provide some suspense, and it was good to see the characters acting so nobly. I really like Deiter, Tenma’s boy sidekick, who is brave and honest. Anna, too, has become a strong character; my favorite chapter of the volume reveals how she (like Tenma) spent months learning how to shoot in preparation for a confrontation with Johan.

Artwise, I didn’t notice any of the Tenma-headshot-on-white-background panels this time, which I appreciate. The visual pacing of the action scenes is terrific, as usual, but so are some of the quieter scenes, like those Anna shares with the former hitman in whose restaurant she was once employed. I absolutely love the panel where he’s standing forlornly on the station platform as her train pulls away.

I’m not sure how I feel about the new information about Johan that is revealed in this volume. I can easily picture it leading to lameness or to awesomeness, so I’ll have to wait and see before I form an opinion on it.

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  1. Urusawa must be in love with Steven King’s novel ‘IT’. I haven’t read it yet, but 21st Century Boys is about a group of friends who have to deal with some catastrophy from their childhood; Stephen King’s IT deals with a group of friends who come back togather to fight a monster that terrorized their childhood. In Monster volume 4 there’s a scene where Nina hears a voice screaming for help from the drain of a sink. This scene plays out almost exactly as it did in Stephen King’s novel, only instead of a monster disguising it’s voice, in Monster it’s a real person. I dunno I just found it kind of interesting.

    I just ordered volume 18 from Amazon. After the near perfection of volume 17, I can’t wait to see how this whole thing wraps up.

  2. Yeah, I thought that scene with the sink was cool, but would’ve never put it together with IT. Interesting theory! 🙂

    I hope Viz licenses 21st Century Boys. It would seem to be a given, since Monster has been popular and the two upcoming Urasawa series are pretty highly-anticipated. I suppose they’ll wait ’til 20th Century Boys is done first.

  3. mark thorpe says

    Crap, you’re right, I meant to say 20th century boys, not twenty first. And it’s ‘together’ not ‘togather’. You’d think that I would learn to proof read my drivel before I click on ‘submit comment’. Don’t count on it.

  4. Hee, no problem. And I genuinely don’t know the plot of 21st Century Boys, so I wasn’t trying to point out an error or anything.

    At this point, even though Monster is kind of confusing at times, I’m pretty much set to read anything the guy writes, no matter what it’s about.


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