I have mentioned it here and there but I don’t blame you if you don’t know that I am a pretty big fan of Urasawa. I just really love this man’s writing style. Or at least I love his translators’ writing style. Did you know that he has a YouTube channel? Crazy Right!
Urasawa has had his share of Manga success during his career. His current ongoing work, Asadora which is his personal take on the Kaiju classic is generally well received, and personally, I am enjoying it a lot so far.
However, when you talk about Urasawa, there are a few specific titles that come to mind, and the foremost might very well be Monster. It is a seminal work that has solidified the credibility of manga as a medium for serious, intricate, and complex storytelling with particular mechanics that can convey tension and emotion like no other. It is difficult to overstate the reputation of Monster. And partly because of that, I was always reluctant to read it. After all, it had already become the stuff of legends. How can anyone work live up to that?
I think it’s important to understand a few things before going into Monster or even into this post. Monster was not meant to be a masterpiece. Let me try to make this a bit clearer. While I was reading Monster, I never got the sense that Urasawa was trying to create a career-defining work or a manga that would influence generations to come. I had the feeling that he had a story to tell. Then I forgot about that and just spent the entire time unconsciously holding my breath as the tense cat-and-mouse game was unfolding. Gone were any thoughts of industry standards and social implications. Monster is first and foremost a story. And I mean that as the greatest compliment I can come up with.
It can’t be overstated that Monster deals with a lot of unsavory and occasionally downright difficult-to-read subject matter. One of the central elements is the aftermath of Nazi experimentation on children after all. That’s not always the cheeriest stuff to deal with. Sometimes but not always… For those that are new here, that was a joke.
It’s also an extremely tense story. I was not exaggerating when I said that I unconsciously held my breath as I was reading it. I had to regularly take breaks and read other manga between chapters just to let some of the pressure out. Monster is really a masterclass in building and sustaining tension to the point that I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it if I just read it clear through. But I think I would have…
For those unfamiliar with Urasawa’s works, he weaves these huge, larger-than-life conspiracies and intricate political plots, then presents them in small and very personal ways through the eyes of deeply human and flawed characters. That’s his schtick. And it just happens to be one that I love. Not that I could actually do that but I can appreciate it and that’s a skill too! Just humour me, ok?
The characters in Monster are certainly extraordinary in many ways but they remain people you could easily meet in everyday life. Ok maybe not Johan – or at least hopefully not… But for the most part, this huge and heavy plot, superbly constructed with a myriad of details and interweaving stories remains grounded in individual tales and completely character driven. And honestly, I’ve come to realize that this isn’t all that common. A lot of big epics and stories with so many moving parts and intrigue tend to become more plot-driven by necessity. In this regard, Monster just hits a little different.
At the end of the day, Monster isn’t a classic by accident. It’s earned the influence it wields and the respect it inspires.
I would be curious to know if any of you have read it and if so, what did you think? I haven’t watched the anime.