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Monster Volume 1

by Andrew Lee

Staff Writer

Naoki Urasawa is one of the giants of modern manga and is perhaps best known outside Japan for his epic series “Nijuseiki Shonen (20th Century Boys)” and “Pluto,” his reinterpretation of Osamu Tezuka’s “Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy).” In “Monster,” too, it could be argued there is a hint of Tezuka’s influence.

Monster Volume 1, by Naoki Urasawa.
VIZ, Manga.

It is 1986, and Dr. Kenzo Tenma is a promising young Japanese brain surgeon working in Dusseldorf, Germany. Everything seems to be going right for him: He’s engaged to the hospital director’s daughter and his skill with the scalpel has attracted several high-profile patients. But Tenma falls into an ethical dilemma when he realizes that those around him, including his ambitious fiancee, believe “some lives are worth more than others.” When an injured twin brother and sister are brought to the hospital after their parents have been horribly murdered, Tenma decides to ignore his superiors and operate on the boy, who has been shot in the head, rather than saving the town mayor from a fatal stroke. As a result, Tenma is suddenly no longer the hospital’s golden boy. His career is on the rocks, and his fiancee breaks up with him. Then, just as all looks lost, three of Tenma’s superiors are found dead — an ironic twist of fate that sees him promoted to head of surgery.

Nine years later, those events come back to haunt Tenma when he learns that the young twin boy he saved may be a monstrous killer — and was in fact responsible for saving Tenma’s career. But will Tenma have to become a monster to catch a monster?

With its heavy medical jargon and surgical imagery “Monster” is, at times, reminiscent of “Black Jack,” Tezuka’s classic tale of a rogue doctor. Urasawa’s artwork, however, is more detailed, similar in style to the work of Katsuhiro Otomo (“Akira”), which, in turn, makes “Monster” a thrilling blend of great storytelling and wonderful art.