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Naoki Urasawa's Monster Volume 18

Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2009
By: Penny Kenny

Naoki Urasawa
Naoki Urasawa
Viz Media
Something terrible is happening in the German village of Ruhenheim. Driven by fear and paranoia, its inhabitants are killing one another--turning the once peaceful paradise into hell on earth. The monster responsible for the carnage is Johan, and now Dr. Kenzo Tenma, whose life was ruined by the young sociopath, has arrived to end the horror.

After eighteen volumes, creator Naoki Urasawa brings his story to an end, finally putting Johan and Tenma in a face-to-face confrontation that canít be avoided. Itís what readers have been waiting for, yet I donít think it plays out the way most of us expected it to. Though, to be honest, I had no idea what to expect as Urasawa has been throwing in completely unexpected twists for several volumes now.

What has been consistent, and continues to be so in this volume, is Urawawaís focus on the well-developed secondary characters. Inspector Lunge, the man whoís chased Tenma across Europe while believing Johan to be a myth. Grimmer, the affable charmer who hides a violent side and wants nothing more than to experience an honest human emotion. And Nina, Johanís twin, the person responsible (in a way) for all Johanís actions. Itís their stories Urasawa has seemed most interested in telling, and itís theirs he brings to a conclusion.

Those who are expecting a definitive answer in black and white to every question this series has raised might be disappointed with the finale. It could be viewed as ambiguous at best, a cop-out at worst; despite that, however, itís a satisfying ending. It fits the characters and affirms something Iíve thought about this series for some time. Monster isnít an exploration of evil; itís a study of what the best personal response to evil is.

In some ways, Urasawaís art reminds me of Will Eisnerís. His panels can be tight and intimate, focusing on expression and mood--then, with a turn of the page, they open up into a broader symbolic vista that summarizes the storyís theme without a word being added. In particular, Iím thinking of the street scene in which Tenma confronts Johan.

The focus is tight on Tenmaís tormented face. The next panel is of Johan, calm, almost bored. Then back tight on Tenma. This back and forth goes on for a series of panels. Then the page is turned. The camera pulls back on the two page spread to show both men: Rain pouring down on them, Tenma kneeling in the mud, Johan daring the doctor to pull the trigger. Itís a beautiful bit of cinematography.

The characters are very ordinary looking, individualized without being overly detailed--allowing readers to slip into their skins. Tenma might be Urasawaís tribute to Osamu Tezukaís Black Jack, but there are no stylized, cartoony, deformed characters here.

The heavy use of grey tone not only allows Urasawa to focus on the details without over-emphasizing them, it also echoes the confused emotions of the characters. Naoki Urasawa's Monster is an example of an artist in full control of his craft. Itís a fascinating series and its concluding volume was definitely worth the wait.



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