Who’s the Real Monster?

There’s been some radio silence here at WeTellATale, partly because the only writing I’ve done in a while has been in the interest of self-promotion (aka shameless bragging). Anyway, here’s the recommendation for the day.

Many of my friends are die-hard manga+anime geeks. They tend to disappear into dark rooms with a laptop and a large packet of cookies, and emerge 36 hours later with dark circles and a manic look, having just read/watched a couple of series non-stop. Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

The first manga I tried was Death Note, because that’s where newbies usually start. After getting adjusted to the right to left reading style, I really enjoyed the story progression. It is no less detailed than a text-only novel would be, and can convey ambiguity a lot better; more of the plot is left to your imagination.

Death Note is about an overachieving schoolkid, Light Yagami, who finds a notebook that is capable of killing anyone whose name is written in it. He sets out on a mission to eliminate all ‘evil people’, with the company of a shinigami- death god- who was the previous owner of the book. Not surprisingly, he goes power crazy, and his murders attract the attention of an eccentric detective, L. A cat and mouse game ensues. L is a genius, but Light is no ordinary high schooler, and evades capture by assigning a new dummy killer. There is an incredible plot twist about halfway through, and it looks like Light has won, until two new detectives, M and N (so creative!) join the team. Unfortunately, at around the 70th chapter (out of around a 100), I began to lose interest in the story. Much like the soaps we see on TV, the writers seemed to have resorted to arbitrary plot twists to increase the page count.

Despite the fact that I skimmed through the last part of the book, I would still recommend this manga. 3.5/5. A good manga, and an even better anime, I’ve heard.

Recently, I discovered the MangaRock app. It’s awesome. It has some features of an eBook app- screen dimming, page search and so on. Its homepage has updates on new chapters of popular manga, and allows you to pick a list of websites from where it aggregates the chapters. You can also download whole chapters to read offline. I recommend this, because downloading pictures on mobile 2G is slow and expensive.

So the first manga I downloaded was Monster. The protagonist is Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese surgeon working in Germany. He’s a very promising doctor, and is engaged to the hospital director’s daughter. What more could he ask for? He’s unhappy though. The hospital shows a preference for rich and powerful patients, but he believes that all lives are equal. One day, twin children come to the emergency room. The boy has a bullet in his head, and the girl is in a state of shock. Turns out that she witnessed the murder of her parents and has been traumatized. Tenma is asked to operate on the town’s mayor, but chooses to treat the boy, since he arrived earlier. The mayor dies, they boy is saved, and Tenma is in trouble.

Here’s where the story begins. Tenma’s fiancee dumps him, and his future at the hospital is looking bleak. Then (luckily?), the director and another senior doctor are murdered, and in time, Tenma becomes Chief of surgery. Another murder takes place in the hospital. Suspicion falls on him, but he discovers that the boy, Johan, is behind these killings and many others across Germany. Meanwhile, his sister Nina has repressed her memory of the incident and now goes by the name Anna Liebert.

Our hero is wracked with guilt because he saved a child who turned into a ‘monster’ and sets out to find him. Anna, who has gradually regained her memories, joins him in his hunt. It is revealed that the twins had a horrific past, and this has contributed to Johan’s insanity.

The themes of this book are child abuse and negative social conditioning. Johan spent some years of his childhood in Kinderheim 511, an orphanage where a ‘social experiment’ was being carried out- the children were being trained to be murderers. In the course of his search, Tenma encounters the original planners of the experiment (who are still in business!), plus a new neo-Nazis, prostitutes, and other victims of child abuse.

This book has an ambiguous ending, and unlike Death Note, kept me hooked till the end. Like any story of this length (165 chapters!!!) it had many parallel plots that were added halfway through. While they didn’t really contribute to the story, the child abuse theme kept them tied together to some extent.

A very very good, well researched story. Read it for some good entertainment. 4/5

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