Originally published on The Fandom Post.
Out of all the anime lost to the depths of licensing hell, few are as well known as Monster. Based on Naoki Urasawa’s manga of the same name, Monster originally aired in Japan in 2004, but remained unlicensed until Viz Media picked it up in 2009. Viz produced a dub of all 74 episodes and aired the complete series on The Syfy Channel’s now-defunct Ani-Monday block until 2010. Even though the dub was completed, Viz discontinued its physical release due to low sales. There was only ever one 15 episode box set released in the US. After that, it bounced around from streaming service to streaming service, never getting a complete physical release. At various times it’s been available on Amazon, iTunes, Manga Entertainment’s Xbox 360 app, Viz’s YouTube channel, and even Funimation’s old TV channel. Finding any information on its current status is a challenge, but it doesn’t seem to be available on any streaming service now. Viz no longer holds the license, but there’s clearly some sort of issue with the rights since Rightstuf president Shawne Kleckner recently described it as being “stuck in a licensing quagmire.” That quagmire hasn’t stopped its popularity. Monster is widely regarded as a classic and has even had a proposed HBO series directed by Guillermo del Toro, although that’s since fallen into development hell. Australia has since gotten a DVD release that even comes with Viz’s dub, but there currently isn’t any legal way to watch it in the US
In terms of availability, Monster deserves far better than it’s gotten. It’s a top-tier thriller that constantly keeps you wondering how deep the rabbit hole goes. As Tenma continually pursues Johann Liebert to correct his perceived mistake, he encounters gangsters, sociopaths, and Cold War conspiracies going back to before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Even though it’s almost entirely set in Germany and Prague, the depth of Monster’s conspiracies and the sheer number of characters we meet over its 74 episodes make it seem like more of an epic than a standard thriller. Tenma and Johann are the leads, true, but Monster regularly switches away to follow secondary characters in their own arcs that inevitably intersect with Johann and Tenma. This method of storytelling can be jarring, but also adds a real sense of scale to Monster’s overarching plot by making it about more than just Tenma and Johann.
At its core, Monster is a story about contrasting two opposing poles of human nature: Tenma, a selfless doctor who only wants to help people; and Johann, a sociopath who always seeks to spread suffering and make people worse. The secondary cast all falls somewhere between these polar opposites. Some are generally good, some are more selfish, but all of them exhibit some shades of grey. In the end, Monster ultimately says people are basically good, even if nobody is perfect. Rather than being the embodiment of human evil, Johann is framed as a complete outlier; he’s a sociopath who only spreads misery, which Monster frames and fundamentally different from everyone else.
With such a high-quality story, it’s a real shame that Monster remains unlicensed in the US. It’s hard to say if it’ll ever get rescued, but there’s certainly an audience for a US release. I would love to see it get a complete Blu-Ray release, but it’s completely up in the air whether that’ll ever happen.
Plot Concept: When Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese doctor working in Germany, makes the decision to save the life of a young boy over the town mayor, his career seems to be over until the doctors blocking him die under mysterious circumstances. It’s only many years later that Tenma learns that the boy he saved was not only responsible for their deaths, but the deaths of many others throughout Germany. Falsely accused of murdering them, Tenma sets out to clear his name and fix the mistake he made all those years ago. In doing so, he starts to learn the dark origins of Johann Liebert, the monster he had once saved.