(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Monster"

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: It's 1986 in Germany. With the Soviet Union on its last legs, diplomat Michael Liebert defects to the West and settles in Düsseldorf alongside his wife and their adopted twins, Johan and Anna. Soon after, the Liebert parents are murdered in an apparent home invasion; a catatonic Anna and barely alive Johan, suffering a bullet wound in his head, are rushed to Eisler Memorial Hospital.

Johan is saved by Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese ex-pat working as a neurosurgeon. Earlier, a woman had accused him of letting her husband die to save a more "important" (richer) patient. So when Tenma finds himself in the same position, ordered to save the city's mayor and let Johan die even though the boy came in first, he disobeys.

Hospital director Heinemann demotes Tenma; now that his star is falling, his fiancée Eva (Heinemann's daughter) dumps him too. Tenma wishes his superiors were dead, then gets his wish when they're all found poisoned. Meanwhile, the Liebert twins disappear.

Nine years later, Germany is haunted by serial killings of middle-aged couples while Tenma is Eisler's chief of surgery. One night, a patient named Junkers flees the hospital, whispering about a "monster" coming to get him. Tenma follows him and comes face-to-face with Johan again. Johan executes Junkers and reveals he killed the hospital directors too, wanting to thank Tenma for bringing him back to life.

What follows is like "The Fugitive" meets "Red Dragon" — Tenma follows Johan across Germany, determined to undo his mistake and slay the monster he once saved.

Why It's Essential Viewing

"Monster" is a 74-episode anime adapted by the studio Madhouse from Naoki Urasawa's manga. It's a scene-for-scene adaptation, but the fidelity never becomes a hindrance. Despite how similar they are, both versions of the story are worth experiencing. Indeed, "Monster" is so complex that it can take more than one viewing to fully digest. As a bonus, you'll get to see the same beats told in a different medium and thus, with a much different style.

I've written before about how Urasawa's art is different from most manga authors; it comes down to the detail with which he draws faces. His characters have features like bald spots, double chins, big noses, thin faces, stubble, wrinkles, and more. Body-wise, they run the gamut from skinny to plump. In most anime/manga, these features are exaggerated to caricatures, but in "Monster," everyone looks like a real person.

I'll admit I was apprehensive about how well this sort of detail would translate into animation; what's beautiful as a still drawing could be uncanny in motion. There's also the matter of color. Urasawa's drawings are striking because they're black-and-white, which also adds to the dark atmosphere of the story.

I'm happy to say I was wrong. The details in the facial animation in "Monster" helps convey the emotion in a way comparable to real actors. As for the color, the violence pops all the more when the blood is shaded red.

Every Character Matters

From the premise, it might seem like "Monster" is only the story of Tenma and Johan, but that's really not true.

What happened to little Anna? Tenma asks the same question and discovers she's spent ten years living a normal life as "Nina Fortner" in Heidelberg. Unfortunately, her life is torn apart when her brother comes knocking. Afterward, Nina starts pursuing Johan herself; both she and Tenma become determined to prevent the other from becoming a murderer.

Tenma is also joined by Dieter, a young orphan with a connection to Johan's past. Kid sidekicks can be annoying, but Dieter is endearing, capable on his own, and proves vital to the series' message on how child-rearing shapes a person. Tenma also has a pursuer of his own: Heinrich Lunge, a German Federal Criminal Police Officer (BKA) inspector who is convinced that Tenma is the real murderer.

"Monster" keeps introducing new characters and they never stop being compelling. My favorites include Wolfgang Grimmer, an investigative reporter who never stops smiling, and Lotte Frank, a student in Munich and precocious sleuth who befriends Nina.

It's not just the regular ensemble who are well-written, either. Urasawa is incredibly skilled at introducing short-term characters and they always tie into the struggles of the main cast. For instance, in episode 62, Tenma meets Milan Koláš, a man who is also convinced he must kill an evil man who he once helped. In Milan, Tenma sees how his own journey might end.

A Perfect Dub

Tragically, Netflix does not yet stream Viz Media's English dub of "Monster," an impeccably-cast translation rivaling acclaimed dubs like "Cowboy Bebop" and "Fullmetal Alchemist."

Over the story, Tenma doesn't become a fundamentally different person, but he hardens as his challenges pile up. Liam O'Brien's performance evolves with his character; in early episodes Tenma sounds reserved, even fragile, but by the end he's stern and resolved. O'Brien doesn't sound much like how read Tenma in the manga, but when I go back, his voice is all I can hear.

Johan doesn't have that much dialogue throughout the series; he's even creepier because he's often lurking offscreen. With limited lines, Keith Silverstein makes every one count. He uses a whispery baritone to play Johan; the unsettling dissonance between his vocal depth and tone means that his voice slivers up your spine like a serpent. Silverstein's finest moment is episode 29, "Execution," when Johan pushes a recovering alcoholic off the wagon (and then a rooftop), going from smooth to sinister and back again with just one breath.

The star who shows the greatest range is Karen Strassman as Nina. She starts out innocent but is forced to evolve into a confident, no-nonsense type while tracking Johan. As she uncovers more of her locked-away memories, she becomes more unhinged. Strassman is just as perfect at being determined as she is distressed; her screams in the latter mode are bloodcurdling.

The voice director who coaxed these brilliant performances was Patrick Seitz, who also appears as Grimmer. Seitz typically voices evil and brutish characters, and so goes against type as the friendly Grimmer. And yet, his performance is often the most heart-wrenching of all. Even Seitz's usual qualities as a performer are effectively twisted; when Grimmer does get violent, it's righteous anger.

People Can Become Whatever They Want

"The monster inside me is getting bigger," says Johan. We learn his nihilism comes in part from a picture book, "The Nameless Monster." The titular being only gets a name by possessing others and hollowing them out, eventually leaving no one standing. The message is that anyone can become a monster — but that doesn't mean they will.

When she was a child, someone told Nina, "People can become whatever they want." The moment is replayed many times as Nina tries to piece together the whole memory. We're meant to assume the person saying this is talking about how anyone can become evil. When it's finally shown in full, we, and Nina, realize it was actually a statement about how people can change for the better.

Despite its dark, violent story, "Monster" is optimistic about humanity. Tenma, for instance, loves people. He always takes a sincere interest in his patients and believes all lives are equally precious. His determination to kill Johan falls shorts when he wrestles with whether he can make an exception to that rule.

Johan believes that life has no value and that death is the natural state of the universe; he even tries to convert children to his beliefs. But he's wrong. In episode 49, "The Cruelest Thing," Tenma and Grimmer save an orphan who tried to kill himself after Johan's brainwashing. Grimmer undoes Johan's hold on the boy by telling him, with tears in his eyes, "You were born because someone wanted you!"

"Monster" stares into the abyss, but it walks away unbroken. Stories of this ilk tend to be too perversely fascinated with the killers. Seeing one that repudiates nihilism and talks up the wonders of being alive is refreshing.

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The post The Daily Stream: Monster Is A Gripping Horror-Thriller About How Good Can Overcome Evil appeared first on /Film.