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Blue Skies from Pain

Monster, volume 1

By Naoki Urasawa 

4 Oct, 2023



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Monster, Volume 1 is the first tankōbon collecting Naoki Urasawa’s thriller manga series. Monster was published by in Big Comic Original between December 1994 and December 2001.

Second son Kenzo Tenma sought his medical fortunes in Düsseldorf, West Germany. Brilliant neurosurgeon Tenma caught the eye of Eisler Memorial Hospital Director Heinemann. Provided only that Tenma remain a superlative surgeon while obeying Heinemann’s every directive1, Tenma is ensured wealth, status, and the hand of Heinemann’s beautiful daughter Eva in marriage.

Too bad for Tenma that Tenma has a conscience. Too bad for the world.

A Turkish man arrives with a serious head injury. Tenma preps for surgery, only to be informed that there has been an error. A famous opera singer is in front of the laborer in the queue. Tenma is to operate on the singer.

The singer lives. The Turkish laborer, consigned to a less talented neurosurgeon, dies. Only now that it is too late does Tenma discover why he was redirected from the laborer to the singer: the singer is high status, the worker low. Eisler would benefit from publicity if the singer lived, but who in West Germany cares about a Turk?

Heinemann is quite frank about believing some patients are more valuable than others. Eva is as well. While this is abhorrent to Tenma, his career and marriage depend on doing what he is told. Heinemann and Eva are confident that Tenma knows where his best interests lie.

The next neurosurgical conflict is between the mayor and a young East German boy named Johan. The mayor has a cerebral thrombus. Johan has been shot in the head during a murder spree that left his parents dead. Clearly, the mayor is far more important than some East German brat. Nevertheless, Tenma rejects orders and saves Johan. The mayor dies.

The consequences are immediate and draconian. Heinemann demotes Tenma, making it clear Tenma will never be promoted as long as Heinmann is alive to blight his career. Eva dumps Tenma for a doctor with better prospects. Tenma seems doomed to low status, propping up inferior surgeons.

Then someone poisons Heinemann and two of his senior confederates. At the same time, Johan and his catatonic sister Anna vanish from the hospital. Whether these events are related is unclear. What is clear is that Tenma is the best qualified staff member to succeed Heinemann. Calamity for others is Tenma’s fortune. Leaving the murders to Inspector Lunge to solve, Tenma focuses on his career.

Nine years later, the murders are still unsolved. Nine years later, Tenma will learn the true cost of his act of conscience.


This is meticulously drawn. There’s something about the style that shouts that this is an older manga. Nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with the author’s technique.

With the exception of Eva, West Germans (as drawn) appear to be an odd-looking lot. One might expect this could be characterization by appearance but as Tenma discovers, while the prettiest faces can hide ugly souls, so can ugly faces. There are no shortcuts to understanding other people. If there were, Tenma and many other people would be far better off.

Inspector Lunge is quite confident in his abilities despite his failure to solve the three murders. This appears to be because his certainty about who is guilty blinds him to all other possibilities. Unable to prove it was Tenma (because it wasn’t), he cannot proceed. In his defense, the culprit is a very unlikely person.

This being volume one of an eighteen volume series, Volume One is content to focus on introducing the characters and the dreadful situation Tenma finds himself in, having through an act of conscientious mercy unleashed a monster — possibly the Antichrist — on the world. Consequences will no doubt follow. If I can judge by the number of volumes in the series, there will be many consequences.

I enjoyed … well, enjoyed may not be the right word… was entertained y this volume and want to read more. How will the revelation in this volume affect Tenma? I’m lucky: the series is in print, so satisfying curiosity will be easy.

Monster, Volume 1 is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo)

I did not find it at Apple Books.

1: Tenma’s duties include writing research papers with his boss’s name on them. Not that this is unknown in academia. Head a research laboratory and you’ll get your name on all papers written by the folks who work there … as one of many authors, usually, and not as the lead or corresponding author. However, Tenma’s not getting any credit and he’s being forced to abandon the research he wants to do.