Few films and few series have the ability to tell you a story and then elevate the experience to a whole new level. I have not seen many anime nor read many Manga comics. It was five years ago that I had watched this series. I was so enthralled by the experience that five years on I can still recall the theme music, the mysterious antagonist and the setting of the series so well that I decided to watch its 74 episodes again.
From the outset, Naoki Urasawa’s anime creates an aura of sinister. Aptly set in 90’s Germany, the story follows the life of a young Japanese neurosurgeon with a bright future, Kenzou Tenma, who operates on a child shot in the head simply because he believes that all lives are created equal and chooses to operate on the child over that of the Mayor. This decision turns the doctor’s life into a nightmare when the child disappears and he becomes the prime suspect in a series of murders that ensues in the hospital. In his quest to find the truth, he spends over 10 years hunting the child who in fact turns into a psychopathic monster as he feels responsible for resurrecting the monster.
The show is a masterpiece on several levels. The historical settings are accurate with constant references to the world war, the erstwhile communist regimes in Czechoslovakia and East Germany and even Nazi Germany. The description of Prague woke up the traveller in me to experience standing beneath the church spires or enjoy a cafe in its beautiful squares or enjoy a picnic in the rolling hills of southern Germany. On the contrary, the grimy red light areas of these parts are also shown unabashedly. One of my favorite heart-wrenching episodes is the one in which a child wanders into these shady parts in search of his mother.
The viewer is constantly challenged by questions of morality when he is not haunted by the looming presence of the monster and underlying dark topics of child abuse, brainwashing etc. Indeed as the show progresses, it is no wonder that we all believe that the monster is within us and it is the society and guardians that choose to nurture the monster or engulf the individual with so much love that the monster doesn’t need to emerge. Time and again, the show never fails to remind us that life is to be cherished. One of the many brilliant dialogues that still stands in my memory is “Everybody is burdened with different sins and they will never disappear; but you still have to go on”.