Friday, March 6, 2015

Lessons from Anime: Monster

Sometimes, I think some writers look at a villain and challenge themselves. They say ‘I will make this the scariest freak alive and the world will tremble before him’. Well if this is a challenge, then the writers of Monster took it and dominated because Johan Liebert may very well be the most terrifying villain ever.

I talked last Friday about how I’m a sucker for an interesting villain. Oftentimes a villain can drive a whole show and this is certainly the case of this little gem.

Monster is a story of a doctor, Tenma, who is fired from his job after choosing to save a young boy’s life rather than a longtime patron. But some years later, when all the doctors who opposed Tenma mysteriously begin dropping like flies, he is able to return to his career and continue to help save lives. He doesn’t think anything of it until the person behind these murders shows up again, killing a man in front of him. A stranger with a familiar face. 

It turns out that Tenma did not save some innocent boy but rather Johan Liebert, who may very well be a devil in human form. And now, thanks to Tenma, he can continue his reign of terror. He plans to be the last one standing at the end of the world, and will allow only the kind hearted doctor who saved him to end his life, therefore making him a monster himself.

(Seriously. Just watch this scene here. The way his voice can be so creepy in his grand entrance scene and then later shift to gentle and soft spoken is ridiculous and frightening.) 

So let me talk about the devil for a moment. Like, the Christian devil. I haven’t seen very many representations of him in the media that I find accurate. Not that a lot of people don't try to portray the devil, but when they do, he’s usually a big scary monster or at least someone no one in their right mind would trust. More of a boogey man in the closet than Lucifer, seducer of man. This is the closest I’ve seen anything get to a portrayal of a Lucifer figure and it is freaky. Johan, you see, has a very trusting face. The kind that gets people to talk to him and spill their secrets. Children are drawn to him, women fall for him, and depraved cults look to him as their leader. He can garner sympathy from those around him and even give them hope… before ripping it away and leaving them with nothing.

And he’s just so good at it. Through most of the series, he is the smartest thing in the room. No one can touch him or trick him because he is the master manipulator. He gets inside people’s heads. He knows how to break just about everyone he meets. And worst of all, he wants Tenma to fall to his level by making him be his murderer. It’s an amazing series because you want Johan to die, because he’s terrible but you don’t want Tenma to do it because he’s such a good man. And its this conflict that drags you through the full 72 episodes. Man vs. Man in the most harrowing way.

If you want an example of a scary villain done right, this is it, and I’ve looked to Johan as a model for many of my best villains. Love them or hate them, a villain can make a story. And sometimes, in the case of Johan, they define it.

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