[SPOILERS? Yes, spoilers!]
Monster, volume 16
By Naoki Urasawa
We're getting close to the end now, and Urasawa is finally revealing some of the secrets behind the series. He's been teasing us with glimpses of flashbacks and fragmented memories for nearly the whole series, so it's pretty satisfying to actually see some answers for once. There's plenty more to reveal, but with two more volumes to go, there's lots of space to show us everything, and some potential for great character moments while doing so, along with satisfying resolutions to long-running plots. I sure hope it works out.
But in the meantime, this volume is packed full with fast-moving action, of the incredibly intense page-turning variety. To start off, Tenma's latest ally, a dentist named Milan, has a quest for revenge to fulfill; he's planning to kill Peter Capek, the longtime ally of so-far unseen evil mastermind Franz Bonaparta. Tenma tries to stop him, but finds that he can't really, since Milan's quest mirrors his own; he feels responsible for Capek's evil, just as Tenma feels culpable in Johan's crimes. Milan was a childhood friend of Capek's, and he helped him escape to West Germany, only to find that he had terrible plans which involved the brainwashing of children to commit suicide. It's a quick encapsulation of some of the themes of the series, but no points for guessing how it turns out.
Other highlights of the volume include the a police detective who is about to retire suddenly discovering new leads in the case of the twins who disappeared from from the hospital eleven years ago (back in volume one, that is). It's a nice chapter, with the discovery slowly becoming apparent as the detective talks to a serial killer that he is transporting to a different location. The guy is a taxi driver who seems to be inspired by Robert DeNiro (Urasawa was inspired by the movie that is, not the actual character), except he took the contempt for the scum of society well beyond Travis Bickle levels:
And it turns out that he got some prompting from Johan, which brings the detective into the thick of things, just prior to a peaceful retirement. He might be getting too old for this shit, but hopefully Urasawa won't go with the easy cliche and have him die, but even if he does, I doubt it will be in an unsatisfying manner.
But the taxi driver isn't the only one; it turns out Johan has been manipulating several serial killers into doing his bidding, much as he did back in volume 5. And we even learn the purpose, which would be to cover up scandals involving his new protege, the creepy guy from last volume who is being shepherded around by Capek. See? It's all related!
But then the volume really kicks in when Johan starts dismantling the organization that is trying to involve him in neo-Nazi activities, much as he did back in volume 4. The first to go is The Baby, who gets a semi-tender moment with a stripper who actually seems to connect with him on a personal level; he was so lonely, always having to pay people for companionship, whether they were prostitutes or bodyguards. And when he goes down, Capek gets especially paranoid, sure that he has no control over Johan and is bound to be killed. This makes for some especially tense scenes, including one that contrasts rather effectively with the Baby's death scene, in which we saw only the smallest details (mainly an overflowing bathtub). When Capek thinks his driver/bodyguard is going to shoot him, he reacts without thinking, with some surprisingly gory results:
And then things get even more tense, as both Tenma and Eva confront Johan's protege in an attempt to determine his location, while Nina goes after Capek and tries to get to her brother first. She also learns the story of her and Johan's birth, which involves a eugenics scheme led by Franz Bonaparta (whose face we actually see, although only in a flashback). He seems to be the real evil behind the entire series, but maybe Johan has surpassed him. We've got two volumes to find out.
So the final few chapters here involve lots of yelling and pointing of guns, and even some actual shooting. There are answers and confrontations, and the promise of more to come. And it's incredibly gripping, with the heart thumping at each new reveal and fingers itching to turn pages as fast as possible. That's what Urasawa does so well, and I hope he can keep it up through the end without creating the feeling that he cheated in any way. But I trust him; he hasn't let me down yet.
On a more self-reflective note, it seems I didn't have all that much to say about that volume, did I? At this point in the series, it doesn't seem that there is all that much new to discover about Urasawa's technique, and any discussion of themes or whatnot can probably wait until the finale. So we'll just have to settle for a repetition of "And then this cool/exciting/tense thing happened!" for now. I hope you don't mind too much.