memetic personality has a fairly good idea of this character's limits (or lack thereof) for delicious diableries. He is a by-word for evil: he brings small children to red light districts, and watches his loyal followers die with utmost serenity; he murders his caregivers, one innocent elderly couple after another; he teaches children to play on roof ledges and trip up homeless people on the street; one of his life goals is to cheerfully corrupt the man who had saved him from certain death. He does not have a moral justification for his actions, and he does not care one iota about whether the person he is going to kill (or lead to suicide) is guilty of anything more than offering a helping hand to the wrong person. And yet... It's not quite the thorough mental torture from his childhood, nor the overwhelming love he bears for his sister. It's not that his sense of identity is extremely volatile to begin with, only to be further weakened by subliminal and explicit brainwashing. It's not that his loyalty to his mother's revenge is, if not admirable, then certainly sympathetic. It's all of these together—and the recognition of a monster within—that make him equally as pitiable as he is horrific. He is a person guilty of so much—yet how can someone without a clear sense of self and with a morality so thoroughly perverted by external forces be held completely culpable? Johan is unambiguously a product of his environment; to which degree are his actions, then, his own?
- But that might be simplyfing things. We may assume that Johan is purely a product of his environment, but at the same time his sister went through exactly the same things he went through, and only he turned into such a homicidal maniac. Then there are the occasional hints of supernatural power and the implication that Johan is, in fact, The Antichrist. Certainly at no point do we see him "snap" and he seems like a perfectly normal, happy child until he and his sister are seperated from their mother...at which point he starts murdering and corrupting people a little too quickly to think that it was that which turned him in the titular monster. While trained from birth to be an amoral Ubermensch, why did it only work on him and not on Nina? And why did all attempts to replicate the experiments always produce "inferior" results—monsters, but none as monstrous as Johan. Perhaps his childhood did not create the evil within Johan, but merely unleashed and gave form to that which was there. The pity of Johan may be that he was doomed to be wicked all along, and indeed by the time of the main plot he is so evil that he has become bored with his own villainy.
- Just as it is in Real Life, it's likely both nature and nurture. We may assume that heís merely a product of his environment or destined to be a monster, but neither explanation alone is sufficient. Regarding Johan and Nina's experiences, there were small differences in what they focused on and remembered. Johan remembered their mother switching them at the last minute, which left him wondering who was actually unwanted. (And in all likelihood...he probably thought it was him.) Nina didn't remember that, but she was told by Franz Bonaparta that they were "precious jewels" that mustn't become monsters. Depending on how you interpret the dialogue, Nina may have implied that this was the reason she didn't become a monster. Johan most likely wasn't told that because Nina was too shaken to talk about anything but her trauma. So in the end, Nina ended up with a mixed message and Johan ended up with a negative one. Now are these differences the only reason why they turned out the way they did? Of course not. It's heavily implied that there's something "special" about Johan, and even though Nina is his sister, I don't believe she has the capacity to become a monster of the same magnitude as her brother. Their basic personalities are quite different, and I would guess that Nina's optimism and ability to trust helped save her too. At the end of the day, Nina didn't have to believe what Bonaparta said. In fact, she had absolutely zero reason to. And yet a part of her must have, since even through all the terror she experienced she still felt that her life was worth enough to keep pressing on. If the situation was reversed and it had been Johan who had been sent instead, it would be less certain as to whether or not Johan would have bought it. It could have saved him or it could have had no effect at all. Furthermore, even without having heard Bonaparta's message, Johan had many, many opportunities to try and have a normal life. He could have chosen to let Nina be a good influence on him...but he didn't. Instead, he killed the first pair of adults who tried to help them and never turned back. Traumatized or not, that just isn't a normal reaction for a child to have. Nina was able to open herself up again to a degree and try to move on. Johan couldn't, and he couldn't allow himself to care about anyone else other than his sister and himself.
- Now, as far as if Johan ever snapped as a child, Ninaís recollections at the ďVampireís HouseĒ can be taken as evidence that he cried at least once shortly after Nina came home from the Red Rose Mansion. This reflects a general pattern: You typically donít get to see Johan cry or break down. Rather, itís only implied. The only exceptions are during a certain conversation with Karl (which is dubious in its sincerity) and that one moment in the library where he fainted (which is meant to be Nightmare Fuel). This was done of course because Nothing Is Scarier, but itís also an important way of maintaining the illusion of Johan being inhuman. Throughout the story, Johan is described as monstrous and otherworldly. And with the way he is presented, that notion becomes believable. We never get to see him do anything normal or mundane. Most of the time we only get to know of his abilities and acts from secondhand sources. And above all, we rarely see him express any genuine emotion. But in the end, Johan is a supposed to be a human being. Not a monster. Not a demon. Not The Antichrist (as much we all love to joke about it). A human being. And maybe that's what's really so frightening about him.
Would Tenma have shot Johan at the end?Depending on your interpretation of his character, Tenma is either shown as becoming more elastic in his morals and concessions— having shot Roberto, Kristof, and threatened various people (with dubious amounts of intent behind the threats), or much more rigid, realizing with increasing conviction that killing someone, even a killer, would be the wrong thing to do. Wim's father takes the final decision away from him is often reviled as a contrived coincidence, but as Wim's presence itself is contrived, this is a moot point. Tenma could have disabled Johan with a non-fatal wound. What is indisputable, however, is that Tenma chose to save Johan. Not for Nina's sake, not to save Wim's father, not to follow Runge, but because he deemed it the correct thing to do.
Monster and Fairy TalesEven apart from the subplot featuring Bonaparta's story books, Monster dedicates a surprising amount of time to fairy tale motifs and allusions. Casual references are strewn across the story: Eva references the Sleeping Beauty right in the first chapter, Nina's classmates tease her about her "prince charming," several chapters are named after fairy tales or their stock characters, Johan and Nina separately claim that they are from a "fairy tale town," Bonaparta sees himself as the Beast and Anna as the Beauty... and this is just the tip of the iceberg. This volume of references can hardly be incidental; but if they are intentional, what is their purpose? The way most of the fairy-tale (as well as the biblical) allusions work within Monster is to give the characters—otherwise fully human—an archetypal dimension. Johan is not merely a victim of brainwashing nor a serial killer, but a monster equated with the Antichrist; Tenma is not merely a doctor with a heavy conscience and an extremely potent sense of right and wrong, but a messianic hero and a knight in shining armor; Bonaparta is not only a scientist in love with a woman who hates him, but an outright beast. In this way, Monster establishes itself as something greater and more universal than a crime story of a Japanese surgeon chasing a deranged youth across Germany—it becomes a story of archetypal good and evil without sacrificing any of its realism or originality.
- Once upon a time, there lived a monster without a name. The monster wanted a name so badly he couldn't stand it. So the monster decided to go off on a journey to find himself a name. But because the world was so big, the monster split in two and went on two separate journeys. One went east... and the other went west... The one that went east found a village. There was a blacksmith at the village entrance. "Mr.Blacksmith, please give me your name." "I can't give you my name." "If you give me your name, I will jump inside you and make you stronger in return." "Really? I'll give you my name if you can make me stronger." The monster jumped inside the blacksmith. The monster became Otto the blacksmith. Otto the blacksmith was the strongest man in the village. But one day... "Look at me! Look at me! The monster inside me has grown this big!" (Chomp. Munch. Crunch. Gulp.) The hungry monster ate Otto from the inside out. He went back to being a monster without a name. Even though he jumped inside Hans the shoemaker... (Chomp. Munch. Crunch. Gulp.) He went back to being a monster without a name again. Even though he jumped inside Thomas the hunter... (Chomp. Munch. Crunch. Gulp.) He still went back to being a monster without a name. The monster went to the castle to find a wonderful name. Inside the castle, there was a very sick boy. "I'll make you stronger if you give me your name." "I'll give you my name if you can cure my illness and make me stronger." The monster jumped inside the boy. The boy became very healthy. The king was delighted. "The prince is well! The prince is well!" The monster became fond of the boy's name. He also grew fond of his life inside the castle. That's why he endured even when he became hungry. Everyday, even when his stomach became very empty, he endured. But because he became so hungry... "Look at me! Look at me! The monster inside me has grown this big!" The boy ate his father, his servants, and everyone. (Chomp. Munch. Crunch. Gulp.) Because everyone was gone, the boy left on a journey. He walked and walked for days. One day, the boy met the monster that went west. "I have a name. It's a wonderful name." And then the monster that went west said, "I don't need a name. I'm happy even if I don't have a name. Because we're monster without names." The boy ate the monster that went west. Even though he now had a name, there was no one left to call him by his name... Johan. It's a wonderful name.