Welcome to this week’s Thoughtful Thursday!
Monster is a 2004 anime by Madhouse, directed by Masayuki Kojima and based on the manga by Naoki Urasawa. It’s a stunningly good anime that explores human psychology with many character arcs and an over-arching plot that’s thrilling and suspenseful. With 74 episodes, Monster is a long series, and contains at least 20 powerful scenes that speak to me. I want to talk about just one of them today. It happens toward the middle of the series, in episode 33.
First let me give some context. Johan Liebert is the cool-headed, mysterious, and psychopathic villain of Monster. He enjoys taking care of children, sometimes completely mentally destroying them, and sometimes slowly instilling their minds with destructive thoughts or habits. In episode 33, Johan teaches a group (or groups?) of children a dare-devil game with their lives on the line. It has already killed a handful of children and injured more than that.
The “game” is simple. First, go somewhere at a great height, like the roof of a building; one which has a short, narrow wall at the edge. You and your opponent both climb onto the narrow wall, close your eyes, and walk toward each other until you pass each other. Whoever falls off the side of the building loses and whoever kept their balance wins. If neither of you fall, you both win. Try to chicken out and you automatically lose and become fair game for fierce bullying.
Now, our boy Deiter is a child who was horribly abused most of his life, until the main character, Tenma, saved him. Together with Tenma, Deiter travels across Germany, and has proved to be a smart, optimistic, and all around very mature kid. He would never voluntarily play Johan’s suicidal game. But this one dumb kid (whose name I can’t even remember) drags our boy Deiter up to a tall building’s roof, and tries to force him to play the idiotic game. The kid has already played the game once and fallen. He’s seriously injured, but he’s proud of it, and acts as if, having fallen and survived, he is a “chosen one.”
“How do you like the view? How does it make you feel?” The bratty kid asks this as he stands atop the wall at the roof edge, enjoying the high winds. Meanwhile, Deiter is sitting unsteadily on the wall-top, terrified at the huge drop just inches away.
The other kid smiles smugly. “Come on. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Stand up, close your eyes, and take a step. Stand, Deiter.”
What Deiter says next is a response to an earlier conversation, wherein the bratty kid realized that Deiter had been badly abused, and told him the world is like that, a dark and hopeless place. And as children, the brat added, they could be controlled and hurt in any way at any time by adults. If life is such so hellish, then why does it matter if you risk your life? In this shitty world, doing something like this game that provides thrills is a form of escape. Or so the kid reasons.
“I understand,” says Deiter. “I get what you’ve been saying; it all makes sense to me. I thought the world was all darkness, and the future would bring nothing but more misery.” Suddenly, his tone voice changes, shriller and louder, as he looks up to stare the other kid in the eyes. “But, like, what’s your favorite food? I ate this really good sausage the other day! And well, if I die, I’ll never get to eat it again!”
The other kid is insightful, and can see right away what Deiter is doing: giving reasons to live. So he tries to provoke Deiter. “You’re such a coward.”
“I really like playing soccer!” Deiter shouts, only half-sure of what he is saying. “If I die, I’ll never get to play again!”
“You’re so weak,” the brat tells him.
“And I really like Dr. Reichweine!” Dieter continues. “And his secretary, Ms. Marith, is nice to me! If I die, I’ll never see them again! There will always be things that scare us. Trying to deal with that is part of growing up.” The wise boy looks down again, hesitant to admit more. But he says, “Tenma told me, ‘Tomorrow will be a good day.’ If I die, I’ll never see Tenma again.”
Before the other kid could think of a biting reply, the wind picked up, and the crutch for his broken leg wobbled. The brat lost his balance. Deiter managed to grab him and pull him back onto the roof just in time. It was clear that the brat became suddenly terrified when he thought he was going to fall again. He wants to live after all. That’s mostly thanks to Deiter’s words. They must have made him think of his favorite food, his favorite game, or someone he wanted to see again. After calming down, Deiter and the other kid leave the roof and return to the hospital room where the brat was supposed to have been resting and healing.
At some point, this stopped being about the game itself. It was about whether to live or throw your life away, and why one might actually want to live, given the hopelessness of the world. I struggled for four years straight with suicidal ideation, unending thoughts of wanting to die or taking my own life. That’s why this scene speaks so much to me. When I tried but truly couldn’t think of a good reason to live, one thing stopped my suicidal behaviors before completion: simple satisfaction with incredibly simple things.
What is your favorite food? My favorite desert is dark chocolate. I enjoy tasting it and the act of eating it, too. Isn’t sleep amazing? I fucking love sleep. And I love my bed and the way it feels. Sometimes, I get a somewhat satsified feeling after doing some stretches or walking around. Watching anime is awesome. I never want to give it up. All of these things are incredibly simple, but if they’re not good enough reasons to stay alive, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. I’m not some master at being an adult, managing my mental illness, or facing the things that scare me. But I’m alive. I’m alive because, if nothing else, I like chocolate, anime, and sleeping in my bed.
All I did just now was echo what Deiter pointed out. He is truly a smart character, wise beyond his years. The creators of Monster did an amazing job writing these characters and this scene and bringing it to life. (The voice-acting and sound effects help it along a lot. Even the horrible English dub of this scene isn’t really so bad.) I hope that by highlighting this scene, I can (at the very least) provide some perspective about suicidality… and perhaps even help a depressed person feel a little bit better. Thank you so much for reading this post. Please be safe and well.
(Note: Apologies for lack of pictures, but I could only find very low quality ones online, and no (official) anime websites are (legally) streaming the series.)