Monstrous women

March 20, 2008

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster (Viz Signature) improves with each volume, and the fourteenth book in the series is marvelously tense. Urasawa plays around with his timeline, jumping back and forth, and the chronology is a bit hard to construct at times, but that barely matters in the face of the sheer quantity of revelations and twists that emerge.

In my opinion, the series is never as good as it is when it focuses its attention on Urasawa’s female leads. Nina Fortner, good-hearted twin of the titular beast, and Eva Heinemann, bitter ex of the manga’s saintly protagonist, Tenma, bask in the limelight in this volume. This makes me a very happy reader, and they’ve both achieved almost Shakespearean heights by this point.

Nina is an updated, self-actuated Cordelia with a sprinkling of Ophelia in the mix. Kind and honest, often to her disadvantage, it’s impossible not to fear for her even as you appreciate her resourcefulness (which neither Cordelia nor Ophelia ever possessed). Her hunt for the ruthless Johan parallels Tenma’s, but while Tenma is utterly resolute, it’s difficult to predict precisely what Nina will do if she finds the fiend. To me, that’s a lot more interesting, and I hope she wins the scavenger hunt.

I’ve loved the wildly soap operatic Eva from the beginning – her contempt, her bitterness, her utter self-absorption, mixed with just enough trashy abandon to keep her from being entirely unsympathetic. Miserable as she is, she can still laugh (drunkenly, acidly, ruefully) at her circumstances. In recent volumes, she’s risen from Regan-and-Goneril level (admirably conniving but ultimately monotonous) to that of Lady Macbeth. Formidable as Eva’s rage is, void of compassion as her value system may be, there’s a tiny core of decency and compassion, and oh, how she hates that. It’s increasingly clear that her fury at Tenma stems not from what he cost her in terms of status and security but what he’s done to her steely, amoral certainty. She’s a tragedienne of the highest order.