This is just a damn good show period. Live action or animation, this is one of the best, most well-thought-out stories I have seen in a TV show in quite a while. And as much as I tend to spit this phrase out, this, more than any other show, is the kind of thing anime fans show non-anime fans to prove that the medium can be mature enough for adults without necessarily being perverted, gratuitously violent, or pretentiously esoteric.
Dr. Tenma is a gifted brain surgeon from Japan who is working at a hospital in Germany. When a he is forced to make the decision to either operate on a mayor who would bring the hospital prestige, or the boy named Johan who came in first; Tenma follow his principles and saves the life of a boy, but the events that follow cause him to reconsider whether saving the boy was such a good idea.
There's a lot to like about this show, and I could go on an on about the haunting tone or the mysterious plot, but I'm mainly going to concentrate on how the show really distinguishes itself. That being that it is so realistic. I mean, this is the kindof thing that could have easily been done in live action, but is done effectively and beautifully in anime. There are two main reasons why I think this show looks so realistic: the level of detail and the characters.
First of all this story takes place in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. A lot of references are made to before and after the Wall fell and how East Germany had all kinds of nasty projects going on. Basically there is a lot of historical detail that makes the show convincing because you have easy reference points for when all the different events took place. More than that though, there is also a lot of technical detail given for things like Temna's medical operations. And later on when Tenma trains for how to shoot a gun, his trainer gives him practical advice like "Make sure to shoot twice to double your odds of hitting the target." Other anime I've seen gets lazy in this area, and usually just resorts to generic terms like "Just try hard" or "do your best". So that level of detail really fleshes the story out and pulls you into the world of Monster by making it more convincing overall.
The second thing that makes this show engrossing is the characters. Each character is unique in both their designs and their personalities. You won't find any freakishly big-eyes, abnormally proportioned bodies, or oddly-colored hair here. Characters come in all shapes and sizes. And their peronalities and personal histories all fit the plot but also are convincing and sympathetic in and of themselves. One of my favorite characters, for instance, is the ever-calculating Inspector Lunge. He has this quirk where he will move his fingers eratically whenever he talks to someone. He says that it's his mnemonic technique that allows him to instantly recall anything he's ever heard. Sure it's odd, but it's better than saying that he simply has a photographic personality because it's something that add a lot of color to his character.
Having praised the show thus far, I will say that there are a couple things that may drive some people off. First, this show is almost totally driven by dialogue. That's not to say that it's slow paced, it's just that there's not a heck of a lot of action so those who are only entertained by constant action may be disappointed. Plus the show is very realistic, so people who prefer their fantasy to be more fantastical best look elsewhere.
The second thing that may turn some people off is that the plot can at times seem very contrived and even predictable. For instance, at the very beginning Tenma comes out of the operating room after having successfully operated on a very famous opera singer. He's faced with the wife of a man who arrived before the opera singer. She yelled at Tenma saying that he was the best surgeon in the hospital and that it was only fair that he should have operated on her husband who arrived first. This is an obvious set up for when the exact same situation comes up a couple days later with Johan and the mayor. That time Tenma makes the "right" choice, and so the story begins. There are quite a few moments like that where something happens or characters will meet and everything just happens to fit together nicely. Whenever a scene like that would come up I just kind of shook my head and moved on because, despite those contrivances, most of the story plays out logically and naturally.
The animation was great... or at least what there was of it was great. Like I said there wasn't a lot of action, so there wasn't much to judge the animation for. The art itself was consistently high-quality though, so I really have no complaints.
The music was awesome. I've been reading the manga version, which is nearly identical to the anime. But when comparing the two, the anime sticks out. The main reason being the music which is subtle and haunting, giving the story a deeper and darker tone without being obtrusive.
As with most everything else in this show, I loved the ending. The final story arc was tense and thrilling and satisfying because most all of the major characters got their moment in the sun. The very last scene was mysterious and I think ended the show on just the right note. It messes with your head just enough to leave you thinking about it for quite a while afterwards.
So all in all, I definitely recommend this show to everyone who likes a good story. I haven't seen anything like it before, and I would definitely welcome more like it in the future.