Why Johan from Monster did what he did?

April 29, 2024

Need to process thoughts and emotions after watching Monster for the first time, thus this post.

This is the anime which, after its completion, makes you go out there and keep doing research on characters, events, explanations and so on. And I was a little surprised not that many people discussed the following.

First, Johan's motivation. The very common stance on this is "he is just a monster", but I disagree: he is indeed a human being, and that's the scary thing. Because people can be that dark, and this is not what many people are ready to accept ("I would never!.." and so on). A very common argument I saw was "but Nina ended up a normal person, why is Johan like that?". For which I would say: she was given an opportunity to stay like this because he took the heavy lifting of survival. She didn't have to think about many thinks, he took care of them - in a distorted way he was capable of. Johan's motivation is obvious in rare scenes when he communicates with Nina - when he tells her that everything belongs to her, when he writes her letters. However distorted it is, it is the only love he's capable of, and it kept him going for that long. Yet even he himself understands something's not right, this is where scenes of him pointing to his forehead for Nina and Tenma are from. He's okay as long as it's them who judge him, because he trusts them.

Those two are the only ones he cares for. In the beginning of the story, when Tenma under strong emotions wished death to certain people, Johan listens - and does exactly what he think Tenma wants, to repay him for his efforts. He also doesn't kill Tenma later when they meet for the first time after the surgery - and never ever after that.

Johan is an example of a person who had to grow up too quickly because of the circumstances and had to detach from his own feelings because of some natural predisposition, deep care for his sister, lots of broken things in his environment, and mother's rejection on top of that all (at least so he thought, yet the irony is: I believe mother actually chose him - she switched when she heard his voice). This is what happened with a person who never had a positive reference in his own life to stop him from hurting others, and who happened to be naturally smart enough to execute his plans and go away with it. Of course with time he builds up resentment towards everyone - after all, nothing good ever came from most people, and they were also obviously way more stupid and slow than him. The very first person he has any consideration for is Tenma - and only to the point to keep him alive and "wait until he grow up to accept everyone is only equal in death". For the whole story, Johan is numb, and this is why he appears demonic and changes expressions with no effort. He's so detached it looks inhumane and scares others, yet this is exactly what he had to do in his earlier years to survive. Those skills allow him to observe others carefully and show any emotion needed for a moment to achieve his own goals. The only moment when he shows his real emotions is when he reads the book at the library. This scene helps to understand the scale of repressed emotions in this person: so much he ended up passing out because he was physically unable to handle it.

Johan is a person who was failed by his environment in many ways and at the same time was naturally resilient enough to not give up and try to "fix" this. He could have end up taking a very different role but considering the circumstances he adapted the best way possible. And the result was horrifying not only for many people, but also for him.

He did lots of things which are horrible, and results are what they are. Yet never, at any point of the story he took any pleasure in it. In a contrary to many other characters demonstrated along the way. So, who is the real monster, after all?