Anime: Parasyte – The Maxim
Original Run: Oct 9, 2014 to Mar 26, 2015
Genres: Action, Horror, Science Fiction
(As always, very spoilery.)
Parasitic beings who take over human brains descend on earth out of the blue, their small, worm-like bodies allowing them to burrow into humans unobtrusively. These parasites are outwardly indistinguishable from human beings and easily blend into the population, attacking and eating humans to satiate their hunger.
Izumi Shinichi, a high-school boy, is the victim of one such attack but quick thinking saves his brain from being taken over. Instead, he wakes up to find his right arm replaced by a parasite that later comes to be known as Migi (Japanese for ‘right). The two enter into an uneasy alliance for the sake of mutual survival. But surviving isn’t that easy when there are other parasites out there that can sense Shinichi’s odd predicament and are none too happy about it.
I’ve seen this show pop up all over the place ever since I got back into anime. Finally, I caved in and gave it a go. It’s got its pros and cons but on the whole, Parasyte is a worthy watch with a likeable protagonist, his absolutely priceless alien right hand (literally) and a host of minor characters, some of whom manage to be interesting.
Parasyte explores some interesting themes. The most thought-provoking of these is the very existence of the parasites, creatures who feed on humans and are thus above them on the food chain. The primary response to their existence, both in-universe and out, would be to call for their eradication but then comes the question of how the parasites’ predation of humans is any different than human beings’ predation and exploitation of pretty much every other species out there. These new apex predators are being driven by their innate instinct, and at least one human character in the show takes it as the indication that it should be natural order of things. The whole matter is a bemusing mess with no clear cut answer. What’s commendable is Parasyte’s treatment of it; rather than get preachy about its ecological message, the show opts to go for the more honest path and illustrate how humans are basically selfish and guided by self-preservation. They’ll protect the environment because it’s essential for our own survival. And they’ll kick the ass of the invading parasites because they’re a threat to humanity.
The story is engaging on the surface level as well. Shinichi and Migi make an entertaining duo and are the main strength of the show. The former’s humanity and the latter’s lack of it as well the eventual, inevitable blurring of those lines is a constant undercurrent in the narrative, developing and evolving in a way that’s fluid and unforced. That said, the story does feel redundant at times with the way it stresses the matter of Shinichi’s dwindling humanity (You can make a drinking game out of Satomi’s “You are Izumi Shinichi-kun, right?”).
Parasyte’s most notable flaw is its bland female characters, with the exception of Ryoko/Reiko who’s technically a sexless parasite which makes their gender rather debatable. Every single woman who has some impact on the story is either dull as fuck or actively annoying. Of Shinichi’s two love interests, one lacks a personality outside of the aforementioned line and the other wouldn’t know what sense is if it hit her in the face. Then we have his two-dimensional mother who only serves as angst-fuel (good angst-fuel but still) and the classmate who thinks it’s a brilliant idea to confront a murderous alien because of a crush. With characters like these, Parasyte is severely lacking in the female department.
Shinichi and Migi are the main attractions of Parasyte, with more focus on the former. A running thread through the whole narrative is how his partnership with Migi and the resultant experiences change him. He starts out as a normal, nerdy high school boy who’s not particularly interesting. A parasite taking over his arm naturally causes him some problems and exposes him to violence but he truly begins to change after his mother is killed by a parasite and he himself is almost killed by said parasite. Severe emotional trauma and an unorthodox treatment later, Shinichi literally begins to lose his humanity as his ability to feel becomes dulled and his physical abilities are enhanced. It’s interesting to watch him try to cope with the changes in himself while simultaneously dealing with the other parasites whose attentions are on him.
Then we have Migi who is primarily concerned only with his (its?) own survival. Even his attempts to help Shinichi are initially prompted by Migi’s dependency on his human host. But just as Shinichi loses his human characteristics during the course of the story, Migi gains them. An exceptionally intelligent and rational parasite from the get go, it doesn’t take Migi long to develop emotions and an attachment to Shinichi. This reaches its zenith when Migi sacrifices himself so that Shinichi can live. In a way, Migi is the most fascinating character in the whole story. He’s funny, smart and downright endearing at times.
The only other character that stands out is Tamiya Ryoko/Tamura Reiko, a parasite who possesses Shinichi’s teacher and later switches identities. Reiko is the most intellectual and observant parasite (questionable child rearing methods aside) in the show. From the beginning itself, Reiko’s curious about her(?) kind’s existence and willing to assuage that curiosity through experimentation. Like Migi, she too becomes a little more human as the story progresses and even comes to care for her human child much to her own surprise. Her dignified manner and rational but ruthless approach to matters not only sets her apart from most others of her kind but also stands for the legitimacy of the parasites’ existence.
Other characters of note include Shinichi’s perpetually out of the loop girlfriend Satomi, the rapist/slash serial killer Uragami, uber strong parasite Gotou and a misanthropic mayor Hirokawa. Some are interesting, others not so much. Satomi in particular can be quite dull and often outright irritating in her interactions with Shinichi, a feature made worse by how there seems to be little substance to her outside of this relationship.
Art and Music:
Parasyte has good art. It’s generic when it comes to character designs but the titular parasites are certainly memorable. With a few exceptions, the action sequences don’t involve anything more than two parasites standing around while their weaponized body parts clash and collide. The show doesn’t really shy away from blood and gore so those who can’t stomach that should probably give this a pass.
I’m among what seems to be the minority when it comes to Parasyte’s music because I really liked it. I’m a fan of the OP, Let Me Hear by Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas, even though my attempts to screamsing along to the English version only served to traumatize those in my immediate vicinity. The ED adopts a gentler tone and isn’t to my taste. I enjoyed the OST, dubstep and all.
An entertaining show with (mostly) engaging characters that tries to address environmental issues as well as basic human nature.