Parasyte -the maxim-
Shinichi, a 17-year-old living in a quiet suburb of Tokyo, is awaken one night as a worm-like parasite attempts to enter his ear and take over his brain and, having failed to do so (since Shinichi is wearing headphones), tries instead to burrow into his right arm. Shinichi essentially "tourniquets" his arm in panic and stops the parasite from getting any farther up; as a consequence, the parasite grows to maturity in his arm and essentially "takes it over," but Shinichi retains his human personality. The shape-shifting parasitic being, christened "Migi," has no knowledge of where it came from given that the parasites are essentially mindless pre-infection, but rapidly picks up human language and knowledge as Shinichi is forced to develop an uneasy coexistence with it and hide its presence. Meanwhile, he comes into contact with several other "fully grown" members of Migi's kind who appear to be wreaking havoc on the surrounding areas.
My opinion of Parasyte falls in line with two of my general watching habits: I tend to like science fiction anime or at least find them to be worth the time spent, and I tend to lose interest in anime whose primary focus is fighting, unless the show has something else going for it. Hence my views on Parasyte, based on a popular manga whose run ended in 1995; I'm actually pleasantly surprised that something out of syndication for so long got an adaptation this late, but given the recent success of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, perhaps that's a trend I can look forward to. Regardless, Parasyte is a show I like for several reasons, namely its raising the question of how humanity might exist alongside a species that, while not antagonistic to it, nonetheless preys on it, as well as its subtle sense of humor and the rapport it develops between its co-protagonists. It's also a frustrating show, for it often focuses on Shinichi at everyone else's expense and to its own disadvantage, while increasingly becoming centered on battles and answering its own questions in a highly unsatisfactory manner as it goes along.
To me, Parasyte feels structured almost like a superhero comic, and I can't be the only person who finds the wiry, physically weak, and bespectacled Shinichi to be similar to, say, Peter Parker of Spiderman. While he's rather bland, pleasant but not having many interests or motives outlined prior to his body being invaded, that works to the show's advantage given how utterly weird and fantastical Migi is. Indeed, Migi is by far the series' best invention, masterfully voiced like a sort of dryly humorous robot-insect by Aya Hirano of Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya fame, and being able to contort itself into any manner of forms within reason (it can only briefly detach itself from Shinichi), sprouting multiple eyes, stretching its "mouth" into a wide and creepily fake grin, and even impersonating another person's entire head in one scene. Indeed, when the pair find themselves facing others of Migi's kind, the dichotomy of their responses is fascinating, since the impeccably logical Migi, who has trained itself to speak by reading Shinichi's books and perusing the internet, acts almost purely out of survivalist instinct, with Shinichi being forced to redirect their actions in order to not get other people killed. Parasyte is extremely disturbing overall, since human bodies are mangled and contorted beyond belief throughout, but Migi and Shinichi, amidst this, are genuinely fun to watch.
Indeed, I certainly don't want to encourage too many more anime and manga writers to fall back on the "normal teenager in a supernatural scenario" model, but if they do, watching or reading Parasyte might provide some useful tips. The setting, while bizarre, is one of the less outlandish "alien invasion" scenarios I've seen due to the fact that, for much of the series' run, the aliens don't have some sort of maniacal agenda but are basically existing as survival-driven parasites who happen to have sentience. It's effective precisely because Shinichi himself is so mundane: he sees his moral code as intuitive and applying to humanity at large (whether that's actually the case or not), but he becomes joined to a form of life that, while as intelligent as he is, has a completely different set of morals that isn't necessarily "incorrect".
This aspect becomes all the more pertinent later in the series, when Shinichi loses close friends to parasite attacks and gains a motive for fighting beyond mere survivalism. As this happens, Migi has a difficult time identifying with Shinichi's motivations and is forced to justify Shinichi's actions to itself in other terms; one of the more prominent themes of the series is the difficulty that these parasites have in recognizing kinship, given that they essentially operate as lone hunters and don't know their own origins. Another parasite, having taken the host of the woman Tamiya Ryoko, provides an avenue for this contrast, and Parasyte portrays this quite effectively via her facial expressions, in which her eyes wander and are just lopsided enough to create discomfort in the viewer due to their slight difference from the expressions one would find familiar. Tellingly, in one scene, the mother of the original Tamiya Ryoko appears, able to recognize instinctively that something isn't right via her changed mannerisms and quirks; the parasite Ryoko, intellectually intelligent but entirely lacking the capacity to respond to emotional cues, is baffled, only aware of the idea of kinship and motherhood in a highly clinical sense.
Parasyte does have an important weakness, however, in that it struggles to define many of the characters, Ryoko being an exception, by means of anything besides their relationships with Shinichi, which increasingly turns the series into an uncomfortable one-man-show as it goes along. This is particularly noticeable with the female characters, many of whom seem to be present solely in order to be in love with Shinichi: nobody fell for Peter Parker until he gained his superpowers, at least, but it seems that just about everybody with two X chromosomes is in love with Shinichi from the very start (with him, of course, being oblivious). One of these characters, for example, is basically introduced for the sole purpose of tragically dying in order to give him greater motivation to fight, a poorly-written diversion on the show's part given how little else she does. Meanwhile, Satomi Murano, Shinichi's primary love interest, seems as if she was written to be a sailor's wife of sorts, perpetually at the periphery of the show during the battles and fretting about Shinichi and his increasingly changed personality until needed for a dramatic damsel-in-distress rescue scene. Two other characters, Satomi's friends Yuko and Akiho, meanwhile, seem to do almost nothing besides serve as part of this vague pseudo-harem for Shinichi (he does also have some male friends, but they really don't do anything). Even Migi seems to fade into the background as the show progresses, seeming increasingly underused and subordinate to Shinichi.
In one scene, Yuko does at least manage to cleverly dismember one of the parasites by throwing nail polish remover into its face, and it's satisfying to me because it's essentially the only scene in which somebody besides Shinichi fights them at all effectively. Indeed, I compared Parasyte to a superhero comic because as it goes along, Shinichi's abilities seem to only increase, with everybody else merely being present to support him or look incompetent in comparison. More and more, Parasyte begins to feel like an ever-intensifying set of battles between Shinichi and other parasites, who have begun to almost develop a sort of vague "society" as the show progresses (in an interesting turn) and who begin to pose a clearer threat to society. While the intensification is expected, and the aspect of the new "parasitic" society intriguing, the writing stumbles in several places; at one point, Shinichi literally jumps out of a third-story window while holding Murano to save her, and she deludes herself to think nothing of this in a highly-unconvincing fashion.
Furthermore, when the parasites become "public knowledge", the transition is handled awkwardly, with the policemen involved being introduced at that time as having previously been investigating the parasites, even though we had seen almost nothing of this before. I understand that we wouldn't necessarily be expected to know this, given that we see this from Shinichi's perspective, but the transition into external involvement is far too abrupt. In my opinion, the series Bokurano provides a better example of government becoming involved to "take over" a child's battle only to botch it via bureaucratic nonsense and petty squabbling; in this series, the degree to which the police and government fail to understand the parasites feels written with the sole purpose of making Shinichi look stronger. Indeed, after a rather frustrating arc involving a failed police raid of the parasites' "central government," in which the police accidentally kill many human civilians and the police chief says in extended monologue that the humans "might be the real evil," it returns to Shinichi waging solo battle more effectively, but without the attention given to the parasites' role in the world that characterized earlier encounters.
Overall, it's frustrating, to say the least, to see the show's more interesting aspects increasingly take a backseat to scenes upon scenes of fighting, for Parasyte is at its best when it more quietly tries to generate feelings of discomfort via the disturbing transformations, set against the incongruous backdrop of Migi's dry sense of humor. Indeed, Tamiya Ryoko is a much more interesting character than most others of her species because her interactions with Shinichi go beyond them brawling and trading barbs, instead effectively exploring the differences between human and parasite psyches. The fighting scenes are certainly well-animated, certainly, and the strategies Migi employs during the early episodes are enjoyable to watch, but as they take over the show, Parasyte begins to feel like a series constructed in the mode of Dragon Ball Z. Thematically, the battles add little, since the other parasites might as well just be any other shape-shifting alien during many of these scenes, and it ultimately doesn't help my understanding of the show to have the parasites be baffled at Shinichi's "inhuman strength," which is essentially all that they show; I'd cite the final episode of Kemonozume, a series with a somewhat similar premise, as having fight scenes whose thematic relevance is more clearly established and better choreographed in general.
Indeed, while I do like Parasyte, there's a fair bit to suggest to me that this adaptation is far more functional than imaginative. It looks nice, to be sure, and I don't think you could have asked MADHOUSE to do a better job animating the transformations and swirling blades, but there are missed opportunities along the way; while I don't mind the mix of dubstep and piano as much as many reviewers, it strikes me more as a novelty than as an effective underpinning of the atmosphere, much of the time. Parasyte also has a highly unsatisfying ending, scrapped together, I feel, to give some sense of conclusion to an adaptation of a much longer work, and the degree to which the show degenerates into monologues as it goes along, rather than letting pictures tell more of the story, is almost embarrassing; the show may raise interesting questions, but it ultimately doesn't have the finesse to answer them, coming bizarrely close to sounding like Captain Planet and similar "eco-conscious" children's shows at the very end. There's a lot to recommend about Parasyte, but its flaws become increasingly apparent as it goes along, and it never finds a way to deal with them, ultimately rendering it into a much lesser show than it could have been.
There was so much potential to this show, and there are many things that I like, but the increased focus on fighting and the increasingly bad writing cost a potential four-star series a point. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: ABSOLUTELY not for children, or for the squeamish. Heads split open (in a disturbingly cartoonish fashion, I'll add) to turn into blades and tendrils, characters' faces morph at will and turn into highly alien and bizarre forms, and there is blood, lots and lots of blood, at every stage. Though not quite as startlingly graphic as, say, Elfen Lied, since the worst of the dismemberment happens off-screen, there's rarely any question about what's going on. While not especially heavy in sexual content, meanwhile, there is one (implicit) sex scene in addition to a handful of moments of minor fan service. There's also one point in episode 19 in which an incarcerated character begins to masturbate while speaking to a woman through a glass window; I think that bit is disturbing enough to be worth a warning.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of crunchyroll (Japanese with English subtitles)
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Parasyte -the maxim- © 2014 Hitoshi Iwaaki/KODANSHA LTD/NTV/VAP/4cast
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