Hitoshi Iwaaki’s manga Parasyte has long been considered a masterpiece, particularly in the west where it was released back at a time when most people thought that manga were videos (thanks to the name of one particular distribution company), and when it was rumoured that James Cameron had bought the rights to adapt the series into a Hollywood blockbuster. When it was announced that Parasyte would finally be getting its long overdue anime adaptation, people were understandably overjoyed – after all, many of them had been waiting over 20 years to see Iwaaki’s combination of shape-shifting monster story and environmental allegory on their screens. So, now that it’s finally here, how does it stack up?
Firstly, a primer for those who haven’t previously enjoyed Iwaaki’s source material. Shinichi is a regular high schooler who spends his days pining over the girl he likes and lazing about at home. While engaged in some of the aforementioned lazing about, he seems to get bitten by a snake that has come in through his window. This is no snake, however, and the creature crawls inside his hand, before Shinichi manages to tie up his arm to prevent the intruder from getting any further into his body. The next day Shinichi dismisses his experience as a dream – that is, until, his hand starts operating independently of its owner. Shinichi’s hand is now controlled by some kind of strange intelligent lifeform who can manipulate itself at will to take on different forms, and who, it turns out, had intended to infiltrate Shinichi’s brain so as to take control of his whole body. Named Migi (meaning “right”, after the hand that he took over), the parasite and its host form an uneasy alliance in order to fight the other members of Migi’s species who were able to successfully take over their hosts, and now kill and eat humans to survive.
Parasyte -the maxim- is definitely not a series for the faint of heart. Over two decades before the gore of Attack on Titan or Tokyo Ghoul, Parasyte was giving us monster heads splitting open and bloodily devouring humans. The anime adaptation does not shy away from this, and presents these scenes in all their gory glory. As one can probably imagine, a series which involves so much death is quite dark at times – but never excessively so. For example, where titles based on more contemporary manga feel the need to give their protagonists tragic backstories right from the get-go so that the whole story is always underpinned with darkness and depression, Parasyte’s Shinichi begins his story more surprised that anything else. He’s a normal, happy kid, and initially Migi’s existence is more of a freaky situation than anything especially grimdark. However, as the story goes on we see the negative spiral of Shinichi’s life beginning to unfold – this makes for a far more interesting series of developments, as opposed to other anime where the audience is just watching some teenager whose life was already crap at the start, and so find it hard to care when it gets any worse (see the aforementioned Attack on Titan and Tokyo Ghoul for two of the worst recent offenders).
While Parasyte can be pretty unpleasant, that’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom. The series has many moments of levity to contrast with all the nastiness, and Shinichi’s relationship with Migi is the perfect example of this. While there is always the sinister undertone of Migi being a monster who had been intending to kill his host, and who threatens to do so still should Shinichi ever get too out of line, there is also a lot of humour between them: for example, while Shinichi is at the urinal in school, Migi decides it wants to learn more about human anatomy by trying to stimulate Shinichi into getting an erection – and hey, if a bloke getting publicly pleasured against his will by his own hand isn’t funny to you, then I don’t know what to say…
Due to the age of the source material some changes obviously had to be made: the character designs were made more contemporary; smartphones exist; Migi was given a cute female voice (that of Aya Hirano, the somewhat controversial lady behind Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star’s Konata). A change that may at first seem random is giving Shinichi glasses, and using this accessory to turn him into more of a nerdy character, whereas in the manga he was just normal (don’t be offended, fellow four-eyes – I rock a pair of specs myself). This initially struck fans of the original manga as an unnecessary change, at first taken as a ham-fisted attempt at pandering to the bespectacled otaku who are the main consumers of anime. However, adding the glasses is actually a smart move – throughout the series Shinichi transforms as he becomes more integrated with Migi, and he starts to change both physically and mentally. Beginning the series with Shinichi as a weak, glasses-wearing geek means that as this change occurs its impacts are more immediately obvious to the audience and other characters.
Parasyte has good animation overall, though it can be somewhat inconsistent. The nature of the parasite battles, with Migi and its opponents being super fast and super powerful, mean that the fighting animation isn’t particularly exciting, as it consists mostly of lines flashing back and forth across the screen while the characters debate speciesism. While this is the same as in the manga, in the medium of print using excessive blur to depict fast action is necessary, whereas in animated form it just comes across as lazy.
The music for Parasyte is a bit all over the place; it is composed by Ken Arai, a guy whose bio suggests he is very much DJ first, soundtrack composer second. This is great news if you’re a fan of wub-wubs and sampled snare drums, but not so good if you favour subtle soundtracks. Please don’t write me off as an old fogey just yet – I do actually enjoy the Parasyte soundtrack in its own right, but it just isn’t great as an accompaniment to a TV show. As the saying goes, the best score is the one you don’t notice – during certain scenes in Parasyte, the soundtrack was all I could notice. In fitting with the tone of the OST, the show’s opening is an enjoyably fast-paced number from increasingly popular electronic screamo band Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas. The ending song, meanwhile, stands in stark contrast by being one of the most obnoxiously sappy Japanese pop songs in recent memory.
Both Japanese and English dubs are very competent, although Migi’s English voice feels somewhat lacking as a creepy but loveable monster-limb simply because it’s hard to sound as weird as Aya Hirano. It does feel strange as a big fan of the manga to hear Migi with a female voice anyway, as its dialogue and attitudes always felt more masculine to me (then again, that could just be my unconscious sexist bias at play) – but after taking a bit of getting used to, Hirano does actually do an incredible job in portraying a character that is equal parts unnerving and intriguing. Fans of Kana Hanazawa will enjoy her doing her thing as Shinichi’s cute love interest, while Nobunaga Shimazaki captures well Shinichi’s transition from wimpy nerd to brave hero.
Overall, Parasyte is a series well worth checking out, whether you’re a fan of the manga or not. The twelve episodes in this set see Shinichi learning to live with Migi, and getting embroiled in the turf wars of the monsters as he tries his best to save the lives of his fellow humans. The episodes are good in their own right, but they whet the appetite for greater things to come – fortunately there isn’t long to wait, as Parasyte -the maxim- Collection 2 is due to be released at the end of July.
In terms of on-disc extras, this release is sparse: clean opening and ending songs, and the usual smattering of trailers for other releases.
Score: 8 / 10
Anime Quick Information
- Title: Parasyte -the maxim- Collection 1
- UK Publisher: Animatsu
- Genre: Action, Sci-fi, Horror
- Studio: Madhouse
- Type: TV series
- Year: 2014
- Running time: 300 minutes