Parasyte -the maxim-, the anime adaptation of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s late 80s/early 90s manga, returns for its concluding half. When we saw Shinichi last he had just come to terms with one tragic loss, only to promptly suffer another. On the flipside, his romantic pursuits seemed to be bearing fruit, and he had become a fighter able to hold his own against attacking parasites. However, this increase in his abilities, caused by the fusion of Migi’s cells with his, seemed to be coming at the cost of his humanity…
And as Shinichi loses his humanity, this half of the series sees Migi and the other parasites start to exhibit it. Initially this is in selfish ways: parasites begin to partake in human politics, primarily so they have access to more information, which will allow them to feed on humans while evading capture. But they also demonstrate other forms of human behaviour, which are less easily explained by any kind of self-interest. Migi, for example, appears to develop feelings for Shinichi that are more than parasitic, and instead almost friendly in nature. Some parasites also begin displaying human emotion, smiling and laughing, making them somehow even more disturbing than the ones who remain stone-faced.
Whereas the first half of the series was about Shinichi’s own experiences and development, that seems to take a backseat in this second half to looking at the existence of parasites more generally. It makes sense – in the battle against monstrous parasites there is only so much one teenage boy, even one with a parasite for a hand, can do. As such, a lot of time is spent on the police and their efforts to crush the parasitic menace, as well as on the parasites and their own internal power struggles. While this makes for an interesting story, it may be off-putting to those who prefer a straightforward hero’s journey – and they would have every right to be put off, as prior to this point Parasyte has very much presented itself as the story of Shinichi and Migi, as seen through Shinichi’s eyes; now Shinichi seems to spend a lot of his time on the periphery of the show. For example, while a large-scale battle is ensuing between the police and the parasites, Shinichi is just sat in the back of a van the whole time, with the scenes of action and gore occasionally cutting to him just so he can say, “hmm, maybe I should be doing something about this”.
The benefit of this shift of focus is that we now get more of an insight into the parasites and they become, to an extent, more relatable as characters in their own right, rather than being purely monstrous. That’s not to say that this second half of Parasyte is all friendly – just as you think the parasites are becoming more reasonable, there is a shocking scene which demonstrates just how callous the majority of them are towards humanity. It is these scenes, often combined with some amount of gore, which make for many of Parasyte’s most memorable moments.
The series also starts getting more philosophical, using the existence of parasites to explore what it actually means to be human; it questions whether it is not humans who are the true parasites, with how willingly we kill other animals and pollute the earth for our own convenience. To some degree, this is done quite well: these ideas are explored in a mature and thoughtful way, and are several tiers above the typical “It turns out it’s man” level of depth that one is accustomed to seeing in gory anime. Where this fell flat for me were the times when characters decided to engage in these environmental debates while in life or death situations – call me a traditionalist, but if someone’s trying to kill me, I am fighting or flight-ing, not debating. The other problem I had with some of these debates I think stems more from me being a bad person – while Shinichi is deeply affected by the moral dilemma of whether it is okay for humans to destroy other life, even life as seemingly monstrous as the parasites, I just found myself rolling my eyes. However, I am a man who can happily ignore the moral contradiction of eating lots of animals and yet also loving my pet cat more than anything in the world, so maybe I’m not quite the target audience.
Satomi Murano, Shinichi’s love interest since the start of the series, begins to grind a bit in these later episodes, seemingly stuck in a continuous cycle of getting freaked out by Shinichi and pushing him away, and then getting sad whenever he’s gone. Speaking of annoying characters, there is also the private detective who was hired to tail Shinichi, who makes some bad decisions that stand out as being very illogical – although an effort is made to justify why he makes these decisions, it still makes him difficult to relate to as a character. We do get introduced to some new characters who are actually interesting, the foremost of these being the convicted serial killer, Uragami, who has the strange ability to tell parasites apart from normal humans. Uragami is interesting just because he is such a scumbag, and yet due to his unique power the police have no choice but to rely on him to support their investigations. He hits all the right notes: creepy, pathetic, and horrible, and somehow also highly entertaining to watch.
Parasyte’s animation continues to be competent, albeit it with a bit of an increase in the use of dodgy CG background characters. The complaint I made about fight scenes in my review of part 1 still stands: battle animation often isn’t particularly exciting as we just see bladed tentacles flashing through the air with repeating speedlines, while Shinichi slowly walks towards (or runs away from) his opponent. That’s not to say that the fights are boring, just that the animation is not what makes them good. There are a few impressive battles, including one which is particularly interesting as it’s between fellow parasites, with Shinichi being nowhere near at the time. Another highlight is when Shinichi and Migi have to face off against a single human body which is hosting multiple parasites – while up until this point Shinichi and Migi have been relying on the tactic of the two of them being separate entities to essentially outnumber opponents, this time their opponent is using that same tactic against them.
Ken Arai’s dodgy soundtrack is still present, but I found that by this point I had gotten used to it, so it didn’t stand out as being quite so obnoxious. It also seems that someone in the production team felt the same way as I did about the weird electronic beats being ill-fitting with the more emotional scenes in the first half of the series, as a couple of the later emotional climaxes feature classical pieces instead. The opening and ending songs remain unchanged, with the studio presumably wanting to get its money’s worth out of Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas and Daichi Miura.
Parasyte’s conclusion ticks all the right boxes in theory, but in execution doesn’t quite pull it off. This may be because the conclusion focuses back in on the personal experience of Shinichi – and yet for much of this second half, the show has encouraged us to disregard him somewhat. At least it is a definitive ending; while there is no excuse for it not to be, given that the Parasyte manga ended in 1995, it does feel quite refreshing these days to see an anime which doesn’t concern itself with sequel-baiting.
Parasyte -the maxim- is a very good anime, bursting with interesting ideas and freaky monsters. Its latter half loses its way somewhat, switching to a more holistic view of the parasites in Japan but then expecting the audience to be able to go back to caring only about Shinichi at the very end. This unfortunately lessens the emotional impact of the finale, which could have been so much better had more of an effort been made earlier on to properly portray the relationship between Shinichi and Migi. Despite this, and despite other minor issues with the music and animation, Parasyte -the maxim- is still a compelling watch, with certain scenes that are likely to stick with the viewer for a long time.
As with the Part 1 collection, extras consist only of clean opening and ending sequences, and trailers for other releases.
Score: 7 / 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
- Classification: 15