It’s fair to say, Parasyte tickles me in all the right places. A feat that the majority of anime fails to come even close to doing. Not especially because the shows I watch are inherently unworthy, but because they simply do not compare with the truly brilliant shows I have had the pleasure of watching in the past.
Directed by Kenichi Shimizu, who has worked extensively in animation. Parasyte premiered in the Fall season of 2014; adapted from the manga of the same name (Iwaaki Hitoshi 1988-1995 Kodansha’s Monthly Afternoon). It’s brought to us by popular animation studio, Madhouse. Licensed and distributed in the West by Sentai Filmworks.
At the heart of Parasyte is character; what it means to be human, and what it means to be something else besides that – something other than the behavioral traits and personalities we all intrinsically recognise. After all, within what we like to designate as ‘human’ there are a near-infinite amount of possibilities and combinations. The world would be a sorry place if every person you met was fundamentally identical.
Parasyte explores this, giving us insight into the personalities of people, and the things that line up to construct and mold their identities. It asks these questions:
Who would we be if we were part something else? How would this change who we are? What direction might this change head in? Are we the passenger, or the driver?
All these questions are asked. Yet, in a subtle way, as to not bombard us with the desire for information all at once. For things have to be revealed slowly, and with caution. This is regarding pacing. The narrative needs to be relatively equatorial in how it is delivered. This is thematically important because of how Shinichi’s mind hooks directly into the story itself, and how they progress with each other, hand in hand.
Shinichi inherently changes with the introduction of Migi, the alien that takes control of his arm, and later, influences other areas of his body. In terms of Shinichi’s human body, Migi factually reduces his humanity in this sense – his body being, in part, controlled by a conscious entity that isn’t himself. This alone would be enough to question the integrity of one’s mind. Just imagine it, something there, within you, constantly watching, constantly being present in every moment of your life. Your privacy would vanish. As would every single moment of being alone. Even if Shinichi wasn’t changed by the chemical nature of it… change would follow naturally, in unpredictable directions; as we observe it do so.
The Power of Understanding
Something Parasyte does exceptionally is exploring the dynamics of understanding.
After all, what does it mean to truly understand something; be it a person, or an idea? How can anyone really be sure what we think of ‘understanding’ is the real thing, simply not a notion we have manifested within our own minds, for our own fragile sense of identity and sanity?
Migi resides at the heart of this; in the failed attempt to reach, and take control over Shinichi’s brain and entire nervous system, in the same way many of his species have already done in an effective manner. Yet, this is not the only thing that sets Migi aside from his ‘peers,’ for he is fundamentally different as a conscious being – he sees the world in a different light in comparison to his kin who are only focused on ‘feeding’ and expanding their influence
At first, this is not something Shinichi can easily recognise. Because of course, it is slightly abnormal when suddenly an alien comes to reside in your arm. The last thing Shinichi thinks it to be is a friend. This is compounded by what he sees in the news, the mysterious murders that are occurring all over the country; it’s not long before he connects the dots – the parasites. And naturally, it’s hard to separate them from Migi.
Though, Migi does not posses the desire to satiate his hunger with human flesh; he lives vicariously from the body and nutrients of Shinichi. It is from this where a connection is absolutely required to form – a symbiotic relationship, each one needing to benefit from the other. With this in mind, things have to run at least semi-smoothly.
Migi spends considerable time learning the ways of humans: language, culture, history, and social customs – something most of his kind have no interest in doing. They are parasites, why would they need to? If Migi hadn’t come to understand – in part – the clockwork behind humans, would he have made the connection with Shinichi… no. Because essentially, aside from base instinct, humanity is all Migi knows. And, if this is all he knows… is it possible he could be human in the general sense?
Is a human body required to be human?
How many philosophers have asked that very same question? With advanced A.I. just around the corner, is it not a question we should all be asking. Just what makes us human?
Our compassion? Our intelligence? Our morals? Being self-aware, and being able to think independently? Or some mysterious aspect of the mind we currently know nothing of?
Migi is – in some form – all of these things. Does this make him human? Does he have human rights? After all, as a self-aware and intelligent being, does he not deserve serious recognition regardless of his actions? Could this be said for all the parasites? This is something much of the population doesn’t see. And, for good reason; we know the parasites are the direct cause to hundreds of murders, all across the globe. Humanity has good reason to be scared, in all the same ways Shinichi is.
What’s missing is the understanding. A common misconception is, that to understand, we must agree. Why? I can perfectly understand the ideas and thought processes behind Conservatism, yet I’m a Liberal. If we cannot understand the opposites of our own beliefs, how can we ever come to a concrete, well-rounded conclusion on… anything? Parasyte presents this idea to us. It reminds us we are ignorant of so many things, far too many things.
It’s too easy to see the world from an exclusively human perspective. When we are frankly tiny specks amidst such a wider, and more expansive background.
Relationships, in the face of Pure Danger
Parasyte isn’t standard when considering relationships. In fact, I’m very much enamoured by the effort it places into crafting such relationships. It’s easy to chuck out the standard character tropes here and there, and put effort into other areas. And this is fine, as long as those other areas fully make up for this – in which most cases they absolutely don’t. Parasyte never falls into this trap. It manages to keep a hold on its characters that are wonderful in all their own rights, whilst remaining on course with well-structured narrative, and well paced plot-line.
In the early days, there is an aspect of harem in Parasyte; between the likes of Shinichi, Satomi, and Kana. The romance itself is relatively minor, yet the character interactions that flow from it are anything but. It’s here where we see the true heart of Parasyte, and all the characters it encapsulates. We come to understand the following statement in such sharp detail:
Relationships matter even more in the face of overwhelming adversity.
In the kinds of situations Shinichi finds himself in, he comes to rely on others beside himself – even if he does not immediately realise that this is the honest truth, one he doesn’t necessarily want to admit. In fact, it is obvious we need to rely on people ever more when things turn tough – something which is a huge understatement for the likes of Shinichi and his classmates. Because, if we can offer some of that burden to another person, things become easier; essentially sharing the hardships of the world, a manner of coping with it.
In the early episodes of Parasyte, Kana is of massive importance. She is the one human connection Shinichi has to the parasites, and the one person who understands him even in the slightest. Of course, Kana doesn’t know exactly what it is she feels, but one way or the other, she realises that Shinichi is of massive importance. It is this very feeling she mistakes for love; though, the true feelings are something that potentially develop shortly afterwards, in the most complex moments of their relationships – in the final moments. For Kana is the first person close to Shinichi that is victim to the ways of the parasites. He’s motivated by her death, angered by the brutality of the beings that do not understand human nature; refuse to even try to comprehend it.
Satomi reprises her role as Shinichi’s ‘girlfriend-of-sorts.’ And, it is through her where we are able to glimpse a personal viewpoint of Shinichi’s change; also how this manifests itself to the world, and how it comes to affect his relationships, and his interaction with the wider world in general. She also serves as a grounding element for Shinichi. A constant that remains the same (or changes with him) throughout the story. Keeping him at least partially tethered to solid ground. This is important, because it is Satomi (with the help of Reiko’s discovered humanity through her child) that bring Shinichi back in touch with himself – driving away the apathy and nihilism Migi had unknowingly afflicted him with.
Parasyte is a very complex show, full of talking points that could be discussed for near-eternity. All in all, it is a brilliant show – a uniquely aware show. It deals with humanity, and basal instinct. With the intricacies of relationships, and even family values. Though, more than anything, Parasyte is full of heart and raw emotion, all the way down to a micro-level. And it is this that makes it nothing less than a pure pleasure to watch.
A little something extra
Mostly because I love Herzog, but it is also relevent.
What are your thoughts on Parasyte? Did I miss anything?
Thanks for reading, as always!
-Chris (If you enjoy what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon!)