Animation Spotlight: Parasyte -the maxim-

The first volume of the Parasyte manga

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at online bookstores that operate within Australia for manga to buy to fill the empty bookshelves in my theatre room. So far, I’ve bought the entire series of Kare Kano and GANTZ with my next target being Berserk. As I’m scrolling through the catalogue of one of these sites I spot an extremely strange cover of a manga I’ve never heard of before in my entire life.

The cover art showed a hand with two wide open eyes on the palm with the word “Parasyte” written underneath. I soon discovered that the cover art for the other volumes of this strange manga were even weirder. At first, I dismissed this unknown manga, thinking “well, that’s Japan for ya” and moved on to find more familiar titles I had heard of before. However, something made me go back to find those strange covers again. The covers were so simple in comparison to a lot of other manga out there, but I couldn’t get the strange imagery out of my head. So with that, I began to investigate what “Parasyte” was all about.

As it turns out, the Parasyte manga was published from 1988 to 1995, but there was an anime series produced recently called “Parasyte -the maxim-” that ran from 2014 to 2015 in Japan, produced by MADHOUSE Inc. And just like that, I watched the entire English dubbed version of the anime… all in one go, starting on a Friday night going all the way into Saturday morning. Damn it’s good.

A lot of what I encountered, as I watched the anime, started to look very familiar and I began to realise that the original manga had inspired a lot of manga/anime after it over the years. Hell, I even see where the head bursting villager Las Plagas design comes from in Resident Evil 4, it seems so obvious now. There is a lot of body horror in Parasyte, and it seems to walk a fine line of it being grotesque and horrifying when it wants to but comedic and childishly cartoonish (on purpose) in other scenes.

It begins…

In Parasyte, there are people who live among the general population who have been infected with parasitic beings that eats their brain and takes over their bodies. The main character of the series, Shinichi Izumi, is different, the parasite that infected him only managed to take his right arm which left him and his parasite (named Migi) in a strange situation where they have to cooperate with each other to survive.

From the very first episode, the story leaps forward and you discover more and more about these unknown parasitical lifeforms living among regular humans and the nature of their existence alongside humans. Things start out pretty simple but gets interesting very quickly when you start to realise that no character in this story is safe from harm. With only 24 episodes, it progresses quickly but manages not to feel rushed, the pacing is really well done with every episode feeling like it’s adding something worthwhile and not feeling like it was padded at all.

I haven’t read the original manga (yet), but I feel like a lot of the success of the anime has to do with how well the story was written in that original manga. The early parts of the story mix in the science fiction elements lightly into a more slice of life kind of setting. You spend more time with Shinichi at school in his daily life trying to deal with the intrusion of the more absurd things that are intruding in on his life more and more as the story progresses.

Eventually, the fantastical elements of the story begin to spill over and whatever normality Shinichi has in his life is turned upside down when he is forced to deal with some pretty big challenges all in one go. There is a clear shift from the introductory phase of the story to when things really begin to heat up. It’s all handled really well too, because Shinichi and Migi both change throughout the storyline with their interactions with each other and other characters adding to their story arcs.

A fight to the death

It’s something you see seldom of in more modern anime where the creators tend to want to keep their characters in a stasis, never changing them and always wanting to keep them in their most recognisable state. However, the nature of Parasyte is that things are always in motion and constantly changing which means that the characters in the series always have something new to deal with and overcome.

In fact, now that I think about it, there’s a lot that’s amazing about the anime adaptation of the manga because it came over 20 years after the manga had its original run. While the anime prominently features modern technologies like smart phones and tablets, none of those things existed back then in the late 80s to mid 90s. Yet, the anime seamlessly brought the story into our current time-frame flawlessly and even managed to update character designs to add more distinctive elements to certain characters who looked a little too plain in the original manga.

Migi and Shinichi

Thankfully, they kept Shinichi and Migi as close to their original versions as possible, but it’s clear that there’s a blend of style from the old and the new happening throughout the anime that serves it very well. It doesn’t feel outdated and it doesn’t feel like they modernised it too much from the original concept. Though, I’ll have to see for sure once I read the original manga in the future.

There is a definite message being told throughout the story, not just to do with Shinichi and Migi and their personal story, but to do with humanity itself and its existence on this planet. Some may find it a little heavy-handed at times, personally, I don’t mind it. It says what it needs to say and allows you to enjoy the adventure and struggles of our protagonists as they try to make sense of the changing world around them.

The anime has a really cool opening theme as well, I never skipped it for a single episode, though, there was this dubstep track that played during the action scenes that I found to be very out-of-place in the early episodes. Thankfully, the dubstep was toned down pretty heavily early on, but the soundtrack does remain electronic based and works for the series. It’s just another one of those modern elements that has managed to work itself into this anime.

He’s not in full control…

I’m really glad I discovered Parasyte, because it makes me realise that there’s still good anime out there that I haven’t seen or have even heard of before. Last year, I had discovered an anime called “Gate: Thus the Japanese Self-Defense Force Fought There!” and enjoyed the hell out of it, thinking it was a fluke that I had found a good anime to watch in this day and age. Seriously, most anime these days seems to be trope-filled messes of digital paint at best. Finding Parasyte has encouraged me to look harder for other modern anime that I haven’t seen or heard of, because, despite the original manga of Parasyte being a late 80s to mid 90s creation, the anime adaptation was done extremely well in terms of modernising a classic work.

Incidentally, something else that took me by surprise, because I was watching the English dubbed version, was a very familiar voice I had not heard in many years. One of the minor characters was voice by Hilary Haag, the voice of Nene Romanova in the English dub of Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, what a blast from the past, hah.

Here’s hoping I find another anime that piques my curiosity like Parasyte has managed to do. In the meantime, I’m going to go back to collecting manga… and the Parasyte manga is definitely high on the priority list.

Also, wow, this has been the first entry I’ve posted in a long time. Hopefully I can keep this up and get this site back on track with regular content in the future.