I’m not sure why some people thought this was scary. I thought it was funny, in a satirical kind of way. Then again, I tend to have that kind of opinion about a lot of stuff in the horror genre.
But kidding aside, I will at least try to be faithful to the critical analysis that I would normally do for a series like this one, as classic Japanese horror tends to reflect a lot upon the human condition as well as make people feel really unstable psychologically speaking… but I make no promises. Here are my honest thoughts about the anthropological satire — err — horror anime adapted from a ’90s manga that was made within this past year.
Parasyte: the Maxim (Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu) brings us back to the horrifying time of the late ’80s, early ’90s, where Japan suffered from a huge recession. And if you’re wondering why I mention this, it gives a good history of the kind of stuff that was written back then, such as this series in its manga form. Here in this post-modern universe, we follow high school student Shinichi Izumi, your average nerd who excels in most things, except physical activity. But that will all change, when a parasite with no official name infects his right hand! It is thanks to this new life form that Shinichi adapts a different physical composition and becomes a monster, as his right hand has a mind of its own!
Geez, talk about “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” or something like that!
Shinichi has to learn how to live with this parasite, which he names “Migi” (Japanese for “right,” like his hand), but cooperating isn’t going to be easy!
Unlike human beings tainted by those pesky “caring” emotions, Migi is a purely rational creature that abides by his brute instincts. That means he is only interested in his own survival, and if threatened, will stop at nothing to protect himself. Such a principle is in alignment with evolution theory, since the main goal of any species is survival.
Other parasites also exist in this world, but they have taken on more complete versions of their host. Typical parasites take the head of a host (in a very gruesome fashion, I might add), leaving no trace of the human mind, just the body. Shinichi and Migi appear to be the lesser version of the parasitic species, as Shinichi’s mind still remains independent from Migi’s by comparison.
But Shinichi and Migi are not independent minds. They are two minds sharing the same resources in a single host, namely Shinichi’s physical body. And while Shinichi tries to be a good person on the outside, even his own monstrous side surfaces more over time. Shinichi seems to have good intentions at first, but getting into more situations involving parasites brings out animal instincts of his own, even to a point where he feels even less empathy.
But Shinichi isn’t the only anomaly in this universe. Parasites often go for the brain to take over humans, and choose to eat other humans to sustain their own life thereafter. But like any other species in evolution theory, there are plenty of diverging types of parasites as well.
The parasitic host known either as Reiko Tamura or Ryouko Tamiya (because parasites aren’t very creative with names) introduces herself as Shinichi’s substitute math teacher, and becomes somewhat of a candid mentor figure in Shinichi’s life over time. While she is still classified as a complete parasite (as opposed to the Shinichi/Migi hybrid), she has two parasites in her brain, which brings about other side effects like split personalities. That becomes crucial to her development as a parasite, especially when parasites start to consider how they would run their own community, having been born in this world.
Some say that Reiko is an anomaly like Shinichi, but like any other species, she’s just another variant, trying to decide what is the status quo for parasites. And while the majority of parasites continue to feed off of humans or attack other parasites like cannibals, Reiko is interested in a more social strategy for her survival, even to the extent of giving birth to her own child, which she precariously raises in ways that most humans would find awkward.
Shinichi and Migi’s relationship to Reiko may not be a huge influence at first, but they may have at least one thing in common: a shared interest in the survival of others as well as themselves.
While survival does play a big part in both parasite and human lives, the approach to survival is different from one or another. As the threat continues to loom, parasites learn to create communities of their own instead of hunting down humans or each other without a second thought. But what comes into question with Parasyte is not whether these creatures can coexist with humans, but rather what exactly makes a human human in the first place.
While there are plenty of examples where this comes up, I would like to highlight the symbolism found in Shinichi’s tears on two separate occasions.
In the moment shown above, Shinichi weeps when Reiko dies, but he only does so after he realizes that his girlfriend Satomi Murano grieves over the death, too. While tears are the human way of showing sympathy for another, the tears first come out of his left eye. Many kinds of literature like to think of anything that has to do with the “left” is sinister and false (not that leftness has anything to do with either in real life). And seeing that Satomi shed tears in her right eye in the same scene, something’s definitely up here.
This scene suggests that Shinichi weeps at this moment not out of grief or sympathy for Reiko, but in a way that makes him seem “normal” given the situation. Shinichi’s mind is technically human, but it is also influenced by Migi’s originally unfeeling personality. Perhaps Shinichi isn’t very human after all? Let’s go to next one then.
But in this scene, Shinichi had just finished a fierce battle with a parasite that hosted five of its own kind in a single body. While Shinichi continues to live on, Migi had grown significantly weaker and was soon to die as well. Shinichi has had Migi inside him for quite some time, but now grieves that a part of him is literally dying. Here he sheds his sentimental tears starting with his right eye: a literally indicator of something that is true or just (also, not that rightness has anything to do with either in real life).
At last, Shinichi may be human after all. Or rather, as I would like to suggest, he had been human the entire time. After all, it seems human for us to believe that people value all of life. Of all the species in the world, we are uniquely altruistic; or at least some of us are. That was our way of surviving for so long as a social species, even if we had to kill ourselves and our environment to do it.
But like I said, Parasyte is satirically funny to me. And in response to the question of what makes humans human, I suppose the show is somewhat committed to saying something to the effect of “I know it when I see it.” And as realistic as that answer may be, it is very unsatisfying for most of us.
There are plenty of humans out there, some of which are kind and care for others, as well as humans who have more vile intentions. How can you separate one set from another, when humanity itself is so volatile?
So to end this review, I would like to share the last moment of this anime that speaks to what makes humans different from the monsters:
So if you like a good, thought-provoking, post-modern series and you can tolerate a great deal of gore and psychological thrills, then watch Parasyte: the Maxim. And if you’re wondering why it is I thought it was funny, it might just be my own emotional response to some of the seriousness that goes on. Or I’m just crazy!