When I first started getting into anime back in 2007, I alternated between anime and manga. Fairly quickly I discovered that I much preferred anime so I dropped my manga reading habits. Fast-forward to 2013 and I developed a curious addiction to creating fake charts. I enjoyed their time capsule-properties and the discussion they provoke, as well as that evil little grin from that half-second of joy someone gets when they see the chart before realising it’s a hoax because I am a terrible person. In researching for these charts, I went hunting for highly regarded and popular manga that hadn’t been adapted into anime yet. Some of them sounded super interesting, and the more I researched, the more my interest was piqued. All these fascinating stories that have not, and possibly will never be, adapted into anime and I’m going to ignore them because of some hang up I developed over 5 years ago?
Besides how could I avoid a story that has…
Parasytes are an alien species that take over the human body by replacing the head. Our shmuck lead Izumi was about to be taken over by a parasyte, but due to some quick thinking he manages to stop the alien inside his arm, upon which the parasyte consumes his arm and takes it place. The two then have to learn how to live with each other while also dealing with all the other parasytes that have landed on earth.
What drew me to Parasyte originally was seeing the body horror pictures of how peoples’ bodies mutated and warped and started growing tentacles and teeth and occasionally dick hands. I’m usually a pretty queasy person so I’m not sure quite why this drew me in, but there’s a definite fascination with how alien the mutations the bodies undertake. Once you get over the original shock, it’s not even that scary anymore. The mutations are so alien and cartoonish they go into this area of scholarly fascination. The only times I would actually get a bit perturbed were the more ghoulish deaths of actual humans rather than the parasytes. This cartoonish nature of the body distortions could have undermined something that was only trying to shock you, but thankfully Parasyte is cleverer than that. It’s got a real dark sense of humour, one that’s willing to laugh at itself, what with the aforementioned dick hands and so forth. Plus the comedy segments don’t detract from the moments the deformations are supposed to shock you. It’s a delicate balancing act, but one that Parasyte pulls off remarkably well.
Parasyte does have more to it than just some alien horror story. Its larger theme is about humanity and what makes someone human. Migi, the parasyte that co-inhabits the main character’s body, is very Kyubey-esque in how he thinks. He has no empathy but endless curiosity driven mostly by a self-preservation instinct. Through his conversations with Izumi, they explore both sides of each character and broader concepts of what it means to be human and why it is that one might perform a selfless act. It’s got that perfect duo combination where the two sides’ conversations force both characters to develop. Migi’s development is more subtle than Izumi’s, but that’s because Migi slow development is reflected in the attitude of all the parasytes as they evolve and and start to change their approach to fitting into society. Their change becomes a way to explore what makes humans tick.
Izumi starts off as a bit of a Yuji Everylead, but he changes pretty quickly into a more fascinating character who struggles to find what it is that makes him human. Fairly early on in the manga he absorbs part of Migi into his bloodstream and it starts to change him in little ways. He doesn’t get emotional, can’t cry at friends and family’s deaths, and some of his actions start to reflect Migi’s apathetic nature. You get the feeling that the times he does show kindness and emotion is him trying to force himself to act human so he can reclaim his identity as a human. It mirrors how some of the more advanced parasytes try mimicking human actions in order to understand them and fit into society better, such as trying to smile, having children and laughing. This in turn causes them to start experiencing much more human emotions. It might sound like this is all heavy stuff, talking about the nature of humanity and all that, but it isn’t really. The last volume definitely gets a bit preachy, but otherwise the dialogue all feels very natural and goes about things with a sense of humour. Plus at the moment it really counted, when they really needed to bring everything to the table around both the parasyte’s increasing selflessness and Izumi’s own struggle with his humanity, they nailed the scene so well that it made me cry.
Let me repeat that for effect: I cried at Parasyte. Fucking Parasyte. The manga with dick hands made me cry. Do you know how often I cry at entertainment? Never! And yet somehow Parasyte made me cry? With proper tears streaming from eyes, so overcome with emotion that I had to stop reading and walk for a bit? The only other time in my entire life I cried at media was at Grave of the Fireflies, which is kind of to be expected since that is basically the only point of Grave of the Fireflies. Plus I’ve kind of gone off Grave of the Fireflies over time, as its method of drawing emotion is to have everything be shit and then everyone dies, which is kind of a cheap almost Jun Maeda-esque way of drawing emotion. Meanwhile Parasyte managed it by being positive. It’s key scene was the fulfilment of 8 previous volumes of thematic buildup and re-affirmation of the main character’s humanity that was so tragically beautiful it caused me to break down.
Sorry, is this all a bit serious?
I picked up Parasyte because I figured if I was going to jump into manga, I’d want to read something that would at least draw a reaction from me, but I ended up absolutely loving it. It keeps the story tight and focused on a small cast of characters. It’s paced excellently, comes to a conclusive ending and doesn’t drag on longer than it needs to. It has depth while keeping a sense of humour, and the body horror is shocking without being an obstacle to enjoyment. It’s a bloody great manga and highly recommended.
So yes, my new project is reviewing manga. My experience with Parasyte was good enough that I’m fully committed to finding more gems that haven’t got anime adaptations yet. I have a list of titles as long as my arm that I want to check out, but if you want to recommend something that you think I’d enjoy, then by all means go ahead.