Until It Sleeps – A Review of Parasyte
To be brutally honest, humans suck. Humanity constantly consumes without restraint, dominates the planet without reason, acts only on emotions and urges with violence towards anything perceived as unusual or harmful. At times, humans are parasites: beings without a natural predator feasting off of other lifeforms.
What if that changed? What if there was a biological challenger to humanity’s hegemony? Something stronger, faster, hyper-intelligent without emotion, capable of great strength and logic. A being that could invade the human body and morph it into a destructive weapon of grand proportions. A predator that would consume people and change their appearance in order to fit into society without anyone knowing except their own kind. Something to limit the population and add another level to the food chain without repeating humanity’s mistakes. Would there be more forests intact? Would the waters become less polluted? Could humanity learn to co-exist and improve themselves or be hunted down like prey? These are the ideas explored in Hitoshi Iwaaki’s gory gem, Parasyte.
First shown in Morning Open Zōkan in 1988 and then moved in 1990 to Monthly Afternoon, (home of Oh My Goddess!) the manga starts with strange tennis-ball shaped spores descending from above onto a sleepy Japanese town, from which weird worm creatures emerge and search for hosts to control. They enter the heads of unsuspecting folk and bury themselves into the brain and consume the mind. After this, the parasites control their new bodies and shape themselves into whatever they desire.
Enter our protagonist Shinichi Izumi, a high school student, who is attacked by one of these worms, but prevents it from entering his head. The worm buries itself into his right arm, but Shinichi grabs some earphones and ties the cord around his arm to stop the worm from travelling any further.
Shinichi wakes up the next day feeling normal, like nothing ever happened. That’s until his hand starts acting weirdly and he learns that his right arm has been replaced by a parasite, who he calls Migi (Japanese for right). They decide to team up to stop the invading parasites from eating more humans and learn more about the parasites themselves. What lies ahead will test not only Shinichi and Migi, but also the reader as Iwaaki asks what it truly means to lose one’s humanity.
Despite being over 25 years ago, Parasyte is still able to be exciting and engaging (mostly). This is achieved through Iwaaki’s use of evolving characters, how they engage with their surroundings and how they are able to tackle the deep philosophical questions thrown at them. As the story progresses, Shinichi and Migi learn to co-operate as a team and play-off each other’s strengths. They begin to influence one another as they learn to perceive the world from both perspectives. Shinichi starts off as a clumsy, cheery and good natured guy who has friends and a girlfriend called Murano. Over time, he becomes withdrawn and emotionless, uncaring about his studies or those closest to him as he begins to question how innocent humanity is in comparison with the parasites. The same development can be seen with Migi, but in an opposite direction. Migi is able to think independently for himself, detect other parasites from a distance and morph into almost anything. He is a strong, emotionless and logical being who concludes that humans are driven by emotions – a trait Migi finds infuriating. Migi discovers that emotions are what cause humans to achieve brave and near-impossible feats, though they may lead to poor decisions and judgement. With this, we see an unlikely duo develop over a biological conflict with two species and peril.
Iwaaki accentuates this horror through his unique art-style which draws from David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Junji Ito and other Cold-War body horror or alien flick. It is amazing and disturbing in how the parasites warp the human flesh, yet stay within a frame where the reader can acknowledge, with existential terror, that what they’re seeing used to be human. Iwaaki does this purposely to show how humanity is not unlike the parasites (later on, a key character exclaims that in comparison, humans are the true parasites infecting the planet) and are also capable of destruction and selfishness, especially to Earth. This links with the environmental theme that appears throughout and comes to a climax near the end with the line ‘It’s possible that no species can be controlled at all…And like that…You have to respect every form of life.’
When published, Parasyte did not get much attention. Despite winning two awards in 1993 and 1996, the manga had issues with bad translations, incomplete publications and Tokyopop (a main source of translated manga) going out of business. However, Parasyte has since had a revival with a well-produced and successful anime adaptation and two live-action films.
The thrilling plot, engaging characters and grotesque images are both frightening and inspiring. When interviewed by men’s culture magazine Brutus, Hajime Isayama (creator of Attack on Titan) said: “I was surprised to find that there are people reading Hitoshi Iwaaki who think he’s not good at drawing…Better to have memorable art, even memorably bad art, and stand out.” That’s why you should read Parasyte, it’s memorable, it’s direct and if you let it, it becomes a part of you. Go check it out, if you’re not squeamish.