Parasyte juggles multiple interesting themes regarding human nature against utilitarianism and animalistic survival, questioning humanity’s right as the dominant species from both a societal and philosophical standpoint. It has many high points, though the poor mix of the unnecessary high school setting and romance, lackluster presentation, thematic looseness and lazy handling of supporting characters prevents it from being as satisfying of an experience as it should be.
Plot synopsis: Shinichi’s right hand is taken over by an alien, leaving him struggling to survive in the middle of a war between humans and parasytes. With the an emotionally abusive girlfriend constantly dehumanising him, the aliens becoming aware of his presence and the national police seemingly incapable of really doing anything, it’s up to Shinichi and Migi to defeat these invaders.
The story of Parasyte starts out on a relatively strong note, with the first couple of episodes establishing the mindset of Shinichi and his new hand-alien Migi, introducing a breed of secular and mysterious “parasytes” and depicting a series of horrific murders, all while carrying itself with a sense of purpose at a consistently brisk pace. It set out to be a horror action series full of gore and violence, a psychological thriller with consistent character development, a high school romance (?) and thematic exploration of humanity and their rights to destroy other creatures for their own survival and dominance. For the first quarter, Shinichi experiences considerable development, both emotionally and physiologically, and suffers great loss. Not only is in engaging to witness, but the aftermath is depicted effectively, with his behaviour slowly changing and his attitude to his friends and the value of life gradually deteriorating. This is an example of ambiguity done right, as it isn’t clear whether his change of heart is a result of his psychological scarring, physiological alterations or both, and as a result there isn’t a concrete easy way out of his dilemma.
Upon his return to regular school life following the first quarter, his dynamics with others reflects his change, though chinks in the supporting cast begin to show. His father’s trauma is largely left unaddressed, which is justifiable as a reaction of grief and shock and mirrors how he becomes less important to Shinichi, but Shinichi’s bullies and love interests quickly grow cumbersome and repetitive, outright stating what could already be deduced through implication and over-emphasising their purpose as his foil. We can see that Shinichi is stronger, we can see that he acts without hesitation, and we can see that he is, for all intents and purposes, becoming like Migi. Why are you undoing the subtlety of your implications by telling us what we already know? This sadly becomes a running trend from then on; Parasyte will address a compelling theme through action, but then loudly shout it and decreasing its impact. Once the series burst of momentum following the first big plot twist fades, the quality of Parasyte becomes more hit and miss. The series has plenty of smaller side stories to occupy its run time, including another important death, another school attack, a female parasyte’s discovery of love and motherhood and Shinichi’s romance.
However, the pacing for these plot lines is uneven at best; characters enter and leave the fray with little sense of cohesion, with Shinichi’s seemingly omnipresent girlfriend Murano (who I’ll get to later) popping in and out to remind him of his humanity spiraling down the drain, even though if Shinichi was as smart as the series led the audience to believe, he’d cease all contact with her until the crisis is averted for her own safety. The decrease in the importance of “Human Values” as Shinichi grows cold and distant is handled well initially, but it felt like the anime just got bored with it, as not only does it not have any long lasting consequences, but is resolved in essentially just a couple of scenes. The school attack is the cinematic highlight, though the circumstances which caused it were somewhat contrived. The subsequent death isn’t done quite as well, serving as a by-the-book Woman in the Fridge cliché, and its effects only seek to exacerbate the already existing Shinichi dehumanisation character arc, making it mostly unnecessary, given it directly follows the school attack and a gap in dramatic events would have made the series feel more well rounded in the mid section. The death before the final quarter is the most emotionally powerful part of Parasyte, so much so that even the wonky presentation doesn’t prevent it from landing; it poignantly presents its themes through visuals rather than the usual talking head monologues, and carries enough for the final quarter to get off to a good start.
A start that it squanders almost immediately; it’s in the final quarter of Parasyte that everything comes crashing down. Beginning with an unrealistically deeply flawed militaristic plan doomed to fail, turning an uninteresting sex joke of a serial killer into a major plot device and with production well and truly falling apart, the series fails to pull its many threads together and the entire thematic nature of the series is hurt by this. Firstly, it takes the Tokyo Ghoul (even though the manga for that was published much later) approach of trying to make some parasytes empathetic, but because the first half featured so many episodes starting with gruesome murders and they’ve been the enemy all along, this does not work. They try to go about this by showing human generals committing atrocious acts, but this just makes them individually seem dumb, rather than effectively having them represent humanity as a whole. The series then attempts to pull in environmentalism to support its argument, but the lack of proper foreshadowing and build up prevents any of these arguments from working. On the whole, it descends to a chaotic blood splatter that throws everything it has at the wall, only to have little stick.
Which brings us to the themes of Parasyte. One of Parasyte’s major themes is natural order; humans are in a dominant position because of their physical capabilities, diversity, resourcefulness and adaptability. However, when a smarter, more adaptive and more physically aggressive species moves in, should mankind step down, or attempt to work with them to overcome differences and advance both species? Do we have a right to destroy an entire civilisation for our own sake, when they think and bleed as we do? That is one of the questions the finale boils down to, or at least pretends to. Environmentalist undertones are also present, though sadly these are only really talked about, with the series never really devoting much time to them; instead, we get to see Murano chastise Shinichi for being fit, intelligent and independent.
This can be argued as a realistic reaction to a loved one changing from who you once cared for, but she barely knew him beforehand and her desire for him to never progress is treated by the series as the morally right thing to do, as though she would only love Shinichi when he regressed back to his former self, his good self. The series final episode was heavily focused on her, but it was too little, too late to salvage this horrible character. This could have worked if they did anything to develop her before the end, but she stays just as flat and unsympathetic from beginning to end, and the anime seems completely oblivious to this. The penultimate episode isn’t quite as bad, though by that point it sounds mostly like a teenager, driven mad by stress and loss, rambling far-too heavy ideas on the verge of death (which is exactly what happens). Had Tamiya Ryouko, or even Shinichi at the half way point discussed this, then it might have landed better, but Shinichi’s hesitation to do what humanity needs him to is just out of left field in the worst way possible.
The series is full of gaps in logic, to the point where the government are basically offering bodies to parasytes. They discover how to detect their presence based after taking a sample of them, which has remarkably scientifically sound theory and explanation to back it up, but what exactly do they do when they find parasytes? They cut people to pieces, so what can a normal human do when they do find out a close friend is a cannibalistic alien? It’s not just the government; Shinichi’s actions regularly put others in danger. He keeps dating Murano, keeps going to school and keeps beating up bullies when he knows that parasytes out there are aware of his presence and intelligent enough to figure him out where he lives. His plan of killing them one by one, while they’re very obviously connected and under Gotou, is suicidal at best, and could destroy the community at worst. Yes, it was difficult for him to do anything when Migi wouldn’t let him consult anyone, but going about his daily school life and wandering around town when he knows parasytes are everywhere couldn’t possibly be rationally deliberated as the smartest decision for survival, right? Not to mention that, dubstep and bad hair cuts aside, there is no way story holds up in a modern setting; with smart phones and surveillance cameras everywhere, the parasytes would be spotted in a few days at most. For a series that wants to be taken seriously, it sure does demand a lot of suspension of disbelief.
The female characters of Parasyte are also deserving of lamentation; not only do they make the moments where they’re on their own insufferable, but ruin the scenes involving Shinichi and bring little to the plot. Kimishima’s telepathic ability initially made her an interesting character, though this has little ramification on the overall plot of Parasyte and she ultimately just boils down to a stalker. To make matters worse, this series plays the atrocious aforementioned Woman in the Fridge trope more than once. Shinichi’s mother serves as a method of stimulating growth and providing some easy emotional manipulation the beginning of the series, Kimishima serves as a way to make Shinichi more cautious and Murano serves as a heavy handed and grossly repetitive reminder of his change. All except the first one were outrageously redundant.
Speaking of girls, the attempts at romance in this series are inorganic, uninteresting and often even painful to watch for all the wrong reasons. For a start, Murano’s characterisation begins and ends with her capacity as the series love interest, with nearly all of her scenes either involving or pertaining to Shinichi, leaving her a hollow device that simply exists to tell Shinichi that he’s an inhuman monster, and the series sets this static dynamic in place immediately, with Shinichi’s first major encounter with her involving the grope-and-slap cliché. It’s understandable that the series really wants the viewer to see how well developed Shinichi is, but this overdoes it horrifically, to the point at which it is very nearly insulting the audience’s intelligence. It was expressed in so many other ways; his father’s occasional remarks (this man was much more qualified to speak about Shinichi), the way in which bullies acted around him and even his vocal and body mannerisms are all subtle summarisations of his growth, much more so than a whiney teenage girl’s sadness at his upgrades. Regarding the indication of character growth, this is definitely a case of more being less.
The comedy in Parasyte is implemented in such a manner that much is left to be desired. Thankfully, unlike the attempts at romance, these are relatively few and far between, though they really detract from the experience when present. They generally consist of lewd sex jokes, usually pertaining to masturbation or romantic misunderstandings, but the low brow and unrelated nature of them detracts from what is supposed to be a psychological high school horror romance action series. The series even shoves a sex scene in the middle of a raid, a terrible way to force comic relief, and another nail in arguably the worst arc of Parasyte. The manga was even worse in this regard, but that doesn’t excuse anything here.
Regarding the other characters, Parasyte is more hit and less miss, and the hits are in the more important places. Shinichi changes greatly throughout the course of the series, from someone more passive and shy to a proactive young man who actively plans around what comes at him, albeit very myopically. Migi is also good, starting out as the only thing keeping Shinichi alive, but eventually coming to respect his prowess to an extent. The back and forth between these two delivers some fascinating details about the aliens, making their conversations both intellectually engaging and entertaining. On his (her?) own, Migi is fascinating, as its usually secular nature sometimes shows emotional chinks as the series goes along, exhibiting subtle character development done right. Tamiya Ryouko is another strong character, changing and growing efficiently over her relatively short screen time and having substantial ramifications on the overarching plot and character motivations.
Sadly, the other characters can’t support the core as much as they should, and the aforementioned Murano isn’t the only one. Shinichi’s mother makes him feel bad with little justification on several occasions, crying that he’ll miss her and his father when they go on holiday, then crying more when Shinichi is okay with it, claiming that he doesn’t love her. The bullies, parasytes and policemen aren’t prominent enough to tip the scales one way or the other, except for the aforementioned perverted serial killer, whom ruins every scene he’s in. There is another half parasyte, but he’s more of a case of wasted potential than anything legitimately detrimental to the story. For the most part, the supporting cast are either shallow or absent, so little needs to or should be said about them.
Visually, Parasyte starts out as a relatively high quality product, with fluid and expressive character animation particularly noticeable during the parasyte’s fights and transformation sequences. A few of the action scenes are done well, with a yakuza fight being the visual highlight of the series, and some of the character acting with Shinichi is depicted creatively. The parasytes’ transformations and elongated limbs are also note-worthy, capturing what made the manga’s style work. The uncommonly plain design of the characters and background, however, was overdone, as it make things feel more mundane and unintentionally boring than gritty and real (a line which Terror in Resonance, which was released earlier that year, straggled perfectly); the colour palette opts for dull mud brown and subdued greens, which works to an extent for the romantic segments, though outright conflicts with the more dramatic ones. Perhaps had there been a noticeable segue in art sharpness or style between scenes then it could have worked, but the creative choices are a detriment to the horror/action aspects of Parasyte.
One of the problems that grows through the series is the facial texture of the characters, with off-model shots becoming more frequent in the second half especially, making some scenes feel uncomfortable to watch, made inexcusable by how many characters have very basic facial templates. Lines on the characters foreheads, where their noses, necks and clothes crease are all handled very inconsistently, with the initially sharp art style seeming to struggle just to hold together. However, the biggest problem with this production is the application of poorly rendered and shaded CGI for both crowds and backgrounds. In episode 12, there is a scene done in first-person where a character is navigating a dark room, but this scene is intercut between one of standard animation so jarringly that the tension is diminished through poor sense of space and direction. Though, as was mentioned above, there are a couple good action sequences, most of them consist of graceless flopping tentacles, stills and speed lines, feeling claustrophobic even in open spaces. The raid during the finale is particularly bad in this regard, consisting almost entirely of the same CGI vehicles and people intercut with mostly off model characters who don’t even look interesting when they’re on model.
As far as action sequences go, the fights between Shinichi and the bullies have the unfortunate honour of being the finest that this series has to offer. It may be due to the calculating and predictable nature of the parasytes, but their fights consist almost entirely of swinging at the same place over and over again. This might have worked if the animation fluidity kept up like in the confrontations in the earlier episodes, but sadly the use of repeat shots and uninteresting body movements makes what should be energising and violent bloody battles instead feel like bloated bores. It doesn’t help that the finale one of the least animated climaxes I’ve seen in a series that holds the “action” tag. There are a couple of silver linings; the series depiction of blood splatter is done reasonably throughout, and a battle in the forest was moderately engaging, but otherwise the action scenes are often a snooze. I can certainly see what the series was going for; strategic battles where intelligence leads to victory, but when these plans’ execution lacks bite it makes the lackluster pay off feel even less appropriate.
Even less competent than the visual execution of Parasyte is the audio presentation. Relying heavily on EDM music for the majority of the series, it doesn’t succeed in building excitement for the action sequences due to the repetitive and flat nature of the tracks. Though the soundtrack is experimental to say the least, strong application could have made it more tolerable, but the series often applies it as distastefully as the aforementioned sex jokes, with it playing loudly over action scenes and as more of an impedance than an addition. The track “Next to You” may often be heard playing monotonously over the (far too frequent) interactions between Shinichi and the female characters, or to CGI crowd walks, essentially playing through the entirety of episode 12. The track “I am” is hilariously ill-suited for action or horror, where it is sometimes applied, and the overall inability of the tracks to be played in melody with the activities on screen brings out the worst in the soundtrack.
The OP and ED also feel out of place, the former due to the hyper-edited nature of the music and visuals making it seem like a cyber-punk series full of hot blooded gore, complete with screamo and auto tune, which only warrants the reaction of a quick laugh. The latter harkens back to the simple days of young couples sitting by the beach, making it a poor fit for this series, and the visuals, though representing a soft and pleasantly light colour palette, don’t match the rocky romance or any other aspect of the series in the slightest. To make matters worse, this is used as an insert song at two notable times in the series, once following a death of a character, and once in the process of one being killed. This song is inappropriate for both occasions, because the failure to save the life of the one who loved you, and watching a woman give her life do not scream “It’s fine, so let’s begin. La la, oh yeah.” That’s not to say that it’s all bad; the track “Hypnotik” starts out very strongly, with ominous choirs in the background ushering in sharp instrumentation from violins, eloquently depicting uncertainly and overbearing odds. It does eventually fall into over processed EDM like its contemporaries, clashing terribly with the vocalists and violins and devolving into an unlistenable mess, but that first minute is quite excellent, certainly the best of Parasyte’s otherwise uninspired OST.
The sound design is also uneven; each clang of the parasyte’s iron bodies against each other sounds the same, and much too repetitive to lend them the gravity they are supposed to. When a wall is crushed, or flesh torn, the sounds aren’t mixed in well enough to mesh with the realism of the setting. Gun shots, though more weighty and expressive, are all the exact same effect; it could be argued that all the guns are of the same design, but there should at least be some attempts to mask the sound design limitations given they’re hitting different targets as different points in the series.
Much like the character treatment (and often as a result of such), the voice acting in the series was hit and miss. On the positive side was Nobunaga Shimazaki, delivering an emotionally charged and multifaceted performance as Shinichi, aided greatly by his organic banter with returning voice actress Aya Hirano. He keeps up with the lead’s transition over the course of the anime from a shy, unexceptional kid just trying to survive, to someone shaken up by the deaths of those close to him, to someone who actively goes out of his way to combat the parasites. He isn’t interested in depicting a bishounen figure just to sell merchandise; his screams of pain are raw and his grief genuine and impactful, making his central performance the best of the series, from the best character of the series. Atsuko Tanaka delivers a strong performance as well, and though her cool, calculating demeanour as Tamiya Ryouko is nothing new to her resume it gets the job done effectively.
On the down side, Shinichi’s stalker (Kana Kimishima) and girlfriend (Satomi Murano) were played by Sawashiro Miyuki and Kana Hanazawa respectively, both of whom are regarded as A-list voice actresses and both of whom I recently praised for their Oscar-calibre performances in Blast of Tempest. It’s a shame to say this, but they and every woman (barring Tamiya Ryouko) were subjected to terrible ADR directing, resulting in flat performances reminiscent of the damsel in distress characters in slasher films. Hanazawa shrinks away whenever Shinichi says or does anything she doesn’t approve of, and though such an emotionally vulnerable reaction may be warranted on occasions, she does this to the extent that she becomes the one at fault, as she states “Are you the real Shinichi?” like it’s their personal catch phrase, although she doesn’t back down when he is clearly upset. She was given so much time, and did little with any of it, her considerable talents wasting away in favour of serving as entirely redundant foil for Shinichi. The parasytes and humans act like you’d expect in a Saw-style slasher picture, alternately wooden and melodramatic when the situation calls for it.
Overall (Japanese): B-
Parasyte may be streamed from Crunchyroll with a subsequent DVD release from Sentai Filmworks coming up.