High school student Shinichi Izumi is at first afraid of insects, recoiling from a bug that scuttles across the breakfast table. It’s the first morning of his new found inhumanity, after an alien parasite failed to invade his brain, deterred by his earphones, and burrowed into his hand instead. Shinichi’s instincts kick in and he uses the wire as a tourniquet, ensuring the parasite matures before it reaches his nervous system, settling instead for the confines of his hand. It’s a familiar scene in the body horror tradition, wherein mutation, disease and decay are used to explore the limits of the flesh. Its most vocal proponents, David Cronenberg, Brian Yuzna and Clive Barker, were all contemporaries of Hitoshi Iwaaki, whose original 1988 Parasyte manga was immersed in a primordial gloop of freaky flesh.
Accepting his strange new passenger, who adopts the functional moniker Migi (or “Righty”), they together form an unlikely, if mutually beneficial, relationship, more symbiotic than parasitic. The appearance of the aliens coincidentally *cough cough* clashes with a series of grisly killings, dubbed by the police and media as the ‘mincemeat murders’ as they envelop the town in a haze of splatter and paranoia. The parasites are “pseudo-cannibals”, in that they can only eat members of the species they inhabit – a host dog will gobble down other dogs while a human will only eat people. Meanwhile, Migi (voiced by the chameleonic Aya Hirano) survives off the nutrients in Shinichi’s blood. As a bridge between both species, it falls on Shinichi to mediate and overcome the invaders while circumventing his own increasingly complicated personal life.
Like the extraterrestrials of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (in any of its incarnations), the parasites assume the identities of those in positions of political or social power. These ‘pod people’ are indistinguishable from their counterparts, and though it might have been Cold War fear that informed the best Body Snatchers, the fear of an anonymous enemy is universal and unshakable. It’s Shinichi’s substitute maths teacher who first infiltrates his life, and then the town Mayor. The paranoia is palpable, and the government don’t outright tell the public so much as hint at the parasites’ existence. To tell them apart, we’re told, simply pull out a hair and if it writhes in death throes, you’ve got a parasite. It’s a call-back to the blood test in John Carpenter’s The Thing, a film which gives both the manga and the Madhouse animation much of its flair.
The episodes are styled as stages, like steps of a mutation or transformation, leaving more than a passing whiff of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. While the human body is presented as amorphous, with all manner of configurations of the flesh, much of the imagery and subtext are more a parable of puberty than straight up gore. From the earlier allusions to masturbation to Migi essentially being Shinichi’s proxy penis, the sexual bubbles ever under the surface. He begins to change dramatically, especially following a near-fatal encounter, becoming more emotionally detached and angrier. He even begins to look different, with a subtle line around the mouth or devastating dark circles beneath the eyes, or in the way he holds himself and styles his hair. It might be the consequences of his ties with Migi, but both occurrences ring true to wading through the tumultuous teenage years, something Parasyte –the maxim–does with a strange and bloody grace.
English dub; clean opening/closing animation; also available from Sentai Filmworks.