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May 9, 2015 7:05 AM
Anime Relations: Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu
Humans are difficult creatures to understand. Most of us are walking contradictions, simultaneously holding two opposing beliefs, with behavior that often doesn’t follow our own chosen guidelines. Our thought processes are so complicated that there is an entire scientific field (psychology) dedicated to making even a semblance of sense of our frenzied minds. As Migi tells Shinichi repeatedly throughout Parasyte, human beings and their odd ways don’t compute with him, and he struggles to understand why human beings act the way they do. This is but one small part of an ambitious story that asks some very interesting questions about us, our very nature, and our place in the universe.

Parasyte is many things, but one thing it certainly isn’t is subtle. It’s been the target of some criticism for being overly obvious with its messages, sometimes being borderline preachy. As for me, I don’t take too much issue with the bluntness of most of the show. Yes, I would have appreciated a little more subtlety, and yes, perhaps there should have been a little more left open to interpretation, but in the end I think the overall product is a great and thought-provoking watch, and for all of its directness, I think Parasyte is a show still worth analyzing. It covers a good deal of topics and ideas (all still connected in some way, though), but for the purpose of this analysis I want to focus on what I see are two of its most prominent themes, and how they are intertwined: motherhood, and the question of altruism.

Near the beginning of the series, shortly after Shinichi becomes acquainted with his new right hand, Migi tells him that, to a non-human such a himself, one of the most incomprehensible aspects of the human psyche is altruism, which is basically defined as helping someone else at a cost to yourself. In other words, selflessness. It’s something that human beings express from time to time. Migi sees this as so bizarre because his personal priority is always his own survival. He’d willingly allow others to die, or kill them himself, if it guaranteed his continued existence. To put himself at risk for someone else is a nonsensical notion. This statement of Migi’s set up the foundation for one of Parasyte’s central questions: are human beings inherently selfish?

This was a question of the utmost importance to Shinichi, at least in the beginning of the show. In the early episodes, there is much philosophical rumination on whether or not human beings are like any other animal. Shinichi starts out as an idealistic teenager, believing in the sacredness of human life and glorifying his species above all others. To Shinichi, even if he never says it quite so bluntly, human beings are superior to other living creatures on earth, and more importantly, are in an entirely different category of life. Many people today, and indeed modern science, regard humans as just a particularly sophisticated animal, further along the evolutionary road then other life forms. There are other, though, who assert that identifying human beings as animal devalues their uniqueness, an assessment that fails to take into account the specific traits and abilities that human beings possess which are absent from pretty much everything else.

Shinichi subscribes to this view, and he makes a point of telling Migi, and himself, that human beings are “different from animals.” Migi claims that his kind, and other animals as well, are fundamentally selfish, valuing their survival above all else. This seems to tie in well with the concept of “survival of the fittest” in nature; however, Shinichi, who is adamant that humans are different, feels pressured to prove to Migi that he and his kind are not selfish beings who only do what personally benefits them. After all, in Shinichi’s mind, Migi is a “monster.” If there really is no difference between him and himself, then what does that make him? Shinichi’s pride as a human being makes him feel terrified of such an idea; it threatens his entire worldview.

As such, Shinichi goes out of his way to prove to Migi, and more importantly to himself, that he is altruistic, that he would willingly put himself in danger for others. When he sees his classmate being bullied and beaten up in an alleyway, he goes out of his way to tell the thugs assaulting him to leave him alone. After he is punched in the face and told to leave, Shinichi hesitates momentarily. However, upon remembering Migi’s words about selflessness vs selfishness, he insists on his actions, once again challenging the bullies, all who are much stronger than him. Consequently, he gets roughed up, acquiring quite a few injuries. Eventually the attack ends, and, despite the bruises on his face, Shinichi is satisfied. After all, he had just committed a truly altruistic action: he helped a friend in need, even though he stood to gain nothing from it but pain. It seems that his point has been made.

Ironically, however, Shinichi has actually proven nothing, and the narrative relentlessly hammers this fact home for the remainder of the episode. The first hint towards this is the way Shinichi is repeatedly called a ‘poser’ by the bullies for interfering. Basically, an actor. Shinichi’s brave and seemingly heroic actions are nothing but a performance, an artificial cover. The thing is, considering what we as the audience know, that is actually a valid accusation. After all, it’s very possible that Shinichi would not have interfered at all had Migi not spoken to him earlier about altruism, and if Shinichi were not feeling so insecure about his humanity. Shinichi did what he did to make a point, mostly to himself. In that case, his actions were, at their core, selfish, done only to make him feel better about himself. The safety of Shinichi’s classmates did not actually factor much into his decision to challenge the bully. Far from showing that human beings are selfless beings, Shinichi merely provided further evidence that his beliefs are incorrect.

There are other things which imply the hollowness of Shinichi’s actions, mostly by emphasizing just how different he is from most people. When Kana looks into Shinichi’s eyes right after he was beat up, she is terrified by what she sees. Clearly, to her, Shinichi is not “normal.” Later on, when the bullies take Murano hostage and beat up Shinichi once again, their leader expresses severe confusion at the fact that Shinichi refuses to run, even though that would be the most logical course of action. Shortly afterwards, Shinichi’s classmates from his school come to his rescue in a large group, easily outnumbering the bullies. Migi makes a very important point to Shinichi: they challenged the bullies only when they had larger numbers and so an almost guaranteed chance of success, reaffirming Migi’s point earlier in the show that animals do not engage in fights that they know they can’t win. “They make better animals than you,” says Migi to Shinichi. Indeed, coupled with Murano’s later point that Shinichi isn’t normal because she had never seen anyone go so far to help others, it is made clear that Shinichi is an aberration, the exception and not the norm. His continued insistence on altruism and general behavior sets him apart from the human beings he is surrounded with. By attempting to be selfless in all circumstances, Shinichi only comes across to other as being even more alien, ironically seeming to confirm Migi’s suspicions that he is becoming “less human.”

It should be made clear that Shinichi still expressed selfless characteristics even before all of this, though. His confrontation with Migi in the second episode foreshadows the show’s extensive focus on the question of selfishness. At that time, Shinichi suggests to Migi that he turn himself in to the police. His reasoning is that they could use him to make progress against the parasytes, which are becoming ever more widespread. Migi makes it clear that he will not permit Shinichi to do such a thing, however, because it threatens his own survival. He puts Shinichi down by claiming that he would take away his ability to speak, see, and hear. Shinichi is terrified of the prospect of losing all of that, so he remains silent. The key point here is that ultimately Shinichi backed down out of fear for his own well-being, despite initially trying to do something that would have benefited others but could have brought harm to him.

This is something that comes up elsewhere as well, mainly in the character of the private eye detective, Kuramori, that Tamaura Reiko hired to investigate Shinichi. He was able to discover the truth about Shinichi before long, and soon Shinichi took action, telling him the truth and persuading him to keep his mouth shut. When Kuramori learns of the truth of Shinichi’s situation, he gives him a grand speech about Shinichi’s duty to hand himself over to the authorities, even if that meant spending the rest of his life as a lab rat. Kuramori’s reasoning was that Shinichi had a responsibility to protect the rest of humanity, not just himself. This assertion is interesting because it parallels the very same thoughts that Shinichi had at the beginning. Although Migi manages to threaten Kuramori into silence, his point still stands until he himself refutes it shortly after, when he realizes that he is in the parasite business way over his head. He backs out when Shinichi ask that he assist him in fighting, explaining his actions in terms of a desire to keep his family safe. Kuramori even goes as far as to call himself out on his own hypocrisy, apologizing to Shinichi for giving him that grandiose speech earlier. As he walks away, Migi comments that his actions are what to be expected of a “normal human being.”

Aside from serving to sharpen the contrast between Shinichi and other humans (especially relevant since at the time Shinichi was struggling with his own humanity), the whole incident touches on ideas that are very relevant to Parasyte’s core themes. Kuramori initially blasted Shinichi for not selflessly sacrificing himself for the greater good, before he himself backs out due to fear for his safety as well as that of his family’s. As Kuramori tells Shinichi, he is a single helpless human being, not at all equipped to deal with creatures as powerful as the parasites. When it came down to it, Kuramori ultimately prioritized himself over any supposed duty to the rest of his species; selfish, but very understandable. Parasyte actually harshly criticizes those who arrogantly declare that their actions are motivated solely out of a desire to help the world. Reiko herself alludes to humanity’s sweeping statements, such as the belief that “all life on Earth must coexist,” even if that “coexistence” simply means putting humanity at the top of the food chain. Now, this ties into another of the story’s larger themes, namely humanity’s place in the natural environment, a topic that I don’t intend to examine in-depth in this particular analysis; we stumbled upon it simply because of how tightly intertwined Parasyte’s themes are. So, back on topic: the series alludes several efforts to the human environmentalism effort, and asks, of course, whether or not that desire to keep the Earth safe is altruistic or selfish in origin. We’ll return to Kuramori’s dilemma later in this analysis.

So far, the answer to Parasyte’s question about altruism vs self-preservation seems very obvious.

However, the issue is handled with more nuance than might be expected, and there is plenty more to discuss in terms of this particular theme. A majorly important scene in the anime that relates to this topic is the lecture we see a professor giving in episode 14. There, the professor directly addresses the topic of altruism (hey, I told you Parasyte wasn’t very subtle). He makes a point that even though altruism has been observed in animals before, there are theories it is nothing more than an illusion. “The selfish gene,” the professor says, suggesting that selflessness is in reality disguised selfishness; animals view their DNA as being the representation of their selves, and make it their priority to ensure the successful transmission of their DNA to future generations, so that their essence may always continue. Their own survival is more important than that of their species. In this case, love itself doesn’t truly exist, as any action that seems to express it is actually just a selfish gesture. After the professor goes as far to say that maternal love may be fake, he backtracks and elaborates on the possible shortcomings of such a theory, ending his lecture with the question of whether or not humanity’s desire for environmental conservation ultimately has its origins in altruism or selfishness, neatly framing one of the most prominent issues that Parasyte focuses on. It is significant that Tamura Reiko, the one parasite who is officially a mother, is the one who attends this lecture, as its content connects with the themes and ideas surrounding her own personal story. This brings us to the second major part of this analysis, namely Parasyte’s unrelenting focus on maternal love.

Mothers have a very large presence in Parasyte, much more so than fathers. It only takes a quick glance at Shinichi’s story to see this. When she was alive, his mother was the one the narrative chose to center on rather than his father, and following her death, the show largely ignored the male parent, relegating him to “background character” status while story moved on to more important things (like Reiko’s own journey with maternal feelings). In truth, using either parent to make a point would have worked, but since the mother has always been seen by most people, in the past and still overwhelmingly today, as having the most intimate bond with her child, more than the father, and in most cultures around the world, especially in Asian ones, the mother plays the bigger role in the upbringing of the child, Parasyte’s decision to focus on the mother makes sense. Maternal love is often said to be one of the most powerful forces on Earth, and the show’s narrative makes use of all this to make crucial points on altruism through motherhood.

Very early on the series, before Shinichi’s mother, Nobuko, died, there is a flashback of the incident that gave her the scar that she has on one of her hands and arms. Shinichi was being a reckless little kid, trying to reach for something from atop a fridge on a wobbly stool. Naturally, he tripped and fell, bringing down a pot full of boiling oil upon him. Without thinking and without any hesitation, Nobuko grabbed it with her bare hands to keep it from burning her beloved sun. So great was her concern for him that she didn’t even notice her own pain until her husband pointed it out to her. The scar she received from having the searing hot oil spill over her symbolized her compassion and her love, her utterly selfless sacrifice for Shinichi. It was what Shinichi associated with his mother, and he it was what he used to identify her body when the parasite who was possessing it came to his house.

Reiko herself sees firsthand just how powerful the bond between mother and child is. When the mom of the lady she killed and possessed meets her, she sees through her facade almost instantly. Reiko disposes of the mother, naturally, but the fact that she so readily identified her as someone other than her actual daughter fascinates her. It’s a testament to just how connected a mother feels to her child, of the power and intensity of that bond. This scene foreshadows Reiko’s eventual understanding of this, on both an intellectual and an emotional level.

Reiko’s character arc is of the utmost importance in relation to the themes of the show, and I would argue that she is easily the most significant character in the show, behind only Shinichi and Migi. From the very beginning, she was interested in human beings and wished to integrate herself into their society, instead of outright eating them like the majority of the parasites did. She researched them extensively and came to understand them far better than her companions, even the ones who, like her, had managed to pass as normal in the human world. Their goals stood in stark contrast to hers; exploitation and dominance, rather than understanding and cooperation. Reiko was always on a more human path, and the fact that she gave birth to a human baby only pushed her further along that trajectory.

Of course, at first Reiko wasn’t much better than her brethren, in terms of methodology. She was casually cruel and made numerous plans to experiment on her newborn child. She walked around with it like it was a rag doll and was, in all senses of the word, a terrible parent. She even defended herself against in Shinichi in episode 14 by holding up her baby before him, knowing that he wouldn’t attack if it risked hurting the innocent boy. Up until shortly before her death, it seemed that Reiko could care less about her son; in fact, she herself had been under that impression.

What finally woke Reiko up to the realization that yes, she did care, was the private eye’s actions episode 17, when he kidnapped her baby. Reiko maintains her calm when she sees what happened, and her first course of action is to visit Shinichi’s house. While she is there she sifts through some old images on his computer, of his mother playing with him happily. Reiko is fascinated by what she sees, and the first semblance of true understanding of what it means to be a parent, of what it means to care for and value another’s life, of what it means to be human, comes to her. Later on, when she confronts the private eye on the roof of a building, and he continuously blasts her for being an unemotional monster who could never understand the grief of losing a child, the grief that he went through, Reiko begins to undergo the last stage of her transformation. It is heavily implied that what Reiko felt at that precise moment was true, genuine love, the love of a mother for her child. Migi, who is in the area, detects Reiko’s signal but is utterly confused:

“What is this?.....What is this emotion?”

It is something alien to Migi, whom despite his extensive interactions with Shinichi had not evolved to this level. What Reiko felt was something that no parasite before her had ever felt, and in her case, the lines between human and parasite blurred. The private eye threatens to throw the baby off the edge, to certain death. Reiko reacts impulsively and without thought, stabbing him immediately and retrieving her baby safely. The private eye bleeds out with an amused smile, surprised that such a “monster” had the capacity to feel what she did. Reiko, too, expresses surprise. She had not known that she felt this intensely until this very moment.

At this point, Reiko looked more human than ever. In fact, the process had been progressing consistently throughout the anime, and her psychological changes were reflected in her physical appearance. Madhouse did some very subtle work in terms of the structure of her face as well as her facial expressions to give her an increasingly human look. Compare Reiko at the very beginning to her final appearance at the time of her death; she literally looks like a different individual, and on a metaphoric level she is indeed. By the time she faces Shinichi one last time, it is almost impossible to identify her on the basis of her appearance alone as anything other than a human.

Before we discuss Reiko’s magnificent death scene in episode 18 (a scene worthy of its own analysis, really, considering how well it ties together virtually every single theme in Parasyte in one poignant moment, some of which are beyond the scope of this essay), we need to backtrack a bit and come back to the professor’s lecture on altruism in episode 14. I mentioned earlier that it’s significant that Reiko was the one who attended it, as she is one of the primary means through which Parasyte explored the theme of motherhood in relation to altruism and selfishness. The professor made a point of saying that all altruism is possibly false because it is motivated by a desire to only conserve yourself and your genes through the protection of your offspring. This relates very specifically to parents and their protection of children, and in this show’s case, especially mothers and their supposed feelings of love for their offspring. A question is posed here: is the love that a mother shows to her child really truly selfless and unconditional love, or is it in fact simply a manifestation of self-centered desires? In other words, when Nobuko protected Shinichi from the boiling oil when he was a child, regardless of what she thought, was she really doing it for him, or for herself?

Parasyte’s writer very deliberately chose to use parents to address this question of selfishness because of how sharply it gets to the heart of the matter. Considering how often parents are glorified and praised for the integral roles they play in a child’s development and how utterly compassionate most seem, suggesting that that love is fake is unsettling and downright upsetting. From another angle, parents are also perfect for this issue because they are ultimately the ones who keep the natural order of things flowing; they are the ones responsible for producing and raising a new generation of humans, making them a crucial force in nature. The natural cycle of life and the environment at large is a big theme in Parasyte as well, making this a perfect fit.

Alongside all of this stuff about selflessness, selfishness, parents, and the environment, there is another crucial thematic thread: humanity, and Shinichi’s struggle to retain his following the trauma of his mother’s death. Shinichi very visibly changes, both psychologically and physically, in its aftermath. He becomes more gaunt, looks more adult; the days of innocent, sweet little Shinichi were gone. Shinichi begins to feel alien to both himself and the people around him, something that distressed his love interest Murano a great deal. Even though Shinichi tries to move on, he utterly fails; wherever he goes he is reminded of his deceased mother, and he frequently grabs his chest in pain, suffering through agony so intense he could barely breathe, all due to an ever present “hole” in his chest. The symbolism here is that the “hole” represents his lost humanity, his connection to the people around him. The most significant marker of Shinichi’s change is his general apathy towards nearly everything. He could calm down almost instantly, and most importantly, he could no longer cry. No matter how hard things get, no matter how much he suffers, the tears refuse to come, as if they are being blocked by a dam. Shinichi reflects on this absence of tears following Kana’s death; he feels sad, but for the life of him he simply can’t cry. The message is hammered through, almost a bit too much: by losing his mother, Shinichi lost a big part of himself.

All of the above thematic threads come crashing together in episode 18, when Reiko stands before Shinichi amidst a silent snowfall. The police track her down and open fire on her, despite the fact that Reiko was holding a human baby. She let the bullets penetrate her body, opting instead to use her energy to shield the baby in her arms. Shinichi attempted to walk away from Reiko; when she saw this, she desperately thought of a way to connect to him, or, in her words, speak to his “humanity.” So what did she do?

She changed her face to that of his mother’s.

By doing this specifically to appeal to Shinichi’s humanity, Reiko reveals the symbolic association that Parasyte makes between mothers, or parents in general, and humanity. Parents, the ones who keep humanity’s metaphorical heart beating and living, symbolize its very essence. This symbolism is remarkably consistent; after all, Shinichi began to struggle with his humanity in the aftermath of his mother’s passing. When Reiko shows Nobuko’s face to Shinichi, he is moved to stay in his spot, despite Migi’s proclamations that he was falling for a trap. Reiko gives him her child, asking him to raise him properly, and after some reflection on her life, collapses with a smile on her face, dead, her last words being “thank you.” Her baby begins to cry, and that is what finally destroys the dam that had blocked Shinichi’s emotions ever since his mother’s death. After all, the baby was crying…crying for its mother, the one who was no longer alive, just as Shinichi had once cried for his mother after coming face-to-face with the truth that she was no longer in the world. And with that, he too began to cry. (The snow, I presume, is meant to symbolize both death (Reiko) and rebirth (Shinichi’s humanity).

There’s an elegant symmetry to the fact that before this, the last time Shinichi had cried had been when his mother died. Here, he cries right after someone else’s mother died, and more significantly, when he symbolically met his mother again. Back in episode 14, the fortune teller had told Shinichi that the only way to heal the hole on his heart (a.k.a restore his humanity) was to meet the person who had caused it in the first place. Shinichi had cynically responded with an unsettling smile, stating that he had already killed that person. Here, though, it becomes clear that Shinichi had misunderstood. The parasite that had taken his mother’s life was not the cause of the hole; rather, it was the absence of his mother. In order to bring back what he had lost, he had to meet his mother once again. Of course, that was seemingly impossible, but Reiko proved otherwise. In the moment that she shifted her facial features to resemble those of Shinichi’s mother, she herself had transformed into a true mother. Why? Because she had finally, without a doubt, gained her humanity. By genuinely loving and protecting someone other than herself, her child, she had simultaneously become a mother and a human. That essential bond of pure compassion that she felt towards her son allowed her to finally reach what she had always wanted: a true understanding of humanity as a species.

By unlocking her humanity, Reiko unlocked Shinichi’s as well. She allowed him to meet his mother once again through herself, which helped Shinichi finally come to terms with his grief. Ever since his mother’s death, he had buried all his pain deep inside himself, pretending that he had moved on when in reality he was constantly being torn from the inside out, from a pain so vicious that it totally consumed him in the occasional moments that it surfaced temporarily. That insistent hiding and blocking of his true feelings is what made Shinichi incapable of crying, even though it was the catharsis that he desperately needed. Seeing his mother in Reiko, and seeing her selfless sacrifice for her child, just as his mother had sacrificed for him, finally knocked down the barrier Shinichi had created within himself. So he cries, the result of the hole in his chest finally being healed. Reiko allows herself to die, at peace with the knowledge that she had finally discovered her place in the world, had finally understood motherhood.

This all ties into, of course, the question of altruism vs selfishness. My understanding of what happens here is that it is a rejection of the notion that humanity is inherently selfish. Yes, more often than not, human beings are selfish, valuing only themselves, often to the detriment of others. However, the point is that human beings are capable of altruism, that they can be truly selfless. That is what mothers are, of course. Parasyte uses them to symbolize humanity, and through their selflessness makes it clear that humanity itself is not a fundamentally selfish. The bond that exists between mother and child is too powerful to be regarded as anything other than genuine love. Nobuko scarred her hand for Shinichi without a second thought; Reiko took who knows has many bullets to protect her son, and reacted instantly to save him from being thrown off of a building. The lack of hesitation in these actions makes them seem almost instinctual, something that a parent does without thinking about it. There is no calculation involved here, no clever thinking- just an unrelenting priority to keep their offspring safe. The signal that Migi detected from Reiko before her death is the biggest indicator of the distinct human-ness of this. He doesn’t understand what Reiko feels; it is an emotion beyond his comprehension. Does that not echo what Migi told Shinichi in the beginning, that altruism was something beyond his comprehension?

So here we have a show that seems to offer us two contradictory perspectives: a grand statement about humanity’s altruism in a world that consistently emphasizes its selfishness. Parasyte’s stance seems to be that human beings are not fundamentally selfish, but that all too often they choose to be. In the narrative’s view, human beings tend to act more like other animals, even though they are capable of better. Ironically, this selfishness usually stems from emotions and feelings that are an integral part of being human. That humans need to be better than they currently are is a point that Hirokawa brought up in the speech he gave before being shot to death. He kept returning to the idea that humans are arrogant, imposing their will on the planet and unwilling to admit that their efforts of environmental conservation (there’s that again) are designed to benefit them, and only them, regardless of the effects it has on other organisms. Hirokawa’s solutions? Prioritize the safety of all life, not just that of the human race, and by doing so become the truly better species. As insane as Hirokawa appears during his rant, his major points seem to fit in snugly with Parasyte’s core themes and message. Why do we degrade ourselves by acting entirely out of self-conservation, when we are gifted with the potential for abundant amounts of compassion and love, gifted with the capacity to be altruistic? It’s a harsh condemnation of the human species, though as we later see, the author does not seem to be nearly as aggressive in his actual stance.

The oft-repeated question of altruism and selfishness features prominently in Parasyte’s penultimate episode. There, after Gotou is finally defeated, Shinichi contemplates whether or not to allow him to regenerate; without interference, his chances of survival are 50-50. Migi opts not to do it, having developed to the point where he no longer wishes to kill his own species, as he had many times before (a significant point we’ll return to). The choice rests in Shinichi’s hands.

What happens next could be seen as a bit confusing. Basically, Shinichi at first decides to leave Gotou to his chances and he actually walk away; however, after a flash of light Shinichi can be seen standing over him, killing him even as tears crawl down his cheeks. I was surprised when I visited the forums and found that most people interpreted that scene as literally unfolding in chronological order, with Shinichi walking away at first but then eventually returning and killing Gotou, anyways, despite his extensive reasoning against it just moments earlier. Me? I personally understood that scene as giving the viewer two possible scenarios that might have occurred, without making it clear which decision Shinichi made. The scene that follows right after, with the old lady Shinichi had stayed with asking if he had done it, even as he walk away, seems to me to have been deliberately framed that way so that the audience understands that it is meant to ask that question as well.

Running with that interpretation, what the mangaka did with Gotoh’s scene is stunning in its brilliance. The situation, obviously, mirrors one of the show’s central questions, selflessness vs selfishness. If Shinichi allows Gotou to leave, he is being altruistic; if he purposely kills him, he is being selfish. Shinichi’s words in the second scenario even directly echo Kuramori’s words from episode 15: he’s just a little human being who cares for his loved ones, and just does what he can to protect them. However, there is actually a double meaning to the way these two situations are presented, and what they each symbolize is actually reversed if you look at it from a different angle.

Shinichi’s reasoning for sparing Gotou was that he didn’t want to commit murder, and that he didn’t want to impose human values upon a non-human creature. As he walks away Shinichi acknowledges that his actions could have disastrous consequences for humanity, if Gotoh successfully reassembles himself. And that’s exactly it: Shinichi’s actions here are exceedingly selfish. He willingly puts his entire species in danger just to avoid having a guilty conscience, to uphold his own moral code. In the second situation, Shinichi is actually being altruistic: he is violating his very nature, committing an actions that he detests with every fiber of his being, to protect people other than himself. That the meaning behind the scenarios could change in such a way simply by shifting your perspective is fascinating, and complicates the question a big deal. With this, altruism doesn’t have to equal good, and selfishness or self-preservation doesn’t have to equal bad. In the end, it is left open for the audience, one of the few times Parayste does so, so it is obviously intended as food for thought long after you’ve finished the series.

I still do think, though, that Parasyte ultimately views altruism as a thing that truly exists, and more so, something that is to be desired. Migi, the creature that once saw altruism as an alien, bizarre thing, actually comes around to it by the end of his developmental arc. In the fight that concluded with Gotou absorbing him, Migi willingly sacrificed himself to keep Shinichi safe, staying behind to fight while Shinichi got away, an action that had no benefit for him whatsoever. This is the moment where Migi truly becomes human, the moment he sacrifices for someone other than himself. Throughout the entire show, Migi had protected Shinichi only because he needed Shinichi to live, not out any bond of friendship or affection. Here, though, Migi is placed in a situation where fighting to protect Shinichi will not benefit him, and yet he does it anyway, an indication that he had finally evolved to Reiko’s level. Two parasites who became more human than ever through self-sacrifice; it’s a consistent motif, and it strengthens Parasyte’s assertion that as little as human beings tend to display it, altruism is one of the biggest markers of humanity.

Parayste’s final episode is a very reflective one, with the majority of its runtime consisting of Shinichi philosophizing on what he had gone through and the lessons he had learned. It would be easy to see Shinichi’s own conclusions on the themes that underlined the series as the final message that the audience is meant to take away, but I believe it’s necessary to look deeper to really find the nuanced meanings behind the events in the series. Shinichi concludes that humanity is selfish, and that the movement to conserve the environment is indeed selfish in nature, done out of a desire to not feel alone. He also concludes (just as Hirokawa and Migi did) that human beings are arrogant too often, judging other species by their own standards and presuming to understand them from their limited perspective. It’s also very important to note that Shinichi comes to believe that being selfish is in itself not necessarily a vice, and that it should exist there to some degree.

Shinichi’s conclusions are made clearer when put in context of what came before, and pairing what he comes to believe with the variety of statements made throughout the show, along with the way events unfolded and the symbolic meanings underlining them, paints a much sharper image of Parasyte’s answers to the questions it posed. Firstly, yes, human beings are, most of the time, very selfish. However, as our discussion of the theme of motherhood and of Reiko’s character arc reveals, that does not mean that we are inherently, fundamentally selfish. We are capable of true self-sacrifice, of genuine acts of kindness that have nothing to do with ourselves. Iwaaki cleverly implies this by having the professor back in episode 14 note that there are several problems with the theory that we are controlled solely by our ‘selfish genes,’ an indication to the audience that he does not fully endorse this idea.

Shinichi’s point about the importance of loving ourselves also ties into an idea central to the show: the value of human life. We haven’t discussed it much in this essay since it’s not particularly relevant to the two dominant themes that have been the focus so far, but is actually one of Parasyte’s biggest themes; as mentioned earlier, the series covers an impressive range of ideas, all of which are connected one way or another. This love of life is an integral aspect of Shinichi’s character, and it is his belief that it is part of what makes humanity…well, human. When Shinichi comes close to forgetting the immense value he placed on human life by almost sacrificing himself recklessly in episode 22, he is scolded by the old lady he spent time with, who extols the inherent value of human life and of his duty to treat it as precious, i.e. to preserve and protect it no matter what; basically, self-preservation. That is actually the final challenge that Shinichi grappled with, in the last episodes when he feared his own death. He could have kept running forever, trying to keep himself alive, or he could have turned around and challenged Gotou, who was killing people on his quest to find him. In the end Shinichi chooses the latter, but even then he makes it clear that he’s doing it out of a sense of responsibility, not of any desire to save the human race or to be a hero.

This whole discussion is interesting because it provides a sympathetic angle to the view that humans are selfish. By doing this, the series makes it clear that selfishness itself in sot an inherently bad thing. It is not wrong to love and value ourselves; after all, that is an essential part of being human. After all, extreme altruism, taken to its logical conclusion, would result in an utter disregard for one’s well-being and an absolutely miserable style of living (like a certain Shirou from F/SN, but that’s a discussion for another day). Human life should be valued, and preserving it is an important part of living as a human being. Framing the issue in this way makes a compelling argument for the necessity of some degree of selfishness in everyday life. However, the problem comes when you consider that just as you value your life, so too does everyone value theirs. When you take steps to protect and ensure your continued existence, you inevitably hurt someone else, inflict damage on another precious life. In that case, are you not being hypocritical and truly despicable, placing greater value on your life than on others? What gives you the right to do that, if you are all living creatures?

It becomes clear than that while some selfishness is a good thing, a radical version of it is just as detrimental as an extreme version of selflessness. Love and value your life, but balance that with regard for other people, and don’t forget that you are but a small part of a large community of living creatures. Focusing only on yourself and ignoring the bigger picture is no better than focusing on the bigger picture at the expense of yourself.

The series makes its final statement on this issue with the final episode (as is to be expected). When Shinichi tries to save Murano from Uragami and at first thinks that he loses her, the audience is treated to a small scene where Shinichi reflects on his sorrow. Why, exactly, does he feel so sad when an “organism [he] met in passing” dies? Migi, now not so different from an enlightened philosopher, tells Shinichi it because human beings have “time to spare” in their hearts, and that that fact is their greatest virtue. Basically, what makes humanity so special is its capacity to enjoy life on a level that goes beyond satisfying base desires. Human beings do not spend their entire lives doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and procreating. Rather, they push themselves to lead highly sophisticated lives. We humans live in complex societies, ponder intellectual and philosophical questions regarding the very nature of our existence, produce great works of art across different mediums, and are able to actively change the world we inhabit, for better or worse. That capacity to experience life so vividly is also what allows us to love others besides ourselves so deeply, to make room in our hearts and minds for others besides ourselves. That love is where altruism originates from, and it is what forms the essence of parenthood, and in this case specifically, motherhood.

Migi’s final act in the series is ultimately an altruistic one, a simple gesture of love and companionship: saving Murano’s life. This woman had nothing to do with Migi; for virtually the entire series he could have cared less about her, and despite how much he had evolved and developed by the end, Migi had never forged any sort of bond with Murano. She wasn’t his friend (she didn’t even know he existed) and he wasn’t hers. And yet, he saved her anyways, an action that could not possibly be chalked up to a selfish motive in any way. Saving Murano didn’t affect Migi in any way, and he had no stake in her survival. No, he saved her for his friend Shinichi, a true act of kindness and compassion. Even though Murano didn’t matter to him, Migi knew she did for Shinichi, and so saved her. By the conclusion of Parasyte, Migi had come to understand the concept that had once baffled him so intensely. More so, his final understanding of humanity’s virtues affirmed Shinichi’s initial belief that human beings were special, that they could not be simply seen as advanced animals. This is how Shinichi and Migi’s relationship came to encapsulate and echo the themes of altruism and love that underlined the entire narrative, and the final episode of the anime brought it all together in a truly beautiful and poignant conclusion.
Posted by MrAM | May 9, 2015 7:05 AM | Add a comment