They control the body by invading the brain. They can change the shape of their bodies and use them as weapons. They eat humans.
Like a logical continuation of John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), set in modern day society and with more than one parasite, Parasyte is an entertaining sci-fi horror thriller.
Descending from the sky, parasites fall onto humanity. They worm their way into humans, penetrating skin and then act erratically before eating whoever is around them. As the story begins, a parasite fails in its attempt to infect a teenager, Shinichi, who becomes the protagonist. The thoughtful and quick-witted guy manages to prevent the parasite by cornering it in his arm, which afterwards leads to lots of humour from his wayward right hand with a life of its own.
They settle into a symbiotic relationship, though the parasite, going by the nickname of Migi, needs the boy more than the boy needs Migi. Thus there is the threat of body mutilation waiting for the boy if he ever decides to attempt to remove his right hand or let the world know about the parasite.
It’s a great relationship, with high stakes, tension, and drama. Yeah it’s a boy and his right hand; there should be some kind of perverted subtext at play here.
Migi's presence begins to impact Shinichi's life more than practically, but also mentally. Fearing losing his humanity, he seeks to assert himself more in his daily life and relationships, to remind himself and to teach Migi what being a human is; what humans are capable of, how they can rise above basic instincts and defy logic with their positive traits of bravery, courage, self-sacrifice and love.
Don’t worry, that hokey path is mostly avoided by author Hitoshi Iwaaki who goes into far more interesting places by actually having the boy's humanity gradually seep out of him via various plot devices that don’t feel too cheap, because ultimately they result in far more thought-provoking and juicy themes and concepts.
From the moment the parasite entered Shinichi's body he became a neo-human, but by the midway point he's practically a superhuman, albeit constantly becoming more and more detached from the lives around him, discarding of dead puppies in trash cans without realising how cold he looks to cute girls around him.
Many genre traits appear in Parasyte, such as high-school based comedy and romance, but the key aspect is the thriller undertones that are tied with such a premise. There are many great tense situations. The staple of the thriller genre is to throw an unremarkable character into an extraordinary situation and to watch him squirm and struggle to get out of it. Parasyte delivers.
It more than delivers, it constantly heaps trouble on the poor teenager, terrorising him with death and misery, robbing him of loved ones, of every semblance of normalcy, completely destroying his life. The desperation of the character is palpable and makes us emphasise with him more, there's truly a great The Fugitive-esque vibe running through this manga.
As Shinichi gets accustomed to his predicament the rate of parasites around him and risk of collateral damage also increases. He has to navigate around potential parasites all around him in society while protecting the people he cares about without revealing that living in his right hand is a parasite.
Iwaaki goes many routes with the core premise, not just having the tale centred on one boy but including the far-reaching implications of parasites infiltrating humankind. They didn’t just happen to fall into the brains of high school teenagers, but people with all kinds of professions and backgrounds. An interesting plotline begins when a suspected infected politician starts campaigning for mayor.
There are also cool shonen style rules laid upon the boy's predicament, such as Migi having to sleep for four hours because the parasite is so ingrained with the boy's body, which of course leaves Shinichi vulnerable to attacks from his enemies, forcing him to rely on his own wits.
The art isn’t anything to shout about, though like most manga, improves slightly in later volumes. Action scenes however are drawn well, with good scope and motion conveyed via effective usage of speed lines and P.O.Vs. Gore-hounds will get a lot of pleasure from Parasyte, there are decapitations and blood-letting galore. Although for some reason it appears more dour and disturbing than most other manga I've read, such as Gantz.
Maybe we're jaded at this point, but also maybe because the author doesn’t revel in violence with glee. It’s always disturbing, tragic and merciless because there's no tongue-in-cheek attitude here. Humour is present in the story, but the implications of the premise are never sidelined, the horrifying nature of the parasites and their potential is always at the forefront of the story, and it’s made never more clear than watching random citizens eviscerated without any warning or mercy. Nobody is safe in this story, so after you’ve invested yourself in various characters, watching them chased and sometimes killed, is thrilling stuff.
If a criticism could be laid at this manga, it would be that Iwaaki doesn’t show more snapshots of regular peoples’ lives, the building up of paranoia in society, knowing that there are monsters out there. Wouldn’t there be a hysteria and tragedy after tragedy as the masses implode with suspicion against one another? Iwaaki avoids this by holding the truth of the parasites from society at large, only having the public aware of an urban legend, not solid facts, but even so, having his excellent writing delve into more random aspects of peoples’ lives would have gave the manga more gravitas.
Much like Carpenter's The Thing, Parasyte doesn’t build up to an epic battle to save the planet, but rather a more personal struggle for survival. It’s always personal in this story, and that’s why it works as a sci-fi thriller, constantly keeping you on edge while entertaining you with thrills.