Parasyte -the maxim- Review
The Fall 2014 anime season is not a season I remember particularly well. Going into it there were a couple of series I was looking forward to, but once it all started I couldn’t care less about most of the series running outside of the one we’re talking about today. I’m not sure if that speaks more to the quality of the series itself or the season as a whole. Either way, this is a show that I really enjoyed watching right up until the last few episodes where it really started to crawl up its own butt, leading to a really unsatisfying end to an otherwise good show.
Based on the manga by Hitoshi Iwaaki, Parasyte -the maxim- follows Izumi Shinichi, a pretty wimpy high school student, during an invasion by Parasites, worm-like creatures that fell from the sky and started taking people over. The Parasites would burrow into a person’s head, usually through the ear, eat the head, and replace it with themselves. The Parasites can changed their shape and composition at will, meaning there are now thousands of people walking around with alien heads that can turn into super fast, razor sharp blade tentacles a la Resident Evil 4’s Los Ganado. No one knows where they came from, and all they want to do is eat people. Shinichi gets embroiled in all this when his Parasite fails to capture his head and instead takes over his right arm. Shinichi and Migi (Japanese for “right”) end up working together to fight off other Parasites trying to kill them.
The story was first thing that drew me to the manga, and it translates well onto the screen. The idea reminded me of The Thing but on a much larger scale, and that really comes across in the animation. When the Parasites are up close to the camera, you can see that a lot of work was put into making them look really visceral. The two that stuck with me the most were the dog and Gotou, but we’ll talk about him a bit later. The dog is the first Parasite Shinichi and Migi encounter and it turns into this weird bat demon thing that looks great. Seeing the dog change from the cute corgi to the monster was great and a good way to kick off the action in the story. From there it just keeps ramping up. We’re introduced to more Parasites, seeing how they’re finding ways to blend in to human society so they won’t be hunted, how they fight, and how the humans react to finding out about them.
That’s actually the thing I appreciate most about this story. A lot of the time when the main character in an invasion is a teenager, the adults never find out about the problem until it’s too late or they do find out and make everything worse. In this story, the cops find out about the Parasites, keep it fairly quiet to avoid a panic, and come up with plans and countermeasures to find and eradicate the threat. And it kind of works. The cops actually manage to eliminate almost an entire cell of Parasites hiding among humans. While they do suffer major casualties, it’s not due to incompetence but an unforeseen element they didn’t even know was possible. If Shinichi wasn’t involved in the invasion, I could easily see the human armed forces taking out most of the Parasites and driving whatever survivors remain into hiding.
Shinichi is involved though, so let’s talk about him. Like I said, he’s a very wimpy, non-confrontational kid. He spends a good chunk of the series getting the crap beat out of him, freaking out, or crying. But instead of coming of as grating (most of the time, anyway), it comes off as totally understandable. I think that is in large part due to his relationship with Migi. The Parasites are very cold, logical creatures with no real emotions when things start. Migi is no different. He is completely content with leaving innocent people to die, or even killing them himself if it means helping him survive. Hell, when Shinichi thought about going to the authorities about the Parasites, Migi threatened to cut off all of Shinichi’s limbs and his tongue so he couldn’t tell anyone about the two of them. But, as these things go, the two form a relationship of sorts and make a decent pairing. With Migi’s super analytical personality and Shinichi’s super emotional personality, the manage to work off each other well both in terms of their characters and their teamwork against the other Parasites.
My only problem with Shinichi’s character in the show was I felt like his changes due to Migi were a bit sudden, or at least poorly paced. With Migi’s cells now mixing with Shinichi’s, Shinichi starts to go through some psychological changes. He becomes a bit colder and emotionless, but he’s still himself. In the manga, it was a lot more gradual change up until Shinichi gets stabbed through the heart and Migi has to inject some of himself into Shinichi to save his life. In the anime, when we’re first introduced to Shinichi he is shown to be freaked out by spiders. End of the episode, totally over that fear. And he switches back and forth between regular Shinichi and new Shinichi even before the Migi injection.
But there are other things that help carry the show, like Tamiya Ryoko, a.k.a. Tamura Reiko. She was a Parasite who got a job at Shinichi’s school in order to learn more about him and Migi, what with them being such an oddity among Parasites. Reiko herself is something of an oddity among them, being that she gives birth to a human baby. She’s the Parasite we spend the most time with as she studies humans, so seeing raising a child alongside everything else is interesting to see and adds to the show in a pretty substantial way. Without her the show would considerably less interesting to me.
The only other character I can think of that really mattered in the grand scheme of things is Gotou. He’s another weird Parasite in that his body actually hosts five of them, one for each arm and leg and the head controlling them all. The head can switch out, but spends most of the series with the Gotou head. He was an experiment created by Reiko, and serves as the main threat going into the end of the series. Even when he’s not all Parasited up, he’s pretty intense looking. But when he does go full Parasite, he’s one of the best looking creatures on the show. His entire body changes and he barely looks human anymore, able to eviscerate an entire police squadron in full tactical gear and armed with high powered shotguns in seconds. The only problem with him is that he gets taken out like a bitch. His death falls back to the old invasion chestnut of “humans are destroying the planet with pollution and that’s what will save us” cliché. He gets stabbed with a bit of rebar that’s covered in germs and that makes him explode.
Those old clichés really start coming in around the back end of the series, and really drag the show down. In most anime like this, there comes a point where a character just stops and monologues about human nature and how shit we are for a few minutes in order to seem deep or something. That kind of stuff really comes to a head in the last couple of episodes and feels so out of place with the rest of the show. Sure, there were sentiments like this throughout the series, but they were usually woven into the scene. One I remember is when the cops were wiping out the cell, the found someone in this lecture hall and he started going over his manifesto about the Parasites and their relationship to humans. It fit with what was going on and didn’t feel too heavyhanded. In the final episode, all of the philosophizing about humanity is done through voice over with no rhyme or reason, and the final fight of the series is just screaming that philosophizing while on a rooftop. It is so out of place and clunky that it sours the whole ending. Not that the ending was all that great to begin with.
It’s a “fight” between Shinichi and murderer who can detect the Parasites. He worked with the cops during the raid. I didn’t really mention him because he didn’t leave much of an impact on me. In fact, most of the secondary characters didn’t. That’s not to say they’re bad or anything. Watching the scenes with Kaya, a girl who can sense Parasites and is obsessed with Shinichi, or Satomi, Shinichi’s main love interest, or even Shinichi’s family worked and I liked them while I was watching them, but thinking back on I can’t really remember much about them outside of the horrible violence happening to and around them. They work in the moment but fade into the background after all’s said and done.
Finally, the animation is great. Well, for the most part it is. Like I mentioned earlier, the amount of detail on close up shots of the Parasites is great. While they do lose that detail in the wide shots and during action scenes, that’s a compromise I can live with to have the action look as good as it does. My biggest complaint about the animation comes back to my old nemesis, CG. It is fucking terrible in this. When there are wide shots of a crowd or a busy street, most of the people are CG, and they look more like monsters than some of the Parasites do. The design of them is so different from any other character in the show that it is jarring to see them, which makes them stand out even more, which makes them look even worse. It’s a recursive loop of fuck ugliness.
Parasyte -the maxim- is a good show. It has a good leading pair, some interesting antagonists, mostly great animation and action, and a story I can totally get behind. While it does crawl up its own ass near the end of it, leading up to a very unsatisfying conclusion, I would still recommend this show to anyone who missed it the first time around or even to someone looking to get into anime for the first time. If you haven’t gotten a chance to watch it yet, please do. I’m sure you’ll like it.
Parasyte -the maxim- takes the already great ideas from the manga, pairs them with some really good animation, and produces a pretty great show. Despite some minor setbacks throughout and a lackluster ending, it was the one of the best of its season and something you should probably watch.