While science-fiction and horror sometimes has the reputation of being all spectacle with no substance, more often than not, there is something beneath the surface that it is trying to tackle. Both of these genres allow for inventive storytelling and ask important questions that couldn’t be explored otherwise. And the same can be said for animation. When it comes to Parasyte: The Maxim, its unique premise allows a conversation about what separates us, as humans, from other creatures.
Minor spoilers below
On the surface of things, Parasyte comes off as a gore-fest. Alien creatures come to Earth one day, inhabit humans, and the only way for them to survive is to eat other humans. It’s rather easy for something with this kind of premise to go the route of other anime like Deadman Wonderland or The Future Diary, where it is more focused on blood and violence instead of asking internal questions. On the other side of the spectrum, however, are shows like Death Note or Attack On Titan, who take full advantage of its resources for a more psychological kind of horror.
Parasyte makes it clear that it wants to be more psychological than bloody. By the time it gets to episode five, it becomes clear what the purpose of the show is. These alien creatures, known as parasites, are only doing things that will help their species survive. If one of their own is a deemed a threat to the entire population, there is no hesitation to take him/her out. Humans, on the other hand, act very differently from parasites. There is a sense of morality within humans that parasites lack, which is the concept that all human life is special and must be protected. While humans do have the moral high ground in this situation, is it the “right” thing to do?
On the surface, the story is about Shinichi Izumi and Migi (the parasite who inhabits his right arm) confronting other parasites, but there is a much deeper game going on. After Migi saves Shinichi’s life by merging with him beyond just the right hand, it is noticeable that Shinichi is becoming less human. This leads to the main question that this show is asking us is: What does it mean to be human?
This becomes much stronger with the involvement of Parasyte’s side characters, especially Satomi Murano, a classmate of Shinichi’s. While characters like Satomi can be deemed as “annoying” by some viewers, she serves an important function when it comes to Parasyte’s deeper message. As someone who is very close to Shinichi, she recognizes the small ways in which he changes, and attempts to bring out the humanity in him. Every so often, she will ask “Are you the real Shinichi” because there are several points to her where that seems to be the case.
For the most part, Parasyte does a good job at balancing itself on the issue. Many of these characters are thankfully complex for this kind of story, but there are moments where it just falls short. There are times where the subtext of the show is not subtle at all, and we have characters flat out explaining their ideologies. There are times where this fits, but there are many places where it seems to be there to spoon feed the audience a character’s motivation that is pretty obvious on its own.
Overall, Parasyte: The Maxim is a show that wants to be more than it is perceived, and it succeeds for the most part. There are some points where it seems to be moving at a snail’s pace, and there are moments of navel gazing, but when it wants to be good, it’s excellent. It definitely wants to break apart from the other trappings that science-fiction and horror anime falls into, attempting to play on a more psychological level. It successfully balances its deeper elements along with the gore to become something that may be a staple in its genre and earns its epic opening by “Fear, And Loathing in Las Vegas”.