I remember hearing a lot of hype for Parasyte when it was first announced for an anime adaptation. Apparently, it was a really popular manga in the 90s about some kid who got his hand infected by an alien parasite – hence the name I suppose, although I’m not sure why the “i” was changed into a “y” – and must now learn to live with it whilst warding off other similar infected people who had the misfortune of being killed by these beings before having their entire existence taken over. Seemed like good body horror stuff as is, but then came the influx of people I knew who read the manga that declared it to be the second coming of Christ and my hype for it was decent whilst not being astounding because it was being done by a Madhouse team whose only credits were to their Marvel stuff and isn’t that just another clue that they’re not the powerhouse they used to be? Well it turns out that I was right to be cautious, because not only does Parasyte not live up to the hype, but it’s knee-deep in pretty much everything I despise about Marvel stuff to boot.
You know your show with dick hands and uncensored decapitations has problems when I can think of five shows from Fall 2014 I’d rather watch over it and one of them is from KyoAni. But before I get into thrashing this show, I’ll admit that I’m glad Parasyte was made, if only because its popularity will hopefully lead to more classic manga getting adapted, thus lessening the huge surplus of LN adaptations we’ve been getting as of late. In an age where self-awareness is replacing actual humor, we really do need more manga adaptations that take themselves seriously, and this along with Attack on Titan are prime candidates for ushering in that age. So thank you Parasyte for representing a spark the animation industry desperately needs now that Kickstarter has shat the bed, but that’s not going to stop me from beating you to death with a croquet bat that has spikes nailed into it.
Parasyte, or Parasyte-the maxim if you want to be an asshole about it, is an adaptation of a 90s manga about a kid named Shinichi whose normal life is shattered when aliens land on his world and one of them infects his right hand in the process of trying to kill him, causing him to have a “mature relationship” with it, if you get what I mean. The story basically follows him and his desire to live a normal life whilst dealing with the changes going on in his life caused by his new situation like dating girls, helping his family, and fighting off others like him who had the misfortune of getting killed and controlled by their own infected diseases. I might as well be calling him Asian Peter due to how much he resembles Peter Parker from Spiderman in terms of situation and personality.
In fact, many things about Parasyte are pretty much copied wholesale from Spiderman, like the alien infections, uninteresting supervillains, incompetent police force, large sections of the plot, and even the fact that the symbiotes…er, I mean parasytes are weak to fire. The only thing it didn’t rip off was everything that made Spiderman fun like the web swinging. How cool would it have been for Asian Peter to use his right hand to swing across buildings whilst wise-cracking like a…um, actually if it means less snarky remarks, I think I’ll accept that sacrifice whilst still snarling at the twenty other things you could have included. Because as emo as Peter got at times, at least he traded in the angst for some f*cking awesome dance moves.
Asian Peter on the other hand can’t even do awesome fight moves. For something that’s supposed to be one of the major draws of the show, why does every single fight scene look like it was choreographed by Yuen-Woo Ping on the set of Cradle 2 the Grave? Whenever an action scene occurred, it would always consist of boring blade spam or five minutes of Asian Peter conversing with his hand followed by five seconds of actual action at best and two seconds of embarrassment that would make Kill la Kill laugh out loud at worst, which isn’t exciting in the least. It also doesn’t help that the music in this show is so f*cking mismatched to what’s going on that the supposed horror vibe this show coasts on is about as existent as an American-made Silent Hill game with a heavy metal soundtrack. For all that work put into having the violence uncensored and having good animation, you sure didn’t do a good job of putting some actual flair on-screen, did you Marvel director? Although considering your credits and the state of the action we get in those films, it’s kind of apropos.
However, the biggest flaw that Parasyte – along with said Marvel films – has is that it doesn’t seem to have a story at all, always heading in one direction before bailing halfway through to focus on another in a round robin that would make Spiderman 3 confused. We start off with Asian Peter basically imitating what makes Spiderman great by getting going through puberty whilst dealing with the consequences of his new-found powers, so I figured that Parasyte was going to be a coming-of-age story. But after he gets turned into a superhuman, that story is put to the side to have him turn into a monster and deal with a love triangle between Asian Mary Jane and Asian Gwen Stacy that ends with the latter’s tragic death to showcase his change. So Parasyte is a story about how having powers turns you into a jerk that will hurt your loved ones?
Nope. After said tragedy, Asian Peter suddenly stops acting like a monster and instead angsts about how he can’t protect anyone whilst other humans start getting involved, culminating in a sort-of-sympathetic character getting killed off in order to teach us about discrimination and how there are good people amongst the parasites just as there are bad people amongst the humans and thus they’re no different from each other when you get down to it. So your story is about how overcoming discrimination is hard, especially when you factor in the different natures of humans and non-humans, but it’s not impossible? Wrong! The real story is that “humanity is a flawed species who will always fight for themselves at the end of the day”. And even that’s mishandled badly, as leaving aside that they showcase this fact by having a bunch of stupid soldiers shoot up a building, culminating in Asian Peter killing off a super-strong experimental parasyte that’s basically the love child of Doc Ock and Venom in order to prevent more deaths, it tries to compromise by delivering the same environmental stuff that made Princess Mononoke so good. Y’know, how humans and animals are just fighting for themselves and the only reason they protect the environment at the end of the day is because they’ll die if they don’t?
But it completely falls flat because it can’t seem to make up its mind regarding whether parasytes should be compared more to humans or lions, and it fails at providing a strong case for either side. The show makes a big point about how parasytes were sent to Earth in order to cleanse humanity for its crimes, so if they are comparable to humans, it’d be one of those PETA nuts channeling Jeffrey Dahmer. And if they’re supposed to be compared to lions, that fails too because last I checked, lions can’t blend in with humans much less eat at Burger King without having eyes and shotguns pointed in its direction. Not to mention, if lions really are living amongst us, killing people in secret like the parasytes have done, I say we make those motherf*ckers extinct.
Parasyte’s core message regarding humanity and its relationship with the world is a good idea on paper, but the way it comments on it really leaves a lot to be desired. If the show had focused on centering Asian Peter and his right hand as an ironic victim akin to the protagonist in District 9 or as the failed mediator between two species akin to Caesar in the Planet of the Apes reboot, this might have worked. But instead, it meanders with repetitive philosophy that anyone out of middle school would know, can’t make up its mind regarding whether Asian Peter is growing and how he’s growing, indulges in really shitty shonen action cliches, and it doesn’t help that the ending doesn’t make any goddamn sense. I’ve heard a lot of people talk up how perfect it is, but all it did was have Asian Symbiote-less Carnage kidnapping Asian Mary Jane in order to confirm what we already knew, which is about as mundane an ending as you can possibly get in a philosophical narrative.
Am I being too hard on an anime whose source material dates back to before the environmental trend was really a thing? Maybe, but that didn’t stop the original Persona game from getting thrashed when it got re-released, so why shouldn’t I criticize Parasyte for basically arriving way too late to have any impact on me? Plus, if it was really as good as people said, time would be kinder to it than this. But that’s irrelevant, because I’m judging the anime on its own. And on its own, Parasyte is just not a good show. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a bad one, but I can’t really say I’ll be watching it again anytime soon.
PS: So how about Mappa’s upcoming adaptation of Ushio to Tora, eh?
PPS: Mind you, at least Attack on Titan had good action scenes and a coherent narrative throughout its sluggish pacing.