Top 20 Anime of 2014 – #17. Parasyte -the maxim-

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Kiseijuu, or Parasyte, was a ten-volume seinen manga series that ran from 1989 through 1995, and has long been available in many languages around the world–yet only now is being adapted into a twenty-six episode animated series by studio Madhouse. As of this writing there are eleven episodes out, and the series will be taking a break this week, though to be completely fair there should still be one or two episodes coming out before the year is over. I know it’s possible that these two episodes could be so mind-blowingly awesome that they make me totally reassess this show’s position on my list, but luckily I’m just using this list as an excuse to talk about all the shows I liked this year and am not taking the order very seriously.

Most of the appeal of Parasyte can be found at the conceptual level. Planet Earth is invaded by a wave of alien organisms which burrow their ways into the brains of humans and take over their consciousness. Main character Izumi Shinichi is attacked by a parasite that accidentally takes root in his hand, forcing it into a relationship of coexistence with its host.

Due to the animalistic nature of the parasites, the effects of their invasion of various life forms lead to differing results; some are put into positions where they can learn from and fit into human society, whereas others become mindless feeding machines. Both the parasites and the humans slowly learn more about the nature of the species as the series goes along, and Shinichi finds himself in the unique position of being able to understand both sides in equal measure, as someone who has retained his humanity while being able to communicate with a parasite.

By far the most interesting elements of the story are when it explores the different ways in which humans are affected by parasitic invasion, and the overhanging questions of what the parasite invasion might lead to in the long run. There’s a strong elements of Cronenburgian body horror as Shinichi’s body and mind are slowly changed by his increasing dependence on his physiological connection to the parasite in his hand. And there’s also gore. Tons of gore.

Unfortunately, I do have some major issues with this series so far, and I can’t really talk about them without at least implying some spoilers. I won’t give away any of what happens, and all the footage will be safe, but if you absolutely don’t want even a hint of spoilers then skip ahead to the timecode on screen.

Around episodes five and six, Parasyte undergoes a pretty heavy dramatic arc which pushes the development of the main character forward a ton and really changes the nature of his everyday life. This was by far the best part of the show, as it not only jumpstarted Shinichi into becoming a more active character and pulled us away from his hometown, but facilitated a ton of learning about the nature of human-parasite interactions.

However, immediately after this arc, Shinichi goes back home and starts going through the motions of the same everyday life he had before. At first this makes sense as a way for us to see how much his physical and mental changes have affected him, but over the next three episodes the series quickly gets repetitive. We get scene after scene of his love interest being at odds with him and stating how much he’s changed while their relationship makes painfully slow progress; and the other girl who’s been basically stalking him continues to serve no clear purpose whatsoever. We very slowly receive hints at things going on behind the scenes, with parasites proliferating society and testing out their abilities, while humans become increasingly aware of their presence, but it all feels overly drawn out across these seriously boring scenes of Shinichi interacting with his two love interests.

A lot of the problem falls on just how boring said love interests are as characters, and how little chemistry any of the characters in the show have with Shinichi. Even though Shinichi’s love interests are voiced by my two favorite actresses, Hanazawa Kana and Sawashiro Miyuki, it’s hard to even be jealous when I can throw a dart and hit a more interesting performance by either of them just in the past year. Shinichi’s enemies so far aren’t particularly exciting either, with one big exception, leaving pretty much one hundred percent of the dramatic weight of the story to fall on Shinichi and Migi, who can only carry the series when they’re learning new things about themselves. Over the last two episodes, I can safely say that the only things which happened that I cared about were the background hints at what might be coming later.

I’ve also got some issues with the way the show is presented. The character designs are nice and the overall look of the show fits well with the kind of story that it is, but there have been an increasing number of wonky frames and painfully ugly CGi crowd shots which are sometimes bad enough to take me out of the experience. This series also has one of the most awkward soundtracks I’ve heard all year, with lots of really cheesy music that sometimes doesn’t even fit the tone of the scene. And as much as I love the band Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, they could’ve probably picked a better song for the opening theme.

Even the directing and editing of the series feels very stiff and awkward, in ways that are difficult to explain. It feels like the show doesn’t do a lot to visually distinguish between a dramatic scene and a relaxed scene, so a lot of parts where the tension should be ramped up don’t feel as intense as they ought to. There are times when it seems like the dryness of certain scenes is part of the point, to emphasize the robotic and unfeeling nature of the parasites, which works really well in scenes where the parasites are alone; but when the focus is on Shinichi, the emotional stakes are a lot higher, and the music usually attempts to reflect this, though the visuals don’t quite seem to make it there. I don’t expect this to be a problem that a lot of people have, but it caused me to look into the production and find that the director has only one other directing credit, for an animated Avengers movie which also aired this year. It feels to me like this director hasn’t yet developed any kind of voice or style, which are things that a dramatic series like this could really use a dose of; but again, I might be the only one who even cares about this, and it’s not that huge of a complaint.

Overall, in spite of my misgivings towards the more recent episodes, I think Parasyte has earned enough of my goodwill through the awesome scenes that it does have and the fascinating overarching concept that I’ll continue watching it all the way through unless it completely turns to shit in the second half somehow. It’s pretty interesting to see an early 90s manga series being modernized in animation, and depending on how things go I might end up reading the manga just to see how much was altered in the animated series. I really want to see this show open up and pick up the pace in 2015, and hopefully it will live up to its potential as an exciting and interesting thriller. If you want to get in on this series while it’s airing as well, the entire thing can be watched legally for free on Crunchyroll, which I’ll be linking below.

So what did you think of Parasyte? Let me know in the comments, and in case you missed it, click the annotations on screen to watch my videos on #19, I Can’t Understand What My Husband I Saying, and #18, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, and stick around on my channel to see what my sixteenth-favorite anime of the year is tomorrow.

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