Parasyte -the maxim-

arasyte (in Japanese, Kiseiju Sei no Kakuritsu, literally ‘Parasitic Beast’) is a science fiction horror manga series written and illustrated by Hitoshi Iwaaki, and published from 1988 to 1995. The manga series was recently adapted by Madhouse into a 24-episode anime television series under the name Parasyte -the maxim-.

The story centres on a 17-year-old boy Shinichi Izumi, who lives with his parents in a quiet suburbia of Tokyo. One night, a rain of spores pours down on Earth, and from the spores, worm-like parasitic creatures emerge, taking over the brains of human hosts by entering through their hosts’ ears or noses. After the parasite reaches the brain of its host, it completely takes control of the body of the infected individual. The parasite then spreads also to the remainder of the host’s body.

While the resulting organism retains the outward appearance of an ordinary human being, it is now in effect a parasite in its adult stage – an otherworldly alien being with shape-shifting abilities, super-strength, lightning-speed reflexes, near invulnerability, and particular penchant for human flesh.

One night, while Shinichi sleeps, one of the parasites in its larval stage attempts to crawl into his ear, but fails to do so as Shinichi is wearing earphones, so enters his body by burrowing itself into his right arm instead. Because the parasite is unable to travel further up and into Shinichi’s brain, it becomes trapped in Shinichi’s hand. Both beings therefore retain their respective intellect and personality and become in effect two separate individuals trapped in one body.

Shinichi at first refuses to accept his ordeal, even attempts to cut off his ‘alien’ hand, but gradually comes to realise that he is not prepared to part with his appendage, furthermore, that his shape-shifting super-limb gives him a certain leverage (the hand can grow eyes, mouth, or even transform itself into a lethal razor-sharp axe-like weapon, at will). Calling his new partner ‘Migi’ (Japanese word for ‘right’), Shinichi forms, at first very uneasy, alliance with his uninvited ‘lodger’ and attempts to get on with his normal day-to-day life despite his new condition.

Unfortunately, this is not to be, as other parasites keep coming after Shinichi & Migi to protect their sinister secret as they continue on their human-devouring spree and even start replacing key figures in government and public life with their own kind. As the duo encounter other parasites, they capitalise on their peculiar symbiosis and gradually form a strong bond, working together in order to survive. As Shinichi’s brain remains unaffected, he retains his empathy and intelligence, which qualities, when combined with Migi’s super-strength and super-fast reflexes, give them an edge in battling other parasites who frequently attack the pair upon realisation that Migi failed to take control of Shinichi’s brain. Shinichi feels compelled to fight other parasites, who regard humans as nothing more than a food source, while Migi, who is unable to feel any empathy for either Shinichi or other humans and is driven merely by self-preservation, has no other choice but to join in the fight, as he cannot survive without his human host and Shinichi’s death would also mean its own demise.

Shinichi must find a way to peacefully coexist with Migi, alien parasite which has taken over his right hand, in order to fight other carnivorous parasitic creatures.

Shinichi must not only find a way to peacefully coexist with Migi, the parasite which has taken over his right hand, but also reconcile his desire to protect his own kind from the invasion of alien parasites, with the necessity to keep his own parasite a secret in order to avoid being either killed or used as a laboratory specimen. Like a superhero with a secret identity, Shinichi must also find an excuse to explain away his parasite-enhanced super-human abilities, as well as the sudden change in his behaviour, to his family and friends.

The relationship that suffers the most is Shinichi’s friendship with Satomi Murano, who is at first Shinichi’s best friend and later becomes his romantic interest. The two develop a great fondness for each other over the course of the series, but the progress of their relationship is hampered by Shinichi’s dread that his monstrous secret will be revealed, and Satomi’s fear of Shinichi’s secretive behaviour and mood swings caused by small traces of the parasite’s DNA working their way through his body and slowly altering his genome, as well as from the trials and tribulations of his life that has been suddenly turned upside down.

A parasite in its adult stage retains the outward appearance of a regular human being, but can shape-shift at will to a callous alien being that feeds on human flesh.

Throughout the series, the unlikely tandem of Shinichi & Migi must face increasingly more powerful parasites and challenges which they overcome only if they will put behind their differences as two completely alien species and pull together as one body united in common cause.

All episodes of the series open with the appropriately aggressive song ‘Let Me Hear’ performed by Japanese metalcore band Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and close with the soothing, enchanting theme tune ‘It’s the Right Time’ by Daichi Miura, accompanied by equally charming illustrations depicting ordinary daily scenes from Shinichi’s hometown.

TRIVIA: Tokyopop version of the manga, which has images flipped horizontally for western audiences, has the parasite taking over Shinichi’s left hand and consequently named ‘Lefty’.