Monday, June 27, 2016

Parasyte: The Maxim (Episodes 1-12)

The idea of hostile alien life-forms living among us, indistinguishable from humans is a classic sci-fi plot. The critters in Parasyte: The Maxim are not explicitly identified as being of extra-terrestrial origin, but this is still a classic 'bodysnatcher'-type tale. The parasites are worm-like creatures that take over human brains and transform them into terrifying creatures that must hunt other humans in order to survive. Shinichi Izumi is an ordinary Japanese teen, until one of the parasite creatures tries to take him over. Unable to enter his brain in the normal way due to the fact that he was wearing headphones, the creature instead takes over his right hand. And a very strange symbiotic relationship begins.

Hitoshi Iwaaki's original manga ran from 1988-1995, so this 2014 anime was a long time coming, arriving at around the same time as a two-part live-action adaptation. The series has a killer hook, which explains why it has twice been lined-up for a Hollywood version, once by James Cameron and another time involving the Jim Henson company. Neither ever materialised, the rights reverted to Japan and we finally got to see the series hit screens.

The series crashes the "body-snatcher" sci-fi/horror trope into a bizarre twist on the buddy formula, with the mismatched partners this time sharing a body. Shinichi's parasite Migi (meaning "right" in Japanese) is able to detect other members of his own kind, acting as something of a cross between an alien guard-dog and a GPS. Migi is also able to help Shinichi to fight against others of his kind, in order to protect those most dear to him.



The chief selling point of the series (like the manga before it) is probably the parasite's grotesque transformations. The most iconic sequence from the comics features a human head opening up into a terrifying set of jaws to chow down on an unsuspecting victim- in a sequence oddly reminiscent of the work of Bill Plympton. Animation studio Madhouse have done an admirable job in bringing this body-horror material to life, filling it with disturbing imagery you won't quickly forget.

All of which is to say that this is not a show for the squeamish. The series is packed with over-the-top gore and violence that means it's not suitable for young viewers, nor is it going to be everyone's cup of tea.  However, while extreme in some ways, this is a series that does not trade in fan service. Refreshingly, unlike so much current anime, Parasyte feels no need to overly sexualise its female characters.

As befitting considering the storyline of the show, the series has a pretty dark and sombre tone throughout. There's not a ton of comic relief moments and the series frequently goes into dark territory, and pulls no punches. This is not a series that is afraid to kill characters off- and it's not just insignificant side characters who buy the farm either.




The sombre mood is matched by a relatively understated colour pallet -no pink hair here- and animation style. It's reinforced further by a soundtrack that is part choral, part screeching metal to create the perfect apocalyptic vibe.

Perhaps it's inevitable considering the source material ended more than 20 years ago, but there's something about this show that feels decidedly old-school. Horror and sci-fi have become less common in anime, as the Japanese market has become more insular and aimed at the hardcore 'otaku' consumer. This is not a criticism in any way- far from it- but Parasyte feels like a show from an earlier time. It also feels like a series that would probably appeal to western sensibilities- backed up by the fact it was picked up to screen on Toonami in the United States.

If you're the kind of  fan who bemoans the surfeit of anime about cute girls doing cute things then Parasyte is just the tonic- it could hardly be more different. The violence and dark mood will be too much for some, but for sci-fi and horror fans with a strong stomach this is one mightily entertaining show to get your teeth into.

PARASYTE THE MAXIM is available on Collectors Edition Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray and DVD from ANIMATSU in the UK and Blu-Ray and DVD from SENTAI in the US. Also Streaming on Crunchyroll and Hulu (US only)








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