Parasyte (vol. 1)
By Hitoshi Iwaaki

Slowly but surely, I’m moving my way up the ranks from manga-noob to manga-novice. For this week, I decided to read Parasyte, a title that is well-regarded by many a manga critic. But you can’t trust the judgment of critics (unless they’re Utilitarians), so I approached this title ready to nit and pick.

It had a simple premise: alien parasites invade Earth and infect the brains of an unknown number of people. But teenager Shinichi Izumi manages to trap a parasite in his right arm before it can enter his head. Now, I’d read enough manga and seen enough anime to know that Shinichi was going to use the parasite in his arm to fight other parasites. The set-up seemed so predictable, and I was considering whether to try out a different book. But then …

On most pages, the art isn’t particularly noteworthy, though it manages to convey the story in a clear manner. But when the parasites reveal themselves, realism gets thrown out the window and the character designs become wonderfully surreal and grotesque. Heads and arms morph into impossible shapes, inflicting gory deaths on a few unlucky humans.

A story about murderous parasites that infect human brains naturally lends itself to horror, but Hitoshi Iwaaki has a gruesome sense of humor. Parasyte gleefully shifts from horror to comedy to action and back to horror in every chapter. The one constant factor is freaky visuals.

At the core of this weird story is the complex relationship between Shinichi and his parasite, Migi (meaning “right”). The textbook definition of a parasite is an organism that benefits at the expense of its host. But in Shinichi’s case, the relationship between host and parasite is almost symbiotic. Migi can’t survive without Shinichi as a host, and so Migi defends Shinichi from all threats, ranging from bullies to other parasites trying to kill him. But co-dependency doesn’t equal friendship. Migi is completely amoral and will do whatever it takes to survive, and Shinichi is not exactly pleased to have a shape-changing parasite in his right hand.

Over time, their symbiosis changes both of them. Migi starts to exhibit human characteristics, and may even care about Shinichi for reasons besides self-preservation. On the other hand, Shinichi begins to wallow in homicidal thoughts.

While I was correct in assuming that the chapters would mostly be about Shinichi and Migi fighting other parasites, the tension between the characters and the ambiguous nature of their relationship keeps the fights from becoming repetitive. Migi defends Shinichi and kills other parasites only because it’s in Migi’s own interest to do so, and it’s quite willing to use innocent people as human shields. Yet when given the choice to abandon Shinichi for a better body, Migi refuses. Shinichi is far more altruistic than Migi, as he doesn’t want innocent people to get hurt. But he also fantasizes about becoming a hero by killing the other parasites.

Overall, a very compelling first volume. Of course, it’s possible that this manga will go completely off the rails in the next volume, but I’ll take my chances.

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