Somewhat Spoiler-free Introduction
Parasyte opens on a night in modern Japan. Orbs like phosphorescent pipe-cleaner balls are floating down from the sky onto the city. The orbs break open like seeds and release smaller bacteria-looking things. Given their limited lifespan once released from the orbs, the creatures immediately search their vicinity for a sentient host with the intention of taking over their brain so that they may manipulate and control the cell structure of the entire body. The result is pretty disturbing,
but they do have the ability to take a somewhat normal human appearance, learning speech, motor skills, history, emotional affect (though sometimes failing in the creepiest of ways), interpersonal skills to various individual degrees. Parasites use this cover to feed their seemingly inherent and solitary desire for the flesh of other humans.
This brings us to the series’ hero, Izumi Shinichi. On the night that the parasites descended, a parasite tries to take-over Shinichi’s brain but wakes him in the process. In a second attempt, the parasite enters his hand and tries to work its way up his arm back toward the brain. Shinichi, understandably in full panic mode, makes a tourniquet and prevents the parasite from going any higher. This results in the parasite resorting to the control of merely his right arm during the last moments of its life-span, forming a forced symbiotic relationship with Shinichi. The rest of the series is a the story of how Shinichi navigates this forced relationship and teams up with Migi, his name for the parasite in his right hand, to preserve their own lives and the lives of others against the other parasites that are killing and feeding across Japan.
First and General Impressions
I liked the series at first and throughout the majority of the arc because it did what I thought it would do and it did it well. It engaged with the differences of conviction between Migi, a parasite calculating and consumed with its own survival at whatever cost to itself or others, and Shinichi, a human who has a list of objections to this philosophy so detached from humanity, but finds himself drawn into it because, after all, it is his body that they are both trying to protect.
There is one moment where Migi, who can learn independently of Shinichi, is reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment when Shinichi wakes up one morning. This, I think, gives the best analogy for what the series is trying to do. In Crime and Punishment, the main character is a man named Raskolnikov whose name, Raskol, means “schism.” His name alludes to the division between his selfish philosophy of superiority and moral license that he would like to think himself capable of following and a curious inner conscience and humanity that strains against his doing so. We see the same with Shinichi except, in this case, the schism is between two intelligent persons within the same body and their individual philosophies, not merely two rival philosophies held by one person. As the series progresses, there is a melding and conflicting of these philosophies as Shinichi finds himself beginning to act and react like Migi, while Migi struggles with the often illogical human nature Shinichi and others display.
Again, the series does these things and it does them well. Very well. But, as Tristan, the host of Glass Reflections anime reviews, is known to say, “the ending is paramount.” The issue of how to resolve such a series eventually rears up with both front hooves flying. As viewers we hope that this give and take of philosophies will end with Migi becoming more human and Shinichi renewing his faith in the value and purpose of humanity because we believe that there is something in humanity greater than animal instinct and of greater worth. We might even allow ourselves to hope that the ending takes the same kind of religious, “there must be something greater than humanity,” ending that you see in Crime and Punishment. Even if you’re one of those curmudgeony folk who prefer your stories not to end on such an ideal and resolved note, we would probably agree at least on the level of terminology that such non-ideal endings are generally called “tragedies.” And, in my opinion, Parasyte concludes as a tragedy when the evolutionary, “survival of the fittest” philosophy that so often wove itself through the series becomes the impetus for the series’ conclusion. Allow me to explain.
THUS CONCLUDES THE SPOILER FREE PART OF THE ANALYSIS
EVERYTHING THAT FOLLOWS WILL BE OVERT SPOILER TERRITORY
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
Conclusion (The Beef)
For the sake of brevity, I will consider the conclusion of the series to be somewhere around the last 4 to 5 episodes (21/22 — 25). In this range of episodes, Shinichi faces off against Gotou a parasite that has taken into himself several other parasites, assigned them to different parts of his body, and controls them as the body’s head. Gotou is the last of the major series of parasite antagonists and the most lethal.
Within the tension of the coming confrontation, there are several things occurring at the conclusion of the series, many of which I disagree with. First, the problem of Shinichi’s final striving against Gotou climaxes to an agenda of, “and that’s why we should protect the planet by being more environmentally minded.”
I have never liked these types of endings. It’s my own personal feeling, but it always feels like those endings are cheating, and not because they seem to slip in a political agenda at the end of an enjoyable story. Rather, instead of taking time to resolve a good narrative, they try to address what they think is — but actually isn’t — the problem. They think that they need to remind humanity that our methods of consumption and disposal are harmful to the environment, but any preschooler watching children’s t.v. or any joe-schmoe driving down an urban highway can learn that easily enough. The real issue is that joe-schmoe, or people who look like him with the exception that they’re wearing suits and little flag pins, are not persuaded that the latent consequences are great enough to concern them or outweigh their immediate profits. This selfish mentality is closer to the heart of the condition, and its the process we all instinctively use to justify our decisions to sin. The human condition is addressed in the scene immediately following this one, but this weird, forced, agenda tends to stick out into the path toward the conclusion.
Addressing the human condition, within seconds after the weird environmental agenda drop, Migi tells Shinichi, “The underlying source of [Gotou’s] anger does not exist within me, since I never took control of a brain. It is the drive to devour the human species. That emotion was amassed and amplified until a bloodthirsty, war-crazed machine was created” (Ep. 23 “Life and Oath”). Migi is implying several things. First, “the desire to devour the human species” is not inherent in Parasites, but rather humans (think Galatians 5:15). And second, because Gotou is a composite being of multiple Parasites, this human drive is “amassed and amplified” beyond the capacities of a single human until there is almost a demonic senselessness in his fury. We know from scripture that humans are fundamentally flawed and sinful which is why describing Gotou’s fury as almost demonic is not far off since the Bible describes us as being naturally objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-5) and sons of Satan (John 8:44-45). But, in Gotou, there is no hint of redeemable humanity left that might be awakened or brought to reason, even at the very end. Instinct is the only driver, not quite in the same way, but similar to how zombie movies often portray the undead as possessing a single hunger and being departed from any remnants of humanity.
And as often happens in those zombie movies, our heroes Shinichi and Migi have a moment of consideration as to whether or not they can kill Gotou. After the battle, Gotou starts to regenerate, but Migi estimates that his “possibility of regeneration is 50-50”. Migi says that he cannot bring himself to kill one of his own kind because “from a human perspective, it’d amount to murder” (Ep. 23 “Life and Oath”), showing that Migi has been affected by human sentiments in a way that he might have considered irrational prior to this point. Shinichi also backs down from the moment questioning,
“Who decides the relative value of human and non-human lives? To end a life that’s trying so hard to survive… . That’s right, I don’t want to kill! Isn’t that unwillingness to kill the last remaining treasure left in humanity? […] If his chances of survival are 50-50, the powers that be should decide, not me. […] can I say that an organism has no right to live just because it’s harmful?” (Ep. 23 “Life and Oath”).
The viewer is left stuck between, “Kill him, you dolt! He’s coming back!”, and a sense of hopefulness that both Shinichi and Migi are becoming more human. There are some moments in this passage where it almost seems as though Shinichi is bowing to a moral code informing him from the authority of a higher outside power, and it seems hopeful that Shinichi is actually not going to commit an action that even his Parasite would not commit. It seems that a moment of humanity conquering soulless self-preservation, and a deep introspection about the authority man holds has finally come. However, there’s also clearly language sneaking in that could only be found in an evolutionary world-view:
Migi: Shinichi, do you believe Earth is beautiful?
Shinichi: I don’t know.
M: I despise humans who brazenly say they’re doing something “for Earth.” After all, Earth has no emotion. The first life on Earth was apparently born in a boiling hot pool of hydrogen sulfide.
S: [stops to consider this] [scene cuts back to where Gotou is regenerating] I’m sorry. You aren’t at fault. But…sorry. [sheds a tear and kills Gotou]
This whole moral system is very confused. In my opinion of the situation, Shinichi is perfectly justified in killing Gotou because Gotou is no longer any more rational than a beast in blind rage driven by a demonic like desire to consume all of mankind. If he lets Gotou regenerate, Gotou will not only persevere in trying to kill him and likely endanger countless other lives in rage or hunger or what-have-you. But, because an evolutionary world-view informs the decision-making of this show, Shinichi can’t even tell right from wrong as everything fades into a mess of subjective “evils” (which can’t objectively be called evils) pitted against one another.
Shinichi goes back and kills Gotou, but not for a moral reason. In fact it’s the opposite, if not also the naturally following, conclusion: “because there is no higher ‘powers that be,’ the universe doesn’t care, and man is the accidental product of boiled hydrogen sulfide, I will execute my own brand of justice, however subjective and baselessly opposed to reasoning other than mine that might be, for the continued survival of people in whom I am emotionally invested.” And yet, Shinichi is emotionally torn as he kills Gotou because he remains conflicted in an illogical way so far as the evolutionary worldview is concerned.
So, the biggest problem I have with the conclusion of the Parasyte -the maxim – is that it makes the evolutionary worldview the replacement for morality and fails. It gives you hope that the human spirit returns from the pull of animal instinct, but then the show pulls that from beneath you and gives a really weak, if not purposefully tragic, ending. It justifies a kill by concluding that there is no God and therefore no authoritative morality rather than reconciling itself with a higher moral authority which Gotou totally abandoned for a demonic fury that threatens the safety and life of every one around him. We don’t see Shinichi and Migi elevate themselves to a higher road than Gotou, but rather we see Shinichi and Migi placed on the same level as Gotou. The only difference is, they were able to puruse their own will and ends to the negation of Gotou’s. There was no right or wrong, only opportunity.
Where’s the hope in that?
Having chosen the evolutionary worldview as its lens, Parasyte tries to end the last episode with an “importance of human love,” “what makes us truly human,” “value the time you have and the people in your life” kind of ending by having Shinichi reconcile with his love interest throughout the series, a reconciliation which the series chooses to depict with an uncalled for sex scene right before Shinichi’s confrontation with Gotou, as though the sexual aspect of it leads Shinichi to high and lofty thoughts about the value of humanity. But the series never resolves the problem of how there’s value at all or even perceived value when, in this world, good and bad value judgements are subjective. All the show can do is end the series with a line that doesn’t make sense according to the worldview it has set up, leaving the statement unpersuasive and merely stating a fact as though it makes no sense but can’t be helped: “We try to get closer to someone else until our lives someday end.”
I hope this review/analysis wasn’t too cynical because I really did enjoy it up to a certain point. It just happened that what I thought would be an example of great story became a case study in how to hollow out a good story. Still, it was the series that I had watched most recently and it was on my mind. Next time we will have a much more hopeful note and example of great story done right: The Fate Series!