Parasyte: Exploration of what it means to be human

‘Shinichi Izumi’ and his Parasyte ‘Migi’ as they appear in the anime.

Enter Shinichi Izumi. An ordinary 17 year old teenager in quiet suburban Tokyo until of course, a mysterious alien species with an ambiguous origin known as ‘Parasites’ began to appear on earth. The creatures would burrow their way into the bodies of human like a literal parasite would taking over their consciousness, and using their body as a host in order to feed on the flesh of humans. As fate would have it Shinichi has one of these predatory creatures fail to burrow into his brain one night because he had earbuds in thereby forcing it to use his right hand as a host extremity instead. Because of this rather peculiar situation Izumis consciousness remains intact, seperate from his parasite ‘Migi’ (fittingly Japanese for right). As the unusual nature of their situation becomes apparent, both Migi and Shinichi realise that they must combine their intellect and work together to survive, warding off the predatory parasites. It is through this bond in which Shinichi enlists Migi on his personal conquest to save humanity from the impending threat of the parasites who are now at the top of the food chain. Along the course of this relationship, much is revealed about the nature of humanity and the overall concept of morality making Parasyte a psychological anime one cannot simply overlook.

“Are Humans really demons in disguise?”

‘Migi’ In its base form.

Perhaps most Compellingly unique about Parasyte is its ability to present the rather compelling moral dichotomy between Migi himself and his human host. Whilst Shinichi-much like any ordinary human being, possesses the universally recognised traits of compassion, understanding and love, Migi’s species is void of these constructs and his overall purpose is survival. Though Migi has learnt the language of humanity and interacts with shinichi as if he were human, he cannot grasp these psychological concepts. This makes for some incredibly engaging dialogue between the two. A prime example of this being Migi’s defence of his parasitic nature and what he must do to survive: “If you have the right to live, so do we. Granted I believe rights are a concept unique to the human species”.

This rather linear and bleak philosophy possessed by Migi is greatly contrasted by Shinichi who is righteously defendant of humanity. This viewpoint slowly begins to degrade however as through further interaction with Migi and his own traumatic trials and tribulations, Izumi begins to realise that humanity itself is no worse than the Parasites. Human beings though possessive of emotional intelligence exist solely for their own self-gratification and survival. This ideology is further bolstered in the mind of Shinichi as Migi delivers one of the most powerful and recognisable quotes in the series: “Shinichi, upon researching the concept of demons, I believe that, among all life, humans are the closest thing to it”. This is a reference to humanities broad condemnation of demons being selfish, manipulative and destructive entities- a vilification which Migi labels as hypocrisy as this very behaviour is evident in humanities pillaging of mother nature for resources and food and even its history of killing of its own species.

a powerful statement by Shinichi in regards to Human nature

“Shinichi Izumi- selfless hero or heartless fiend?”

It is ultimately this philosophical criticism of humanities ideological and moral flaws which begins to rub off on Shinichi in his interactions and experiences with Migi. Izumi begins to grow cold: physiologically in the form of cells and emotionally in the form of consciousness as Migi’s emotional bleakness begins to manifest itself within him. This is evident in what is arguably one of the most chilling scenes within the series when Shinichi disposes of the carcass of a dead puppy in a public garbage bin, dismissing it merely as a ‘lump of dog-shaped meat’ with remorseless akin to that of his parasitic counterpart. This degradation of sympathy is accompanied by a physical resilience however, as Shinichi begins to grow stronger and become less of a pushover as his heart grows colder. Izumi gains the courage to stand up to bullies and display dominant valiance. This defiance is bolstered perhaps, by his cognitive dissonance as he begins to realise the cruelty and arrogance of humanity. This is noticeable in his vigilantism in a scene where he saves a cat from local bullies throwing stones at it. It would appear that the less sympathetic he became to humans, the more sympathetic he began to grow towards those victimised by humanity.

Shinichi’s lack of emotional availability gets so drastic that though he can identify with and grasp the concept of suffering, he cannot mourn or exhibit any signs of it such as when he is visiting his father in hospital and even more-so, following the death of his close friend at the hand of a Parasite despite his attempts to save them. It is this very distance which Izumi exhibits from humanity, which hinders his composure in keeping his unique relationship with Migi a secret.

“The Bigger Picture has humanity failed as a species “

Shinichi reflecting upon his sudden coldness.

This sudden ideological metamorphosis from human to parasite is perhaps one of the most polarising aspects of the series itself as it ties into the ‘bigger picture’ per say, which writer Hitoshi Iwaaki was trying to paint with Parasyte as a narrative and that is the nature of human psychology , moral righteousness and whether the extent of humanity itself extends beyond mere emotion and exhibiting it. The Parasites within the series are very much so a metaphorical plot device as oppose to an entity because they pose a challenge to humanity- a threat to the status quo. The moral leverage which humans often use to justify their treatment of other species is now being hijacked (literally) by Parasites whose predation of them is justified using the same principles. Migi even comments upon the frugality of Parasites in contrast with that of humans as they only rely upon consuming once species to survive, as oppose to humanity who prey upon many for food resources and even luxurious pleasure.

Overall, Shinichi’s unique state of existence between the worlds of both Parasite and human is an excellent way to portray this moral dilemma. The genius of Hitoshi Iwaaki really surfaced itself in the way that not only did Migi literally invade Izumi’s body, he did so psychologically as well by questioning what is ultimately the biggest flaw within the human psyche and ironically its biggest strength as well and that is moral awareness- the ability to distinguish what is right and wrong. In a way the show itself is a Parasite, invading the mind of the audience forcing this depressingly blunt cognitive dissonance.

Its no surprise that the anime and manga have both been praised for their psychological awareness. An awareness which is indeed hard to come by considering the human nature to avoid the harsh reality that humanity in a lot of ways, has failed to be… well human.

Though a large portion of Parasyte seems to be a condemnatory criticism of humanity, it also explores quite the contrary. Just as Shinichi’s world view is altered by the influence and skepticism of Migi, the parasite is arguably just as afflicted by the humane bond it has with Izumi. in the early stages of their connection to one another, Migi remains invested only in his own survival and claims that the only reason it would be of any assistance to Izumi, was because of his reliance on him as a host.

This dynamic drastically changes however, as their bond strengthens itself through their brutal encounters with other parasites where they must combine their intellect in order to gain the upper hand. It is ultimately this ‘mutualism’ (as its known in a biological sense) which makes them superior to parasites without human consciousness. Overall though Migi himself doesn’t exhibit humane traits and is merely an organism looking to survive, he eventually reaches the conclusion that he values Shinichi as a friend claiming he is ‘glad he failed to take over his brain’. Migi and Izumi’s ability to coexist isn’t the only example of civility between the species however.

“Maternal instinct vs Predatorial Instinct”

‘Reiko Tamura’ in her final moments as she accepts her fate.

Perhaps the most drastic character development within the whole series is that of Shinichi’s high school teacher, who also happens to be a parasite with multiple aliases: Reiko Tamura. Initially Reiko was cold and merciless much like the rest of her species. Upon taking over the human brain she claimed she was merely following a directive to ‘devour this species’. She was even more of a threat due to her extremely high intellect. Tamura, much like Migi, was dismissive of humankind labelling them as ‘irrational’. This is short-lived however as she begins to bear a human child. As a result of her circumstances, Reiko, much like a mother would, began to develop traits such as maternal care evident in the human species; a species which she formally criticised. This maternal love even developed to the point where unlike other parasites such as Migi, was able to express complex human emotions such as love and laughter. It is ultimately these humane qualities which lead up to Tamura making the ultimate sacrifice for her newborn son as she shelters him using her own body from a barrage of police gunfire and killing multiple of her own kind in the process. This moment is a huge turning point for both her as a character and the overall moral of the story as she reaches the epiphany that she enjoyed her ability to process human emotion and even considered parasites and human to be one in the same.

“Humanity- an infectious trait”

In somewhat of a ripple effect Reiko’s untimely demise reinvigorates Shinichi’s ability to express emotion and mourn death- a trait which he was stripped of due to the manifestation of his parasitic side as well has his developing cynicism under the influence of Migi. This is evident in his ability to cry upon Tamura’s tragic death. These circumstances and events prove that the message embedded within Parasyte is that humanity, though flawed in its interpretation of righteousness at times, is more defined by its values itself than simply being human.

Overall though largely critical of humanity itself and accentuating its propensity for greed and self righteousness, Parasyte also sheds light on the core values embedded within human nature and demonstrates as such using the psychological development of the characters within it. The parasites themselves can be seen as somewhat of a mirror to humanity itself; They’re a wakeup call for humankind forcing individuals such as Shinichi to be critical of his own species. In a grander scheme employed ingeniously to the credit of writer Hitoshi Iwaaki, Parasyte is moreso a psychological exploration of what it means to be human than a conventional story about combating an alien species.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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31 Comments

  1. Lashawnda Myles
    0

    I felt like the author was very good at writing good scenes that create a lot of tension, although not necessarily creating a cohesive plot or developed characters to tie those scenes together into a complete narrative. I also think Madhouse did a fantastic job at adapting the source material to further emphasize this. When people complain about the adaptation I think they get too hung up on the dubstep soundtrack and don’t notice the amazing scene direction that went into the show. There’s too many of them to link, but if you’ve seen the manga panel/ anime scene comparison gifs, they exemplify how much of a difference small details can make in creating a more impactful scene. Parasyte was Kenichi Shimizu’s first major directing project, so if nothing less, it’s made me want to keep an eye out on anything he works on in the future.

  2. This was definitely more than a decent anime with rich char devel.

  3. This article just summarised why I loved this anime so much. It made me think of all those themes and ideas long after I finished it.

  4. I enjoyed this anime. Unlike a lot of new anime just rehashing big boobs , male harem situations, and a lot of weird loner guy types trying to fess up to their feelings about a girl who then accepts them this one was more oriented on the whole human mentality and their actions when they are not on the top of the food chain anymore.

  5. Vi Burley
    0

    Beautifully written and brilliantly analysed!

  6. This is one of my favorite animes I’ve seen. I’m a huge fan of psychological horror and this is an instance of it truly being done well!

  7. There are so many hints in the anime that are true in a much bigger picture ~ for example ‘human wave length’ and in the last episode where Migi says his goodbye and talk about that ‘alone, but yet not alone’ place that his going and so much more. Yeh I know, I probably wouldn’t understand or believe it either if I haven’t seen it myself, no more like ‘be it’ myself… I should really stop here, haha! This anime philosophy and story telling is on the right track.

  8. My main takeaway from Parasyte is that before you destroy something, ask yourself “Why am I doing this? Am I filling some legitimate need, or is there another way?”

  9. The question about what it means to be human is something that made me really like the show.

  10. Just took a philosophy course and happened to watch this anime, my mind.

  11. Munjeera

    Great article! I am learning so much about anime.

  12. This was a great analysis! I look forward to more from you. If you’re taking suggestions, Psycho Pass is another great one.

  13. I cried on episode 12.

  14. You took the story and tore it up in such a good way! I think Fullmetal Alchemist would be another good anime to do an analysis on.

  15. Lindberg
    0

    After recently finishing the anime, there was still a lot to think about. Really intense show… Your article really helped me put things behind. Thank you!

  16. Personally, I really liked this anime. I hope to watch it again sometime soon, and I recommend it to anyone who want to take a chance at it.

  17. I wasn’t all that thrilled with Parasyte by the time it ended. It was by all means a decent and watchable show, but I felt it floundered around way too much after the first third and felt really sloppy and unfocused.

    The few really good episodes sprinkled in here and there didn’t make up the many episodes of mediocrity for me.

  18. I think the story and characters were lacklustre, and there was too much focus on blood and gore fights. The animation was okay, but I feel it could have benefitted from some more solid and consistent line work, especially with the realistic art style they were going for here.

  19. Jiraiyan

    I loved this series, although it did lose some of it’s appeal later. I really enjoyed the evolutionary theories it presented.

  20. Parasyte explored a couple of pretty ambitious ideas, though the ending was a bit more heavy handed than I preferred.

  21. i remember watching this at first and gettin a bit disgusted by it but managed to finish it. It definitely grew into me.

  22. In short, do I think that humans are parasytes? Yes. Do I think we are something more? Yes. Even though some animals also share this trait with us it is something humans are special for and that is altruism. Yes we kill for no reason but we also DON’T kill no reason. I bet everyone in this comment section that has a pet like a dog knows that even though it is objectively inferior to us we try to treat it as an equal, a child maybe. Humans try not to kill but inevitably do so anyway. We are a paradox.

  23. Absolutely loved the series, definitely one of my favorites! can we maybe see a psychology behind pupa next?

  24. Slaidey

    I am definitely going to watch this anime now. You’ve described it as having the kinds of philosophical questions I’m most drawn to in shows/movies. These types of media are important for humanity’s ever needed ability to self-critic.

  25. JamesBKelley

    I enjoyed reading your essay. I don’t know the series at all and could follow along easily. I’m left wondering though if the human protagonist keeps the parasite a secret (does he hide Migi from other humans?), or does everyone know about parasites in the series? If they keep their symbiosis a secret, that secret might work well as a theme for exploring the question of whether or not humans hide a (secret) inhumane nature.

    Your essay covers the topic well, moving from criticism of humanity to a defense of sort of humanity. The transition from your first main point to your second main point comes here: “Though a large portion of Parasyte seems to be a condemnatory criticism of humanity, it also explores quite the contrary.” For me, the section headings used in your essay didn’t help me see that organization at first. I was looking for a heading to announce each new main point.

    Some spelling errors interrupted the reading for me or caused a little confusion at first. “Humanities” is a word, but in all three times that you use it I think you mean to use the possessive form of “humanity”: “humanity’s.”

  26. perfectohandyman
    0

    I really love the story of this one.

  27. It took a couple of episodes to get used to but I agree, there are a lot of subtle theme underlying the anime.

  28. ees

    glad to see this piece finally published! I am a big fan of Parasyte, myself, and thoroughly enjoyed your analysis of it.

  29. I really enjoyed how the anime explored the idea that humans are somehow ‘different’ from every other species on the planet, whereas the alien parasites are more alike with every animal (except humans) despite their intelligence.

  30. Dimitri Adoniou

    No show has ever explored the essence of humanity and what it means to be human quite like Parasyte has.

    No one acknowledges or gives the show enough credit either, so I’m glad to see such a great write-up on it!

  31. MC07

    Great analysis! Parasyte has indeed shown that humans are an amalgamation of evil and good, which does resemble the nature of parasytes. Humans are parasytes themselves as they keep bringing destruction to the world but at the same time, they keep embracing values such as love and empathy.

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