Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Now Screaming: Parasyte The Maxim Episodes 1-6 (Hulu Plus, Crunchy Roll)

You need to be watching this show.

Sure watching something like The Walking Dead or American Horror Story will give you more water cooler chatter than an Anime, but your time would be much better spent here.

Parasyte started airing in October over Hulu Plus and Crunchy Roll. Unlike works in the horror-you-should-experience like video game titles Silent Hill and Resident Evil, Anime never really broke through.  I reviewed Blue Exorcist to some confused eyebrows from my fellow horror fans.  I'm sure this will raise a few too.

At first glance, nothing about this show is that revolutionary.  Heinlein's The Puppet Master's is the fertile ground this is born from, and we've seen the fruit before in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Faculty, The Thing, and more recently Scott Sigler's fiction.  Having experienced all of those (and other less quality works) I feel comfortable not being hyperbolic in saying that (at least in these first episodes) this is the ultimate interpretation of these tropes.

Seriously, you need to be watching this.

The premise: alien parasites fall from the sky, burrow into human heads, and take over human brains. These aliens then control the body and can instantly transform the head into a monstrous killing machine (sort of like The Thing), but need the human blood supply to remain alive.

Our protagonist is a failed case, as the parasite is only able to take over his hand.  This leaves both personalities to argue, philosophize, and navigate the changing world around them as well as indulge in some Super Hero-esque "look at this cool shit I can do now" activities.

Where this title separates itself from the herd is that nothing is lazy.  The characterization is robust. The art is beautiful.  The story telling is constantly tense but somehow never overwrought.  Also, that tension comes from a diverse set of pressures and not just the supernatural ones.  Social, societal, parental, and relationship difficulties are all present and cleverly handled.

All of this is juxtaposed with balls-to-the-wall horror that goes some really dark places, and each dreary stab of supernatural horror brilliantly tugs at all of these other dramatic strings.  It seems like everything and the kitchen sink story wise, but, then again, that's how life is.  Somehow, nothing here feels out of place, and the verisimilitude of this insane horrorscape seems on point.

But the best part of this show is the relationship between the protagonist and his parasite.  Making the alien invaders a powerful sentient race that seems guided by a simple id (1. Preserve self at All Costs 2. Take over humans 3. Destroy all other humans) was a brilliant move that was probably made in the source material (a Manga from the late '80s early early '90s).  Admittedly, I haven't read it and can't confirm that, but this is what pushes the show from good to great.

This elevates each of the monsters encountered, seeing how these simple instructions are evolved or mutated based on individual or environmental factors is fascinating.  Further, it fuels the heart and soul of this program, which is the relationship between Shinichi(the protagonist) and his parasite, which he names Migi(after Japanese for "right").

The slow evolution of their relationship and philosophical discussions debates the barriers of what it means to be human and the merits thereof.  There's beauty in the parasite's simple instructional parameters as it is frighteningly similar to the simplicity of the smallest cells of us.  There's this part where Migi notes that although he is able to transform, grow, and divide at will, if he splits off a small enough piece of himself it is no longer himself but rather just directed by those simple instructions again.  Are we us or a collection of cells?  Is Shinichi still human?  Is his fight to retain human morality what makes him human or is it the biology that he now lacks?  Can one exist without the other?

This critique is limited to episodes 1-6 because, as of now, that's what I'm recommending everyone watch.  I've watched past that, but 1-6 have an arc that feels like it could exist on it's own and at that point you could walk away satisfied.  Go treat yourself.

This show was firing on all cylinders from the start. As if Star Trek: TNG began with a bearded Commander Riker.  It's been a long time since watching the first episodes of a series didn't feel like being forced to eat my vegetables, let alone hook me and delightfully surprise me so early and often. Who knows if it can stay at this high quality long term, but this initial run is a must watch for any fan of horror.

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