Parasyte, volume one
Writer / Artist: Hitoshi Iwaaki
By Damien Wilkens
07 May 2010 — In my quest to successfully enter the realm of anime / manga fandom, I've hit a few roadblocks. Most mainstream offerings are just too goddamn happy for a curmudgeon like myself, and a lot of the more action-oriented works still find a way to slug along at a painfully slow pace, stopping after every punch to let me know what the hero is thinking of having for breakfast the next morning. Video game tie-ins haven't faired much better, as the Street Fighter manga read like little more than a discarded Dragonball script. As you'd expect, this has left me little in terms of options. There was only one more chance to get me into anything not named Gantz; I needed to read some horror.
This brings us to Parasyte.
Our story begins as alien balls of fuzz fall from the heavens. A disembodied voice asks, "If 99% of mankind disappeared, would pollution be reduced by 99%?" The balls of fuzz quickly turn into gelatinous eels and begin searching for hosts, mainly finding their way in through the ears and nose of humans. One young man in particular is able to catch one of the intruders, mistaking it for a snake and effectively freaking out, as most anyone would in this situation. The alien then turns itself into an airborne drill and bores its way through his hand, crawling up his arm. Shinji, as we soon learn to be his name, then forms a tourniquet around his bicep before the parasite can further invade him. His parents immediately barge in, see that their son has tied off his arm like he's about to shoot heroin, and understandably ask if he's on drugs. Shinji goes on to tell them that a goddamn snake just went into his arm and they very quickly brush him off. His parents sort of seem like nimrods, and if they don't bite it at some point, I will be gravely disappointed.
The next morning, at a neighboring home, a seemingly normal middle-aged couple are preparing for breakfast. The husband had been ear-raped by an alien the night before, so when his wife tells him to sit down and eat, he goes on to do just that. Except he doesn't just sit down; instead of blueberry waffles, he eats her head — biting it clean off like Reptile from Mortal Kombat.
You can probably tell by now why I chose this book.
We move back to Shinji, who's explaining how his arm is numb to a female classmate. Their teacher, who clearly doesn't stand for such interruptions in his class, proceeds to throw his chalk at Shinji's head. Actually, "throw" may not be a strong enough term. He expels the chalk as if it were a Sonic Boom, clearly looking for a death blow. Shinji somehow survives the assault and catches the projectile in his infected hand. The class then reacts as if he'd just caught a bullet with his teeth.
A lot of what follows is Shinji's hand acting on its own and getting him in trouble. In the beginning, it feels a lot like the Jessica Alba vehicle Idle Hands (or a better movie, Evil Dead), but the difference here is that the hand seems to worry just as much about helping Shinji as it does in getting him beaten up. He even has a conversation with the parasite, who is lamenting his failure at fully invading the body of our hero.
Things only get weirder from there, as the hand-parasite (he quickly becomes known as Migi) soon reveals that he's in tune with Shinji's emotions, and knows exactly when he needs to eat, sleep, or even use the bathroom. This results in a rather humorous scene where Shinji appears to be having an argument with his dick. Male anatomy in general seems to be a main thrust (Ha!) of the humor, as shortly after Shinji has taken a girl he fancies to where all the cool kids hang out: McDonalds. Apparently Migi can also tell when Shinji needs to fuck, because his right hand then instantly turns into a giant penis.
As you would expect, everyone in the place instantly turns to look. For some reason, no one reacts with the following: "Kill it with fire! Kill it right the fuck now! Alien penis-man on the loose!"
Instead, Shinji just hides his hand under the table and acts like nothing happened.
It's never mentioned again.
It's worth noting that between all of the comedy, there are some really gruesome horror elements tossed in, with plenty of gore to spare. When Migi faces off with his fellow parasites, many of whom resemble Lovecraftian entities in their most terrifying form, the laughing stops and the "Oh shit, did that just happen?" begins.
Spoiling any more of this manga would ruin what is one of the most unique and entertaining comics I've read in a long while — Japanese or otherwise. It manages to mix elements of comedy, horror, superheroism, and even a bit of philosophical pondering in its more quiet moments. Things can err on the side of preachy at times, but the manga moves with such a brisk pace that it's no time at all before you've moved to the next joke, gory fight, or horrific monstrosity. It's not perfect, though. Some of the scenes can be rather awkward, but more often than not it works. And if you're a horror fan trying to get into manga, it's a great place to start.
Grade: 9 out of 10