One night, tennis ball-sized spores descended upon the Earth carrying a deadly cargo within. Housed inside each spore was a worm-like parasite whose goal is to burrow into the brains of humans, effectively killing the host and taking over their body. These creatures can morph the heads of their host bodies into a variety of deadly forms and use their lethal capabilities to hunt and eat normal humans for sustenance. Teenager Shinichi Izumi was to become one of these creatures, as one of the parasites sneaked into his room at night, but thanks to Shinichi wearing headphones, the parasite failed to enter his head. After a lengthy struggle, the parasite ended up taking over his right arm instead. Shinichi decides to name his parasite Migi and together with Migi, he starts fighting other parasites he comes across. As an adaptation of a manga that ended two decades ago, is Parasyte still atop the food chain, or has the evolution of anime left it a relic of the past?
By far Parasyte's greatest strength is the relationship between Shinichi and Migi. Migi is more than Shinichi's right hand, Migi has his own intelligence and personality. As such, it is a nice treat seeing how the two of them grow as characters throughout the series. The really intriguing thing is how the two of them shape the views of other, with both of them behaving startlingly similar to the other at different points.
Seeing the way the parasites are able to fit into human society is interesting. They manage to infest all levels of society and live double lives as people of various professions. The way they are able to lure people to their deaths time and again is also rather creepy, as most of the parasites, at least those who took over teenagers and adults, hunt by simply picking up strangers and taking them to a secluded area. And worst of all is, as long as they don't try to show too many emotions, it is nearly impossible to tell who is and isn't a parasite just on a visual level.
While neither Migi nor Shinichi can defeat many of the stronger parasites by themselves, they make up for that by being able to strategize with each other. And thanks to the fact that the two of them have their own minds, they can move independently of one another. This allows them to cover for their weaknesses and in the end gain a critical edge in the majority of their encounters. Rather than merely overpower their foes, they have to outwit them in order to survive.
One of Parasyte's driving points is who the monsters really are and what makes them that way. The parasites are set up to ostensibly be the clear cut monsters, but over time it becomes clear that many of the parasites are just organisms doing what needs to be done to survive and their actions aren't particularly out of malice. Oh to be sure, there are many parasites that do what they do more or less for shits and giggles. But at the same time humans aren't exempt from this, as there are a few human characters in the series that can unquestionably be called monsters as well. And that's not even approaching the subject of humanity's relationship with every other living organism on Earth.
Though Parasyte is definitely less censored than your typical gore-filled anime series, it isn't fully uncensored. But this is ok, because what censorship there is in the series is used to great effect. Rather than cover whole swaths of the screen in a black haze, as is the usual way censoring is done in anime, Parasyte uses strategically angled shots and shadows to censor the really gory parts. But here's the kicker, for the most part you can still see what happened, just not in an explicitly clear way. This works for the better, because it makes people have to fill in those last few details themselves, and let's be honest here, no one can scare us better than ourselves.
Parasyte manages to have four of the best anime voice actresses from the 2000s and 2010s to appear in prominent roles, and not to mention deliver some very solid performances. The four voice actresses in question are Aya Hirano as Migi, Miyuki Sawashiro as Kana Kimishima, a girl who is a bit of a delinquent, Kana Hanazawa as Satomi Murano, Shinichi's love interest, and Atsuko Tanaka as Ryoko Tamiya/Reiko Tamura, an extremely intelligent parasite who becomes quite curious of Migi and Shinichi. These four ladies have one of the best combined resumes when it comes to anime voice acting, and it is just such a treat to hear all of them in the same show.
While it got off to a bit of a rocky start with its heavy use of dubstep-like music early on, Parasyte's soundtrack eventually grew on me and now I can't imagine ever forgetting the songs in the series. From the excellent opening and ending themes to numerous pieces of background music, there was just so much for me to love about this show's music. It also helped that many of the songs perfectly set the tone for the scenes they played in. For instance, whenever the chanting from the song "Hypontik" would play, I knew something big was about to go down. But for my money, I think my favorite song on the show's soundtrack is the calming "Next to You".
Parasyte's manga ran from 1988 to 1995, and as such, things like the character designs and technology are woefully dated looking. Thankfully, they gave the characters a more modern look, fashion wise, and characters have things like smartphones and tablets. Additionally, several characters in the manga had similar appearances, but have more unique designs in the show, which makes it easier to remember who is who.
While it never got overbearing to the point of derailing the show, Parasyte does go a little over the top with the way it hammers home its messages. Again it isn't something that makes the show bad and it doesn't even really become that big of an issue. However the messages didn't need to be repeated quite as often as they were, especially in the later part of the series.
There's really no other way to put it, Ryoko Tamiya/Reiko Tamura is the only out and out fully fleshed out woman in the cast with a major role. Every other girl to prominently appear in this series don't really get the character development they need. Murano is probably the second best developed woman with major screen time, and she spends a substantial chunk of that time in the middle of the series doubting if Shinichi is really Shinichi. Another problem is that many of the ladies in the supporting cast seemingly love to clutch onto the idiot ball and go to town with it, because they often do some down right stupid things, such as getting anywhere remotely near a parasite who isn't Shinichi. It's by sheer dumb luck that the death toll amongst the supporting cast wasn't higher.
The Parasyte manga was one of the more revolutionary and influential series of its time and is one of my all time favorite manga series. Given its age I had long given up on it ever being adapted into an anime, but thankfully the venerable studio Madhouse came through and delivered one of the best anime series I've seen in recent memory. Parasyte -the maxim- is easily one of my favorite shows from Winter 2015, if not my overall favorite and definitely is without a shadow of a doubt my favorite anime adaptation of a manga yet. It sets a gold standard for what manga adaptations should strive to be. To be sure it still has its flaws, but these were flaws shared with the manga it is based on, which is an inherent risk when adapting something so faithfully. At the end of the day, flaws and all, Parasyte -the maxim- is part of anime's upper echelon, and is without question the best horror anime to come out in a long, long time, if not ever. So, if nothing else, you have to hand it to them for that.