During my newfound anime obsession over quarantine, I found myself expanding from watching Shojo anime to stumbling upon Death Note to finally making my way into what is now one of my favorite anime genres: sci-fi anime. To this day, I still don’t really remember if Cowboy Bebop was my first sci-fi anime or if it was Parasyte. What I do remember, however, is that I completely binged all 24 episodes of Parasyte in about 3 days. The anime itself centered on a common theme in sci-fi: alien invasion. The complexity of the story-telling, however, and the way the anime highlighted the importance of love, filial bonds, and sticking to your beliefs and values in the face of danger was what truly drew me completely into the show.
Parasyte follows the story of a 17-year-old high school boy, Shinichi Izumi, who lives with his parents in Hiroshima. The anime starts by portraying two parallel worlds that converge: Shinichi’s average high school life and the lives of the alien parasites who seek to invade and reproduce through human beings. One morning, Shinichi wakes up feeling as though his hand isn’t really under his control. It starts doing things beyond his control such as groping his high school crush and it even goes so far as to save him and another girl from being crushed by a car. Shinichi freaks out and attempts to stab his hand to try to get rid of whatever is going on, but his hand morphs into a tiny monster and stops the knife from cutting through. The monster, which turns out to be one of the alien parasites, explains to Shinichi that he tried to invade his body at night and kill him, but something went wrong and now he is stuck and has morphed with Shinichi’s right hand. Eventually, the alien names itself “Migi” (meaning “right” in Japanese).
Shinichi learns that the alien is among many parasites who seek to invade humans in order to consume them and use their bodies as hosts. The interesting thing about these parasites is that they don’t seem to be driven by anything except for the natural inclination to survive. They speak in an almost “objective” manner and cannot seem to understand human emotions. Throughout the anime, tragedy strikes. Shinichi loses loved ones and develops complicated relationships (almost friendships, except it’s hard to say if they really are friendships considering the fact that the parasites have no emotions) with some of the parasites in order to survive. Towards the end of the anime, some of the parasites seem to almost exhibit having an understanding of human emotions: as though inhabiting human bodies has somehow taught them how to be emotional creatures. Although this theme is explored heavily in the anime, it is also contradicted by the theme of conveying how human emotions can often be rash and destructive as well. The parasites also teach Shinichi important lessons as well, such as that of valuing non-human life and adopting a worldview that does not center around human beings as being hierarchically important.
One of the main academic sci-fi themes that pops up as a central concept in Parasyte is the exploration of multispecies ethnography, particularly through the lens of xenos. One of the main components of multispecies ethnography is that “creatures previously appearing on the margins of anthropology—as part of the landscape, as food for humans, as symbols— have been pressed into the foreground…” (Kirksey and Helmreich, 545). Parasyte explores this concept intensely as the aliens in the show are constantly checking the human beings on their anthropocentric worldviews. Shinichi often finds himself appalled by the indifference that the aliens have towards human existence and human emotions.
To the parasites, human lives are just as meaningless and disposable as what animal lives are to humans. In a sense, the anime implores its viewers to consider the importance of non-human lives through questioning the importance of human lives. This can be directly applied when analyzing human impacts on the animals that we consume for food. More than 6 million animals are killed every hour for meat consumption and animal agriculture contributes 18% of the responsibility for global climate change. Beyond the meat industry, the drawbacks of anthropocentrism are also highlighted in human destruction of natural landscapes and human contribution to mass extinction. In using a sort of reverse psychology method and having us question the importance of our existence in the face of a more powerful invasive species, Parasyte opens up the floor for eliciting more complex discussions around existentialism, multispecies ethnography, and anthropocentrism.
KIRKSEY, S.EBEN, and STEFAN HELMREICH. “The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography.” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 25, no. 4, Nov. 2010, pp. 545–76. EBSCOhost, https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy.library.nyu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.40930489&site=eds-live.