Jessica's Monthly Pick - Parasyte (1988-1995)
Updated: Dec 21, 2022
My introduction to Japanese anime was 100% all because of Sailor Moon in 1995 and to this day it remains my favourite anime series. Not because of the nostalgia of it but because it was the gateway into the world of Japanese animation and manga that I still enjoy thoroughly to this day.
When I started to watch Sailor Moon, it was followed by Dragon Ball Z and then Gundam Wing etc… I became a tad obsessed. I would spend hours on the internet learning everything I could about the shows I was watching, find new shows to watch, collect artwork to draw later, write fanfiction and so much more. I lived in a small town outside of North Bay in Northern Ontario, so getting anything related to Japanese anime was super hard, especially since the closest comic book store was 45 mins away and VERY small. However, one day after picking up yet another Sailor Moon movie on VHS, there was a mail-in-flyer included with it for a subscription service in North America called MixxZine which was a manga anthology series published by Tokyopop. You could send in this card to get two free copies of the magazine, and if you liked it, you could subscribe. I was a pre-teen at the time and therefore had to ask my parents permission to send away for this. I had to have them, especially because one of the manga’s in the anthology series was Sailor Moon.
When the first issue arrived in the mail I was so excited! I couldn’t believe I had my very first copy of a manga in my hands. I was now able to start reading the true source material around my favourite show Sailor Moon. I couldn’t wait to get home to hide away in my room and start reading. Along with the Sailor Moon anthology, it included manga from Harlem Beat, Ice Blade, Magic Night Rayearth, and Parasyte. I didn’t care much for Harlem Beat or Ice Blade, but I read them anyway because it was something different. I was excited to read Magic Knight Rayearth because it was another magical girl type anime/manga that I had seen people talk about on the internet and the various anime-themed chats I was a part of.
But the one manga that not only revolted, scared and at the same time intrigued me, was Parasyte. This was the first time I was introduced to horror in anime and manga. The imagery I had seen in print form was not what I was used to -- I was used to reading and looking at pictures of young women using magical powers to vanish their enemies into stardust. But when I read Parasyte, the image that haunted me for days was the initial sequence which showed a man’s head untwist into tentacle-like razored teeth and bite the head off his wife. He then proceeds to eat her. There were copious amounts of black ink everywhere, splashed and sprayed resembling blood. I had an over-active imagination then, so it didn’t take much for me to actually see it all in colour in my head and get myself scared. I remember it took a few weeks for me to work through that story because a) I was horrified and b) I had to hide it away from my parents. But I can definitely recall that this was my first foray into the darker and horror-filled side of Japanese anime/manga and I wasn’t afraid to explore more.
Parasyte or “Parasitic Beast”, was a Japanese science fiction and body horror manga series written and illustrated by Hitoshi Iwaaki. It first made its appearance in the Japanese Morning Open Zokan and Monthly Afternoon magazine in 1988 and ran until 1995. The plot surrounds a 17-year-old high school student named Shinichi Izumi, who one night, while he is sleeping, has a drill-like parasite from space trying to take over his body by burrowing through his nose to take over his brain. However, this parasite fails and ends up embedding itself in Shinichi’s right arm/hand. Since the creature failed to take over Shinichi’s brain and have his body act as a host for the creature, both beings retain their separate intellect and personalities. Shinichi ends up calling the being ‘Migi’, Japanese for the right hand. They decide to co-exist together as Shinichi’s body plays host to ‘Migi’, and he learns more about humanity and his own species as they become dependent on each other for survival.
Discovered by Shinichi that other humans and animals were not as fortunate as him, the parasites began to take over other host bodies and inhabit Earth. As well, the food substance for each parasite is based on the host, so humans who play host to one of these parasites become killers and use the new body morphing abilities to feast on other humans. The story follows Shinichi as he feels compelled to use his new abilities and knowledge to fight other Parasites and protect humanity, while the alien inhabiting his right-hand doesn’t understand why. This makes for a compelling dynamic!
I read what I could of Parasyte from MixxZine and over the years sought out the rest of the series online. Then years and years later, I found the animated series Parasyte - the maxim which I am currently rewatching. I would highly recommend this series, not only because the body horror imagery is amazing and the kills at times graphic, but because it straddles themes of speciesism, survival and coexistence. It also addresses the question as to what makes us human.
While Sailor Moon was my first foray into Japanese anime, Parasyte was the anime that piqued my interest in the darker side of it. I would later seek out other anime to continue exploring the horror genre such as Ninja Scroll, Demon City Shinjuku, Akira, Ghost in The Shell, Vampire Hunter D, Perfect Blue, Vampire Princess Miyu, Devilman Crybaby, Witch Hunter Robin and so much more. Like the horror genre, these examples appealed to my dark and grim side and I have Parasyte to thank for opening that doorway for me.