Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Parastye, vol. 1

The story: Alien parasites have secretly invaded Earth, latching onto their host of choice -- humans -- by taking over their brains. Not only are the aliens able to control their hosts, but they're quick to learn, can transform at will and only eat the species they infect -- people. When 16-year-old high school student Shin is incorrectly infected in his arm by a parasite, he learns to live with it and creates a symbiotic relationship of sorts, even going so far as to name it "Migi," Japanese for right (it's in his right arm).

Unfortunately, Shin must also carry the burden of being the only person on the planet that knows what's really going on with the grisly murders happening around the world as the alien parasites eat his fellow humans to keep their numbers strong.

Reaction: I was surprised I liked this as much as I did -- horror isn't something I've ever had a stomach for as genre. But, the overall concept of this manga is intriguing and the most gruesome images are easy enough to glance past. Of course, there are a lot of underlying and serious messages communicated throughout this volume. Despite how easy it would be for Hitoshi Iwaaki to keep this story dark and heavy, he also takes the chance to lighten it up, making jokes at Shin's expense. His parents provide most of the comedic relief, as does Shin's relationship with a female classmate he likes.

Deep thoughts: Out of everything in this story, I found the ethics discussions between Shin and Migi the most interesting. While Migi is cold and logical in his quest for survival -- he only protects Shin in order to protect himself -- Shin is horrified at Migi's attitude and longs to reveal to the world the alien parasite takeover. But, Migi brings up the same point again and again -- Shin's claim that "all life is sacred" is truly only extended to the rest of humanity. To Migi, there's nothing different between the aliens eating humans and humans eating cattle; it's simply survival of the fittest.

Artwork: There's an interesting juxtaposition of the realistic and the surreal in this story. Since the alien parasites can transform at will, their transformations are reminiscent of Salvador Dali's paintings at times. This is in stark contrast to the otherwise normally proportioned and designed human characters. I also found the satsuki, or"killing aura," shown a couple of times throughout the volume to be visually compelling and wonderfully illustrative of just how lethal some characters can be.

The verdict: Highly recommended. I definitely want to know what happens next, especially since this volume leaves on a cliffhanger of sorts. While this could easily be "just" a suspense-filled thriller, Iwaaki certainly presents ethical concepts that most manga don't see fit to explore. Parasyte is available in the U.S. from Del Rey.

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