Kiseijuu is a fascinating series in more ways than I can count – in pretty much every way, in fact. It’s wholly deserving of the outstanding ratings it’s received at places like Anime Planet and MAL (where it’s in all-time Top 25 territory, perhaps even a bit higher than I’d go myself). Very few series this intellectually ambitious come along, never mind ones that clearly respect the audience as much as this one does (Madhouse happens to be working on another one right now). Sometimes great anime come out of nowhere, but it’s more common for them to be the shows we expect greatness from – in a medium dominated by adaptations and dependent on individual talent, pedigree is everything.
If one would ask any question about this adaptation, it might be this: what in the world took so long? Parasyte ended 20 years ago, and now it’s received not just an anime but a highly successful 2-part live-action film. The manga has seen a second boom in sales, two decades after it left best-seller lists. Kiseijuu may not be the sort of series that sells massive amounts of anime Blu-rays or DVDs, but it’s not as though it was re-discovered last year or something – it’s a cultural institution in Japan, and its influence on what came after (for me, most importantly Togashi Yoshihiro) could hardly be more obvious. Better late than never? Certainly – but it’s still a puzzler.
With that said, it seems very clear in watching this adaptation that Parasyte is a product of a different time. It’s far more direct in its storytelling than most modern anime or even manga – it certainly asks difficult questions, but it comes right out and asks them. It doesn’t rely on snark and subterfuge. Madhouse and director Shimizu Kenichi faced some interesting choices in how much to update Iwaaki Hitoshi’s manga – always a crucial factor when adapting older series – and I think Shimizu chose to largely leave it intact. There are no obvious anachronisms here – dial phones or Yugos – and the character designs have been updated a bit, but in terms of narrative style, he didn’t modernize Kiseijuu at all. I think that’s generally the right call, and it certainly was here.
As I more or less expected, last week’s episode provided the effective conclusion to Kiseijuu’s larger story, leaving the finale to be mostly (though certainly not entirely) reflection. That too is generally the right call – it’s nice to see the characters step back and consider what’s happened, and to get the chance as an audience to do the same. And the closing moments of this series have been all about pondering difficult questions without easy answers. If one were to simplify Parasyte by describing it as a reflection on what it means to be human (and I think one could do a whole lot worse) then last week’s episode and this certainly confronted the matter head-on.
If anyone was expecting definitive answers here, they certainly didn’t get many of them (though I’d argue they were barking up the wrong tree if they were). We’re never told the exact truth of what caused the parasites to come into existence in the first place. We don’t know why some people could sense them and others couldn’t. We also don’t hear a peep about Tamura Ryouko’s baby, which was arguably the only disappointment of the finale for me. I would have expected Shinichi to at least express a concern over the matter, though it’s hard to imagine he’d have ben able to do anything about it. Normal human or not, I’d certainly fear for that child’s future.
I think one of the messages of this series is that not all questions have definitive answers, and that it’s the asking that’s important – because it’s the pondering of the question that’s one of the defining traits of our humanity. The best scene of the finale for me was Migi’s dream farewell to Shinichi, which is fully on-board with this theme. Migi is looking for answers he hasn’t been able to find in “Shinichi’s” world, and his time with Goutou has opened his consciousness up to new ways of being that he’d never considered before. What Migi wants is to ask the questions, to try and give some meaning to his existence. He also seems to want to give Shinichi back some semblance of normalcy that he’ll never have as long as the two of their consciousnesses are cohabiting in Shinichi’s body.
I think, in the end, Migi is selling Shinichi a little short here, and acting a bit selfishly. Of course Shinichi isn’t going to forget him, not even the dream of him, and there’s no way Shinichi could ever (or indeed, would ever want to) go back to the person he was before Migi came into his life. There’s a bit of a Buddhist theme here just as there is in “Chimera Ant”, though it’s not as far-reaching or literal – Shinichi is seeking enlightenment, and one of the barriers to enlightenment is an attachment to the physical body. Given a chance at enlightenment he chooses to leave his physical body behind – a highly evolved decision in Buddhist terms – though the act of doing so brings the pain of loneliness to those left behind in their physical forms.
After Migi’s departure – perhaps forever, perhaps not – Shinichi does indeed attempt to go back to a normal life. That means trying to catch up on things like his relationship with Satomi – and on his college exams, presumably punted because of more pressing affairs. And that means a study trip to Inokashira Park (funny I never noticed this series was set in Kichijouji, but it’s all over this episode). And while Shinichi is clearly happy to be with Satomi, his too is pondering – on what’s become of the parasites (seemingly, blending in with society and keeping a low profile), and on what everything that’s happened means. Fundamentally, he concludes, humanity is selfish – even their acts of kindness and concern towards the planet and other species are selfishly motivated. We can never understand other humans, much less other species – so perhaps, in the end, it’s enough to understand and accept ourselves, even the selfish part.
As expected, though, fate has one more wild card to play when things get too reflective, and that’s Uragami. He too has been pondering, and in point of fact his line of thinking isn’t all that different from Shinichi’s. Uragami figures humanity is selfish too, but what strikes him is how unnatural it is that other humans suppress their desire to destroy and consume each other like wild beasts. He even figures that’s what screwed up the planet – by suppressing their nature humans have caused their numbers to explode, putting the planet at risk. And I think Shinichi is an existence that fundamentally threatens him – as a half-breed and one that refrains from unnecessary killing at that, Shinichi represents everything that’s unnatural and wrong in the world.
It figures Uragami would use Satomi to get at Shinichi – attacking the weak spot in classic predatory fashion. What does Uragami want out of this encounter? He says “an answer, that he’d never get from a human – what do you think of me?” I think he wants to force Shinichi to see the true darkness of humanity, to make it impossible for him to live a life Urgami sees as one of denial. And to have fun, as Uragami seems resigned to the fact that he’s going to be caught and executed sooner or later. There’s yet more collateral damage – two bystanders on the roof where Uragami drags Satomi at knifepoint to force his final confrontation with Shinichi. I don’t think this is loose writing by Iwaaki here – I think he does this very intentionally to highlight the selfishness of human perspective. How the lives of those we know count for more than those of strangers – both as it applies to Shinichi, and to us.
Just what does happen on that rooftop? When Urgami outs Shinichi, I don’t think Satomi is really surprised – I think she knew all along. And I think this is the critical moment of freedom, the one that allows her to verbally defy Uragami and Shinichi to force the moment, taking a huge risk by attacking Uragami head-on. The moment where it seems that Satomi has fallen from the building is terrifyingly real and convincing, and I’m not sure how to interpret what was real and what was only in Shinchi’s mind. It does seem that the truth is that Shinichi reaches Satomi in time, and that it was with Migi’s help.
“An organism with time to spare in its heart. How wonderful is that?” It’s a fascinating note to end on, unexpected yet surprisingly on-point. What makes us human, if not our preoccupation with matters not directly related to life, procreation and death? It leads us into terrible mischief, but also holds the way to enlightenment. This is the path Migi has chosen, perhaps in doing so becoming more human than ever. But he’s also just told Shinichi that he’s still very much with him even if he’s silent – watching Shinichi live his life, a part of him in far more than just the biological sense. This is one of those “tiny points of understanding” Shinichi refers to, the connections that shape who we are as individuals, and as a species.