Shinichi is having a perfectly normal high school life, until one night a mysterious parasite burrows into his hand and starts causing all kinds of problems. As if that wasn’t freaky enough, he then finds out the creature is his hand is sentient, with eyes and a mouth! To Shinichi’s horror his conversations with the creature, which calls itself Migi, subdue him to the fact that there’s no quick way out of their new situation, and they have to learn to live with each other.
Shinichi’s personal hell becomes a living nightmare when murders start to happen in the local area which other parasite infected humans are committing. Not only does he have to adapt to his new parasite companion, they have to work together to defeat any parasite they come across. Most parasite infected humans have been infected to the brain, and no longer think like a human, which means it’s often an all-out battle to the death.
Things quickly get complicated in every aspect of Shinichi’s life. He has to constantly hide the truth from his parents and peers, and he worries about how the parasite is affecting his own physiology and mind. Some of the human parasites try to assimilate into society rather than attack at random, and as the only one who understands what is happening, Shinichi struggles to protect those around him and understand the parasites’ motives. This really helps keep the anime from just feeling like an out and out gore fest – there’s always more at stake than win and lose when Shinichi battles the parasites.
At first the horror seems light in this anime, but the cleverness of Parasyte the Maxim is the way it slowly amps up the terror of what the parasites can do, and how brutally a human life can be taken, both physically and mentally. A parasite infected human can be hiding anywhere, and the viewer never knows when or how they will strike. Whilst the blood is plentiful, this is an emotional and psychological horror, as parasites force Shinichi to battle strangers, loved ones, and even himself when he fears he is losing his humanity.
For me this is more a story driven than character driven anime – Shinichi and the other characters are very understated personality wise, which can limit the emotional engagement. Over the course of the anime the horrific circumstances they endure slowly humanise them and increase the viewer’s investment. For a slow build up horror, check out Parasyte the Maxim.