June 29, 2009

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Parasyte Volume 1

Written by Hitoshi Iwaki
Illustrated by Hitoshi Iwaki
Del Rey

Ahh, Japanese horror manga--ripping off heads of characters, showing blood all over the place, worrying not about a "comics code" or corrupting the morals of those who read them. It's such a refreshing change of pace, because, since it's so natural, there doesn't seem to be any attempt to go for shock value the that a brutal scene in, say, a Vertigo book does. Whenever DC shows gore, there's always a sense to me that they feel so naughty about doing it that finding a way to make it flow naturally within the story is secondary to the editors.

In your average horror manga, that's not a problem, and, since I loves me my horror books and horror movies, reading horror manga is something I enjoy quite a bit, especially when the story is a good one. Does Parasyte fit the bill?

Yes, and very nicely, too.

It's great being at the top of the food chain, as humans are. We eat what we want, stay where we want, and generally don't worry about too much. What happens when a force from beyond the stars invades, and takes us over from the inside out? How do you fight an enemy you don't know exists because it looks just like you?

The answer is not very well. Earthlings seem oblivious, even when the evidence is right before their very eyes. As a result, brain-eating parasites are able to start taking over, and once they do, there's a new addition to the homo sapiens menu: humans!

Now all this would be fine as a story and enjoyable enough--watch humanity deny the problem right in front of them, just like they may be doing with global warming--but Iwaaki adds another element. It seems one of the parasites didn't quite make it to the brain and is now stuck in his host's right hand. Whoops! Trapped there now, he must make the best of his situation, feeding off normal human body production and trying to understand the human race he now belongs to.

The interplay between the host (Shin) and the parasite is what makes this step up above most of the other manga out there. While Shin starts off with the righteous rage of a traditional hero, he is checked by the parasite's practicality--what will happen to Shin if he reveals himself? The obvious answer is not to Shin's liking, and so we see that things are going to be far more complex than initially thought.

The rest of the first volumes takes us around the new world through Shin and the parasite's eyes--was he the only failure? What happens when they meet? Can the parasites learn, love, reproduce? And is humanity as innocent as Shin wants his parasite to believe?

Iwaaki's answers to questions like, "Why feed on other humans?" is not what you'd expect, and neither is just about everything else. The author turns reader expectations on their ear, and in so doing makes this a very enjoyable romp that questions our thoughts about humanity. A pleasant surprise, and I look forward to more.