Also, Andrew has another installment of The Chronicles of William Bazillion up! Seldom have I seen so little artwork put to so much use. My hat goes off to him.
Yo, I'm Shaenon. That's right, my LiveJournal's a trip. It's time for the Overlooked Manga Festival!
Every once in a while, an overlooked manga gets a second chance. Such is the case with this week's manga, which was published by Tokyopop so long ago that Tokyopop was still called Mixx. (Remember MixxZine? Pocket Manga? Sailor Moon everything? Come on, it was less than ten years ago! Don't make me feel old!) It's been out of print for a while, but now Del Rey is bringing it back, so that American readers can once more enjoy the adventures of a boy and his anthrophagic parasitic hand.
Parasyte was a very popular manga in Japan during its run in the 1990s, but passed in and out of print without notice here, despite going through a couple of editions from Mixx/Tokyopop. Incidentally, the first Mixx edition is quite possibly the most entertainingly bad English edition of a manga ever (as opposed to, say, the early ADV manga, which are just bad). Behold the classic back cover to Volume 1:
I don't know how it is at other manga companies, but over at the Viz offices there are several longtime editors who can quote that passage from memory. I bet Carl Horn can rap it.
The other Parasyte moment that gets the thumbs-up from all my manga-editing pals:
One thing you want to avoid in the men's room: letting your left hand act strange.
Anyway. Parasyte is sort of nominally a horror manga, combining the best elements of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, Alien, Terminator 2, and Every Which Way But Loose. As the story begins, strange spores drift to the earth and infect hapless humans. Drilling into the victim's head, a spore takes over the brain and upper body and becomes a shapeshifting monster with an appetite for human flesh. Like so:
But one Parasyte accidentally infects its victim's arm instead, leaving his brain intact. The victim, a teenage boy named Shin, finds himself stuck with an erudite, shapeshifting hand, which he names Lefty. (In the original Japanese, the hand is named Migi, or "Righty," but the Tokyopop edition is flopped to read left-to-right, so...) Lefty is a rational soul, so he brokers an alliance with Shin, and the two team up to protect themselves from human authorities and other Parasytes.
Lefty/Migi is, by far, the greatest parasitic hand in all manga. He thoroughly kicks the ass of the face-hand from Vampire Hunter D, the black-hole hand from Inu-Yasha, and the airheaded-teenage-girl hand from Midori Days, hands down. Um. Sorry. But it's true. He's a great character, and probably one of the main reasons this manga was a hit in Japan.
In fact, much of the appeal of Parasyte, aside from the cheerfully-rendered gore, is the way the Parasytes develop from body-snatching menaces into something more complex. Like the Alien movies, the manga spends a lot of time carefully detailing the biology of its monsters. But it also takes them in unexpected directions as characters. The Parasytes are intelligent, and, although they lack human emotions and morality, some of them develop personalities as time goes on. Chief among them is Tamara Rockford (Reiko Tamura in the Japanese), an unusually canny Parasyte who experiments on herself and her fellow Parasytes in an effort to figure out what they are and why they appeared on Earth (a question, incidentally, that's never really answered, although several theories are presented).
And it goes the other way, too, as Shin gets infected with Parasyte blood and starts to develop superhuman strength while losing his human emotions. This is both awesome, as Shin acquires the ability to totally kick ass, and troubling, as he drifts farther and farther away from humanity whether he likes it or not.
The border between human and Parasyte is constantly breached: there's man who lives symbiotically with a Parasyte located in his jaw, a Parasyte who gives birth to a human baby, and a serial killer whose sense of morality puts him on par with the Parasytes even though he's 100% human. This reflects the manga's quasi-environmentalist outlook, which sees humans as just another species of animal and the human species as a parasite on the Earth.
As you've probably noted from these sample pages, Parasyte is almost certainly the worst-drawn manga ever featured in the Overlooked Manga Festival. I've heard it described charitably as "dated" and somewhat more accurately as "stiff." Hitoshi Iwaaki can basically draw one thing really well: people's bodies rippling into freaky mutant forms. Everything else gives him serious trouble. On the other hand, he does come up with some great Parasyte visuals.
It's the story that carries Parasyte: the horror, the action, the human drama, the Parasyte drama, the buddy-picture bonding, the oddly reflective bouts of philosophy. It's an unusually thoughtful horror manga, and I hope it wins some new readers when Del Rey brings it back into print on May 1. But, you know, life's a bitch...
Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Your and My Secret
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques
Ode To Kirihito
Bringing Home the Sushi
OMF Special Event: The Greatest Manga Magazine in American History
Anywhere But Here
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
The Walking Man
Sugar Sugar Rune