Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 11th 2009
Mysterious parasites have invaded Earth, taking over human minds and bodies with their deadly shape-changing powers. Only one person truly understands their threat: high schooler Shinichi Izumi, who has the unusual case of having a parasite living in his right hand instead of having taken over his entire body. And now that several of the creatures have banded together, they've marked Shinichi as their next target. He'll need all his wits about him to survive, as well as a helping hand from the only detective on the police force who knows what's going on. In the end, it comes down to a duel between Shin and the leader of the pack, Reiko Tamura ... but in a battle between human and monster, it may be surprising just how much they have become like the other.
After several volumes of ups and downs, the unwritten conflict in Parasyte may be the struggle to balance quiet drama with fierce fighting action. Some of the finest points in the series have been Shinichi and Migi's one-on-one discussions about the nature of humankind. At the same time, however, some of the other finest points in the series involve human-creature hybrids tearing each other apart with crazy arm blades and other mutations. This volume finally hits the Sweet Spot, featuring a three-on-one brawl and a climactic shootout, but also reflecting on how deep a bond exists between mother and child. While there are many series that boast of being a thrilling sci-fi slugfest, it's a rare one that also manages to have a mind and a heart.
Volume 6 gets off to a slightly shaky start, dropping the reader in the middle of an ongoing story arc without much explanation (quick refresher: Shinichi is on the run from a monster that attacked him in the forest). At the same time, it tries to develop a storyline about Reiko and her gang hunting down the unassuming Detective Kuramori—a subplot loaded with violence and heartbreak, if only we cared about the detective himself. That seems to be an ongoing problem with the series: the side characters feel oddly distant, making it difficult to get invested in their side of the story. (An interlude involving Shinichi's girlfriend is particularly dull.) There is one shining moment in the first half, however—Reiko fighting against her minions when they all turn against her. Perhaps it's a tribute to the creativity of human thought, showing how she outwits her opponents by going beyond animal instinct. Or maybe it's just a good old blood-and-guts battle, a point that few would disagree with.
The second half of this volume, however, is the part that's really worth waiting for: not only does it pit Shinichi against Reiko (a showdown we've been waiting for since the early volumes), but it also features the philosophical and emotional depth that makes the series unique. See, Reiko's been taking care of a baby this whole time, and she broke into Shinichi's house to look through his childhood photo albums, and the detective who lost his family has planned his revenge for this exact moment—see where we're going here? If one of humanity's distinguishing characteristics is the capacity for familial love, then the last few chapters make a very eloquent case for it. A poignant flashback into Shinichi's youth is not to be missed, along with Reiko's surprising choice at the end of the battle. Humans who fight against monsters must be wary of becoming monsters themselves, but what of monsters who find themselves becoming human?
After pondering a question like that, it may help to focus on something simpler—like the artwork, which continues to be a double-edged sword. On one hand, Hitoshi Iwaaki's straightforward style makes every fight scene a breeze to understand, and the clean rectangular paneling provides a the perfect framework for the dynamic angles and curves of the action within. It also doesn't hurt that the creature designs, and the way they shape-change to fight each other, are endlessly creative. The downside, however, comes in the scenes of dialogue and everyday life, where talking-head scenery becomes the norm and even backgrounds are neglected half the time. The unexciting character designs also pose a problem: aside from Shinichi and his nemesis, does anyone remember what the rest of the supporting cast looks like? Sorry, Detective Kuramori, but your everyman nature is working against you.
Also taking the straightforward route is the dialogue in this volume, but that's something that works mostly in its favor. Heady concepts like what it means to be human and the value of family are expressed in simple words, which perhaps is what makes the series' philosophical themes so accessible and appealing. The language is just as clear in more mundane matters, such as Shinichi plotting how to escape his enemies or Detective Kuramori trying to explain the situation to his fellow officers. Even the sound effects are simple in their approach: big noisy battles are usually punctuated with just one or two effects in each panel, letting the action speak for itself. Small English translations are placed next to each sound effect, although the story is just as easily enjoyed without them. A brief glossary also explains some particulars of Japanese culture, although there are only two entries this time (a sign, perhaps, of the series' universal themes).
From a seemingly uneven start, this volume of Parasyte builds up to a rousing finish, showing just how good the series can be when it strikes the right balance. Intense hand-to-hand combat between freakish monsters? This one's got it. A touching reminiscence on childhood and further inquiry into what makes us human? This one's got all that covered as well. Sure, you have to trudge through a couple of dull side-character chapters and plot points (as well as plain artwork) to get to that powerful finish, but the experience is worth it. Best of all, the dramatic decision that Shinichi made in the previous volume—fight the parasites to save humanity—gets some measure of payoff here. No matter where the adventure heads next, this part is definitely one of the high points.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Strikes the right balance of action and drama, with a brilliant climax that manages to bring poignancy and emotion to a grand fight scene.
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