It's an alien invasion! Blood, guts, mutilation, and morphing-blade-headed aliens. This manga has it all.
*Note* This article contains graphic images of carnage that some may find offensive or disturbing.
"寄生獣" or "Kiseiju" (pronounced "kee-say-joo") is a manga that debuted in Japan in 1990. Why am I bringing up a manga that's over 20 years old? Because it's a classic and quite honestly one of my favorite series of all time. The series ran in Monthly Afternoon until 1995.
The manga also had an English translated release in 1999 by Tokyopop (then Mixx) under the title Parasyte.
On a night much like any other, strange parasitic worm-creatures appear. These worms bore into human hosts and fuse with the head, assuming control and turning everything from the neck up into a shape-shifting organic mass. Once they have fully fused, the creatures gain full control over the host body they possess and follow a single primal instinct of cannibalism.
The parasitic creatures learn at a rapid pace and are capable of logical thought, quickly melting into society where they continue to feed on humans. The creatures are also capable of detecting other parasites in their immediate vicinity as well as sense each other's emotions as they continue to learn, begin to coordinate.
Shinichi Izumi is a normal high school student who is assaulted by a worm-creature that bores into his right arm and attempts to reach his head to fuse and assume control. Through sheer luck and a headphone cable, Shinichi prevent the creature from burrowing up into his skull and it instead fuses with his arm, leaving him with a sentient, shape-shifting, logical and ever-curious right arm named "Migi." (In the English version, the creature is named "Lefty" due to the left-right reversal of the images.) Because it never gained control of Shinichi's brain, Migi does not have the cannibalistic instincts that other parasites possess.
Shinichi soon after learns of the existence of the other parasitic creatures and he is thrust into a violent and deadly conflict in a fight to protect the ones he loves against mankind's new predator.
Much like Ajin, Kiseiju is very much a supernatural thriller with a great deal of depth and heavy-hitting questions about what it means to be human.
All of the characters are very real and relatable, surprisingly enough, even the parasites themselves. Through the character of Migi and other parasites, the reader is given an outsider's look at human nature and the complex paradox of creatures that live between reason and instinct.
The story does an excellent job of thrusting its protagonists – and its readers – into situations where it becomes more important to think about the here and now than to dwell on the why and how. Where did the parasites come from? Why are they here? These are valid questions that even the parasites themselves ask, but the story quickly proves that that's not what's important. What's important is what to do with the hand that has been dealt.
The artwork of Kiseiju is somewhat simplistic (mostly due to the fact that the author worked alone for the majority of the manga's run) but still manages to set the perfect tone for the entire story. And then there's the action sequences...
The confrontations between Shinichi and the other parasites have a tendency to end in violence, and the fights are intense and captivating. The action scenes are so engrossing and well-paced that as a reader, you end up drinking in all of the story just to get to that next fight.
There is a part in the middle of the series where the story seems to lose a bit of its momentum, but the third act makes up for it in droves with some of the most memorable action sequences I've ever seen.
While most of my impressions of Kiseiju have been glowing, do note that this is most definitely a manga for adults. As amazing as the action sequences are, they're also extremely graphic and not suitable for a younger audience at all. There's gore aplenty throughout the series, with murder, dismemberment, cannibalism – you name it. The following scene (that happens in the first chapter, so it's not much of a spoiler) literally gave me nightmares the first time I saw it.
Kiseiju is an amazingly smart and entertaining story. The manga is over 20 years old, so there're no cell phones or internet in it, but otherwise the story seems to have aged well. Throughout the series, the manga asks some very poignant questions without beating the reader over the head with them.
Whether you're in it for the bad-ass action, the contemplative thought-provoking undertones, or the whole kit 'n caboodle, Kiseiju is an unforgettably powerful series that has made it one of my all-time favorites.
Manga Title:寄生獣 (Kiseiju)
Author: Hitoshi Iwaaki
*There is a complete edition of the series that consists of 8 volumes.
Note: There is currently a 2-movie live-action Japanese adaptation in the works. The first movie is scheduled for release in 2014, with the second half scheduled for 2015.
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