Horror is a genre that has become something bigger than itself. It has branched out into all sorts of different subgenres, providing something for everybody. It’s a personal favorite, as anything spooky will pique my interest.
The great thing about being both a horror fan and an anime fan is that often the two intersect in interesting ways. Junji Ito, amongst others, helped bring it to the mainstream with creepy manga and anime that is enough to satiate not only fans of Japanese pop culture but fans of horror as well.
While the many subgenres of horror might seem as if there’s something for everyone, there are just certain ones that don’t sit well with certain audiences. It’s always to pick them out, as often they are incredibly gory and over the top.
One such subgenre and again, a personal favorite, is body horror. Body horror is often described as a genre of excess, showing the body pushed to its limits and beyond. It can be incredibly gory, bloody, and even hard to watch.
It’s something that some people can’t quite stomach. It’s a reminder of the fragility of the human body and that, regardless of how well taken care of it is, it’s still pretty damn fragile. But it remains a staple within the horror circles because of what it can do for the art within it.
It can be a stand-in for our greatest fears as both individuals and society.
Anime has always had a bit of a hand within the body horror genre, starting with cult classic Akira. In the manga, Junji Ito has featured it in numerous stories. It even creeps into shows and series we wouldn’t quite expect, such as My Hero Academia.
But a recent series managed to pull it off with ease whilst managing to be both creepy and fun and avoiding gratuitous gore.
Subverting Horror in Anime
Parasyte follows the story of Shinichi Izum, a young man living with his parents in a sleepy neighborhood in Tokyo. One night, an alien race called parasites arrive on Earth.
The parasites drill into the human brain through easy access such as the ear. A parasite named Migi tries to take over Shinichi but fails to reach his brain, so instead takes over his arm.
While their relationship starts off rocky, considering Migi wants to consume Shinichi, the two reach a sort of truce and even form a strong bond. Together they navigate the rest of the parasites who attempt to take over Shinichi’s brain and the planet itself as it begins to change from the invasion. The two end up fighting friends and foes throughout the series, leading the viewer to question any person that goes their way.
And it does an excellent job of it. The show is heavy with atmosphere and dread- something that helps propel horror into something better than just gore and shock values. And while the series does feature its fair share of bloody moments, they’re always done in a way that adds to the story rather than detracts.
The series was based on a manga of the same name and eventually was adapted into two live-action films. It was then adapted into Parasyte -the maxim- where it became popular internationally.
The series aired on the American station Adult Swim on the Toonami block, gaining a fanbase with adult anime fans in the United States. It quickly became a fan favorite amongst late night viewers, those who were searching for hard to find anime or those who couldn’t sleep and craved something a little spooky.
The series was outright with what it wanted to convey to audiences, with strong anti-pollution messages, the need for empathy, and how to grapple with a body that doesn’t entirely feel your own.
What Parasyte managed to do incredibly well was take the body horror genre somewhere a bit more elevated than a genre meant to shock. The horror presented within the series is never meant to titillate or to disturb the audience.
Yes, it is meant to be scary and gross. But that’s not all that it is. It takes those anxieties one can have involving their own bodies no longer feeling like their own and amplifies it.
It’s no wonder that body horror is often a stand-in for puberty. And while it plays off those anxieties, Parasyte shows that it’s not necessarily the end of the road for people. Watching Migi and Shinichi form a sort of partnership alludes to the ability to not only change yourself and how you view the world, but also recognizing where you went wrong and how to fix it.
Shinichi manages to work together with his parasite Migi. Together they form a team confined into one body. They benefit from one another, while still navigating the struggles that come with the sharing of Shinichi’s body. Between the two of them resides a reminder of the deal they’ve inherently made with one another. They now need each other, and in order to make it work, they have to put in the work.
There’s a stream of fear and anger that runs through each moment between Migi and Shinichi. They’ve figured out they need each other; but they also know that they can be the ultimate demise for the other. If Shinichi tries to remove his arm, Migi will kill him.
Body horror here helps us as an audience approach difficult subjects. It’s always been a stand in for different things, from puberty to the impact of the destruction of ecology. Parasyte is no different. We look at these parasites with disdain, but the series almost approaches them neutrally. Are our morals as humans applicable to the parasites as well? Or is it something entirely different?
It’s something that Parasyte goes to great lengths to have the audience think about. It would be all too easy to watch the show for the gore and nothing else but doing so is not only a disservice to the series, but to yourself as well.