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Does Whatever A Parasite Can: Jeff Reviews HItoshi Iwaaki’s Parasite

To say I’m on the late freight with regards to Hitshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte is to drastically understate things: the Del Rey volume I’m reading shows the first Japanese volume was printed ’round 1990. And this isn’t even the book’s first go-round in the U.S., either: according to Wikipedia, the book was published by Tokyopop back when the company was known as Mixx.

I can see why American publishers keep making a go of it. Although the protagonist doesn’t dress up in a costume and go out to fight crime, Parasyte is the closest thing to a manga superhero book I can remember reading. The story is about a teenager, Shinichi, whose right arm is replaced by a shape-changing intelligent parasite that failed to take over his brain. With the alien’s consciousness and shape-changing powers installed in his right arm, Shinichi struggles to keep his powers hidden from his family and schoolmates, and discovers that with a great parasite comes great responsibility: other, more successful, parasites have landed all over Tokyo and begun feeding on human beings, and are usually intent on destroying Shinichi whenever they encounter him. More than once, I found myself thinking Parasyte, with very few changes, would’ve fit pretty seamlessly into DC’s failed Focus line–the first few pages of Chapter 2 in particular have the pacing and storytelling I remember from, say, Kinetic. On top of that, Iwaaki adds two horror staples–“aliens are among us” and “something else is inhabiting my body”–and whips the whole mix into a wildly enjoyable froth.

But frustratingly, even though Parasyte is such a high-concept confection it’d be a perfect transition book for superhero readers looking to branch out a bit, I think it would prove to be a tough sell–I found the cover of the Del Rey edition pretty god-damn cheesy, frankly, with a logo that’s a shout-out to the heyday of Patty Smyth & Scandal, and a cover that’s less terrifying than enigmatic: a hand with eyes? How scary is that? Also problematic is Iwaaki’s art, which has a delightfully grotesque wackiness whenever the aliens are involved (it reminded me of Jack Cole in a few scenes) but is crushingly generic otherwise–it someone were to tell me Iwaaki learned to draw by copying aircraft safety cards, I’d totally believe them. The book also falls prey to Del Rey’s cautious publication schedule: six months between volumes? I’d have been pretty pissed if I’d gotten hooked on this when it first came out.

Regardless, if you can get past such trivial concerns–and they are pretty trivial in the face of the book’s other strengths–the first volume of Parasyte is a dynamite little read, well worth the time and money. A highly Good piece of work.

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