Environmentalism in Kiseijuu / Parasyte

Parasyte: The Maxim is currently my favorite anime, though it constantly changes between that and Shinsekai Yori, Monster, and Psycho-Pass. Anyway, Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu is a manga by Hitoshi Iwaaki that ran from the late 80s to the mid 90s. In 2014, it was finally adapted into an anime by studio Madhouse. The show is about strange, parasitic lifeforms that eat the head of the human host and take over its body. Living disguised as humans, they eat other humans, and can morph into many shapes and forms. They can form eyes and mouths similar to those of humans, appendages and tentacles made of muscle and skin, metallic blades, and sharp teeth. They only revert to this monstrous form when fighting or when devouring a human.

As a sci-fi thriller with emphasis on horror and violence, it’s difficult at first to imagine Kiseijuu as an especially profound series. However, it actually has much psychological depth, touching on themes such as the nature of humanity, the bonds between mothers and children, the definition of life, the character growth of Shinichi, rational mind verses emotional mind, and life on earth. Kiseijuu clearly doesn’t support radical environmentalism, and takes apart some of the more naive arguments of 80s environmentalists. Still, the series is very aware of science and the truth of humanity’s impact on life on earth. It definitely seeks to make viewers become aware of this and acknowledge it. Let’s look at some examples.

First, there is Takeshi Hirokawa and his story. Crazy me used to be a lot like this man, so I really understand him. However, Hirokawa is one of the strangest characters in Kiseijuu, by normal people standards. Mostly, he’s weird/ disturbing because you think he’s a Parasyte until he dies in episode 21 and reveals he’s human. This, despite loyally supporting the Parasytes and despising humanity. What does this character have to do with environmentalism, though? To understand, all you have to do is listen to his speech in episode 21.

When faced with a SWAT team armed and ready to kill, Hirokawa says, “The tools you currently hold should be put to a different use, for a purpose far greater. They should be used to protect the balance of the biosphere. That should be your intended mission: in a word, culling. All humanity will realize soon enough that human numbers must be reduced at once. The crime of pollution is far greater than the crime of manslaughter. … You should place greater value on your predators. And these particular predators (parasytes) fit perfectly into the hierarchy of nature! They fit right above humans! This will restore the balance at last.”

He also shouts, “Environmental protection measures are all skewed in favor of benefitting the human race! Why do you refuse to acknowledge that?! Prioritize the prosperity of all life over that of the human race! That is what would make you the superior species! You fools claim that justice is on your side. But what greater justice is there than this? Parasytes inhabit humans and take on the role of maintaining the balance of life! In comparison, humans are the true parasitic vermin infesting this planet! Or should I say parasitic beasts (Kiseijuu)?”

Takeshi Hirokawa is the most radical kind of environmentalist: basically, an ecoterrorist. He believes humans and nonhuman life should be thought of as equal, and thus, people must be culled to reduce human impact on the biosphere. If Parasytes are the ones to violentally kill people by eating them, that’s just fine with Hirokawa. So is the idea of shooting humans in mass numbers. As you can see, this man is insane and dangerous. However, there are a few things he said that are accurate. For example, “When it comes to killing, nothing else on earth matches the human race.” That’s true. Humans are causing the Sixth Mass Extinction of life on earth. At least a million species are projected to go extinct in the next thirty to one hundred years.

The vast human population is creating problems, not just for nature but also for humans ourselves. So Hirokawa has a point. Of course, that doesn’t mean culling the population is the answer. That’s unthinkable. Hirokawa is also right that pollution can kill hundreds of living things, including endangered species, but manslaughter is just killing one single human out of 7 billion. However, why would we treat other species as equal to human life? Humans are selfish creatures, and we really only care about ourselves and other humans. (And maybe pets.) Humans are much more complex and intelligent than any other creature. Of course we would value their lives more. Even if you have some good points, ecoterrorism in any form is wrong.

Using an extreme character, the Kiseijuu anime points out the dangers of radical, uncontrolled environmentalism. Hirokawa is a villain, but he also has some of the most thought-provoking lines in the series. The purpose of his character is to show that environmentalism has some good points, being rooted in reality and science; but if taken too far, it simply turns into ecoterrorism, which is no different or better than religious terrorism.

Then there’s the example in episode 14, the Selfish Gene. The episode is named after the famous science and literary work of the same name by Richard Dawkins. Reiko the Parasyte is attending University lectures to learn more about biology, genetics, and humans. The professor who is lecturing says the following about altruism, nonhuman animals, and humans.

“Altruism is behavior undertaken for the benefit of another. It is the opposite of selfishness. At first glance, altruism poses no advantage for the self. Rather, it is behavior that helps others despite posing a distinct disadvantage to the self. It is perhaps not so rare among humans, but altruistic behavior has also been observed among a number of animal species. But there also exists a prime example of behavior (in animals) that does not benefit one’s species: infanticide. Why do some animals kill offspring of their own species? The prevailing theory in recent years is ‘the Selfish Gene.’ In a nutshell, the body of an animal is merely its DNA’s puppet. What matters is not the species, but oneself, and one’s own offspring who carries one’s genes.”

“If we apply this theory more broadly, it can explain a wide variety of altruistic behavior, such as caring for others in a herd, familial love, marital love, and even maternal love. … Of course, this theory is not without its problems. There are numerous examples in nature where animals help others who will have no impact on the transmission of their own DNA, and even to others of an entirely different species. In addition, it is questionable whether complex human thought can be captured in full by this theory. In that sense, it may be interesting to consider whether human efforts in the realm of environmental and nature conservation are altruistic or selfish.”

This was an overly simplistic explanation of The Selfish Gene. That aside, the point is the last sentence. Are environmentalists trying to help the environment for its sake or for their own? I think it depends on the person, but the majority of people are really only trying to help humanity, even if they don’t fully realize it yet. We want clean air and water first and foremost so that we can survive and be healthy. We want rainforests to survive and ample tree cover to exist worldwide to protect us from the results of changing oxygen and CO2 levels. We want creatures to survive which are helpful to the ecosystem, and thus to our own health, so we try to save endangered species. Or maybe we simply like certain species because they’re awesome, and so we protect them– but that’s still a “selfish” or personal reason.

In episode 23, Shinichi successfully reunites with Migi and defeats Gotou. When it comes time to finish off the monster with the hatchet, though, the boy hesitates. He’s been taught in school about the effects humans are having on the earth, he’s always cared about animals and earth, and he just learned firsthand what toxins produced by humans can do. (Hydrogen cyanide from burned acrylic products poisoned the invincible Gotou and made his body come apart.) Now, Gotou’s remains are still trying to join with each other and cling to life. As Shinichi says, it looks pathetic or very pitiable. It is just a living thing trying to stay alive.

When Migi says he won’t finish Gotou, Shinichi at first decides the same. He doesn’t want to have to kill a living thing that’s fighting to survive and that’s so intelligent and magnificent. Even if Gotou reforms and starts killing people again, Shinichi thinks he should leave it “to the powers that be.” After all, humans are indeed parasitic beasts feeding of the Earth, and we are also a toxin to the earth. Before they leave, Migi asks if Shinichi thinks the Earth is beautiful, and the boy says he doesn’t really know. Migi states, “I despise people who say they are doing something ‘for’ the Earth. After all, Earth has no emotions.”

After hearing this perspective from Migi, and after some heavy psychological and existential consideration, Shinichi decides to kill Gotou after all. “I am just one human being,” he says. “I can only hope to protect my own small family. I’m sorry,” Shinichi tells Gotou, with tears in his eyes. “You aren’t at fault. But… I’m sorry.” Thus, he tears apart Gotou’s slowly reforming body with his hatchet, killing the invincible Parasyte once and for all. This is one of the most beautiful moments in anime. When you need to kill an animal, for food or to protect yourself, you should behave like Shinichi. You should think think it over. You should be saddened by the loss of life that you are causing. But if it’s the appropriate choice, you must solemnly and painlessly kill the creature.

What Parasyte: The Maxim is trying to say is that environmentalism is all well and good as long as it’s based in science, reality, and practicality. I suspect that, like Migi, the manga author despises people who say they fight for the earth or for the animals when really, it’s for them. That ties back into the second example about altruistic behavior in environmental conservation. Let me quickly tell you where I stand on that. I love animals very much, especially the wild mammal species, and I value their lives even if they’re not helpful to me or humanity. However, my only real reasons for loving them so much are that I find them amazing, I love studying them, and I want them alive. It’s not true altruism, or not by the definition that Kiseijuu gives.

“Someone on Earth had a sudden thought: Life Must Be Protected.”

To sum everything up, Parasyte: The Maxim is a show that’s very aware of the state of the Earth and what humans have done (and are doing) to it. The series calls attention to the fact that environmentalism is not altruistic, and also, that it can be taken too far and turn into radical ecoterrorism. But it’s not as if Parasyte/ Kiseijuu is against environmentalism. Not at all. If it were, the themes of the protection of life on Earth wouldn’t be so prominent. There woulnd’t have been such a struggle over the decision of whether to kill Gotou. And there wouldn’t have been the motif throughout that humans are monsters, too.

Calling out idealist types on their lack of true altruism isn’t the same as arguing against environmental protection. It’s just that the author of the manga was probably very utilitarian, and impatient with idealist types. Regardless, Kiseijuu is the only manga/ anime I know of with such in-depth discussion of environmentalism. I believe the creators of the show and Histoshi Iwaaki were all for reasonable, non-radical environmental protection and nature conservation.

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