Did Migi Develop Altruism? (Parasyte: The Maxim)

Welcome, dear readers. For today’s Thoughtful Thursday, the subject is Migi, a main character in Parasyte: The Maxim. The question of whether or not he develops altruism will be addressed. It’s easiest to understand this post if you have seen Parasyte. But for those who haven’t seen it or don’t remember it well, we shall start with a refresher about Migi. Please note that Migi is technically agender. I only use “he/him” for simplicity’s sake.

Who Is Migi?

“Over time, my kind has changed, but we will never develop what you humans call empathy.”
~Migi, Parasyte episode 12

Migi is a Parasyte, a highly intelligent, otherworldly creature that eats the head of a human and takes over their body. However, Migi was unsuccessful in his attempt to take over the brain of his host, Shinichi. Instead, he took over the young man’s right arm and hand. In personality, Migi is highly curious and loves knowledge even when it’s not necessarily useful. He learned the Japanese language in only two or three days, so he’s incredibly smart. Migi is also highly logical and can adapt quickly to changes or dangerous situations.

Despite being as intelligent as humans (or more so), Parasytes do not feel empathy and do not practise altruism or social cooperation. Migi is no different in this regard. At least, that is the case at first. It’s possible that he developed some of these “human” traits by the end of the series. That possibility was opened up due to Migi’s love of learning and his interactions with Shinichi. If Migi hadn’t been such a curious and contemplative creature, he probably would never have come close to the point he reaches in the anime.

Migi’s Lack of Social Traits

“I only value my own life.
I have never considered the life of another organism valuable.”
~Migi, Parasyte episode 2

Before we can understand the changes in Migi, we must know a bit about his baseline state. He possesses neither empathy nor altruism. He also has no sense of the value of other lives or a spirit of cooperation. These are all traits found in social animals, and of course, they are the most advanced in humans. Migi’s lack of empathy and related traits are explored below.

Migi makes in clear throughout the series that he cannot feel empathy and has no desire for it. While he isn’t rude, aggressive, or malicious, this creature does not value human life; nor does he value others of his kind. The earliest example is in episode two. There was a parasyte who took over a dog because he failed to land near a human. When the “dog” became aggressive to Shinichi, Migi quickly dispatched it. He felt nothing after killing one of his own kind. Indeed, throughout the series, Migi directly aids in the killing of several of his species.

Now what about humans? In episode three, the Parasyte called A-san goes berserk and begins killing people at Shinichi’s school. Migi suggests using the crowd of evacuating humans as a shield while fighting the threat. While A-san is cutting through the humans, Migi would attack his heart. Shinichi naturally objects and another plan is formed. Another example is the way that, throughout the series, Migi comes close to killing Shinichi’s friends and allies. He would have killed Murano if Shinichi had told her the truth. He also tried to kill the private detective who took video footage of them.

Humans in general do not matter to Migi. However, in a sense, one can say that he “cares” about Shinichi. That is, he protects Shinichi because the young man is his lifeline. After Shinich is stabbed through the heart by an enemy Parasyte, Migi heals him. One of the after-effects is that Migi has a new weakness, a period of time where he falls asleep and cannot wake up. Shinichi says a little later that Migi is no longer his enemy and that he saved his life. Migi responds, “That’s not entirely accurate. There was my life to consider as well.”

If Migi cannot care about other lifeforms, then he is far from being able to feel empathy or take altruistic action. But is it possible that this parasyte developed a positive sense of cooperation? Was he able to understand some points from humans that shifted his perspective? Going from there, is there a chance that Migi did indeed do something altruistic? Let’s keep exploring.

Migi’s Sense of Cooperation

Starting early on, Migi learns to cooperate with Shinichi. They fight battles together and deal with other difficulties. A good example is in episode 3, when they briefly talk about delegating roles to defeat the hostile Parasyte in school. Migi focuses on defense, while Shinichi attacks with a weapon. Another example is the way they deal with private detective Kuramori. At first, Migi is dead-set on killing him. Shinichi is able to prevent this temporarily, and by the next day, Migi has revaluated the situation. He agrees to let the detective live. Migi and Shinichi also spend a lot of time talking to try to get a grasp on each other’s thoughts.

Shinichi and Migi form an alliance with Uda and his parasyte Joe in episode 7. Migi does not have to go out of his way to help Uda and Joe, since Shinichi is the one who needs help. So we don’t see altruism here. However, Migi and Joe still cooperate to execute a plan together. There is potential groundwork here for a time when Migi might help Uda and Joe. Another interesting thing to point out is that the two parasytes get along rather than being hostile, as many other parasytes seem to be. Again, this is an example of cooperation.

Related to cooperation is understanding, and I don’t mean emotional understanding. What I’m referring to is comprehension of another’s situation and interests. Migi becomes more understanding of Shinichi as the show goes on, which allows him to make better decisions for both of them. Migi also uses his comprehension of Shinichi for manipulation. When Shinichi brings up the idea that the parasytes need to be eliminated, Migi states, “I do not possess human emotions, so killing my kind has no psychological effect on me. But what if you were in my position?” This is upsetting for Shinichi to think about, so he drops the subject. The point of this example is that Migi could only be manipulative by understanding Shinichi’s perspective.

Migi learns and comes to understand a lot about humans, their psychology, and their societies. To survive longer and control more variables, this is only logical. That brings me to an important item to note. Just because something is the logical course of action doesn’t mean that it can’t also be a pro-social trait. Cooperation and mutual understanding is a platform for more social behavior to start from. When we look at the evolutionary biology of social mammals, it’s clear that a new social-group trait can, over thousands of generations, arise from a solitary mammal’s behavior. An example would be a mammal mother’s protectiveness of her own offpsring leading into protectiveness of other offspring within the social group.

The point of that example was to say that social traits build on each other. Of course, biological evolution is completely different from mental evolution within an organism’s lifetime. Within the fictional world of this anime, Parasytes are capable of incredible mental evolution. The proof is the Parasyte Tamura Reiko, who was able to love her human baby enough to die protecting it. Migi states that he cannot comprehend this behavior and the signal he read from Reiko was an emotion he did not recognize. But Migi also has the potential to evolve to the point of achieving a selfless act. So the question is whether this possbility became a reality for Migi or not.

Migi’s Sacrifice

“One of the most incomprehensible elements of the human psyche is altruism:
doing something for someone else, even at a cost to yourself.
I simply cannot fathom it.”

~Migi, Parasyte (episode unknown)

The best evidence showing that Migi has developed altruism comes in episode 22. Battling Gotou in the woods, Migi separates from Shinichi and the two of them try a risky plan. It doesn’t work. So Migi tells Shinichi to run, while he distracts Gotou for a moment. This means he will die quickly from lack of connection to a host. Shinichi escapes, thinking that Migi is dead. Basically, Migi sacrificed himself to save Shinichi. Let’s look at this in detail.

There are several ways to view this significant event. First, there’s the view that Migi assumed he would die and encouraged Shinichi to run because two deaths are illogical. In this case we can say Migi made a purely logical choice and there was no real altruism since he thought he was going to die regardless. However, the fact that Migi would bother to save the life of a human who was no longer his host is strange. It suggests that he is attached to Shinichi.

Alternatively, there’s the idea that Migi knowingly practiced altruism by risking his life to give Shinichi a chance of running. Migi could have tried to reconnect with Shinichi, but then Gotou would probably kill them both anyway. Migi could also have propositioned Gotou to combine with his body, but he did not. Rather than simply having an attachment to Shinichi, Migi sacrificed the last of his life because he would rather die than let Shinichi get killed needlessly.

Actually, these two perspectives are not incompatible. Both are true. Migi was being logical by deciding that both of them didn’t need to die. He was also being altruistic by giving the last of his life to save Shinichi’s. There are a few other reasons to believe that Migi was being selfless here. For example, when Shinichi hesitates to run, Migi slices off Gotou’s leg, taking further action for no other purpose than to help the human.

Migi’s dying thoughts about Shinichi were: “I’m glad I didn’t take over your brain. Because of that, the two of us made many memories together, as friends.” That doesn’t sound like the thoughts of a coldly logical being who simply did the natural thing. It reveals that Migi thought of Shinichi as a friend and not just a troublesome host. Furthermore, if Migi thinks of the human as a friend, then he feels social comraderie. This is yet more evidence that altruism came into play. As Migi fades away, he is sure he will die. It turns out that he lives because Gotou attached him to his body, but Migi truly believed that his existence would end.

All of this information strongly suggests that Migi behaved selflessly, despite his earlier insistence on the ridiculousness of altruism. Just like Reiko, Migi underwent a rare and surprising evolution in that moment. He felt the value of another being’s life, and was willing to pay the ultimate price to protect that life. Perhaps you are convinced. Well, that was my strongest evidence, but I do have one final point to touch on below that might sway your mind further.

Migi and Murano

The last point I want to make concerns the events of the final episode of Parasyte. In episode 24, Migi has entered a state of dormancy, never showing himself, and just appreciating the flow of information from Shinichi’s consciousness. This is strange in itself. It’s possible that Migi wanted to go into a dormant state to help himself, because Parasytes were being hunted by police. It’s also possible that Migi entered that state so that Shinichi could have a peaceful life. That’s awfully caring for a Parasyte. I think both reasonings factored into his decision.

That aside, while Migi is sleeping, Shinichi and Murano run into a serial killer named Uragami. He captures Murano and is threatening to kill her if Shinichi calls the police or refuses to listen to his mad rambles. There follows a brief struggle, where Uragami is pushed aside, but Murano falls off the high building roof where this is happening. Shinichi tries to reach her, but the animation makes it clear that it was too late– had he been purely human. Next thing Shinichi knows, his hand is firmly around Murano’s wrist, and he’s pulling her up.

The miracle was due to Migi’s intervention. Shinichi wonders if Murano saw his hand extend as Migi saved her. Murano had fainted, but the risk was there regardless. This means Migi was alright with being seen even though, at an earlier time, he threatened to kill her if Shinichi told her truth. In short, Migi saved Murano’s life, even at a slight risk to himself (of being seen). Why? Surely Migi doesn’t value Murano as a person; he may, however, care about her as someone who Shinichi loves. Again, Migi is acting selflessly. He saved Murano so that Shinichi would not despair and could keep living a good life.

What do you think? Did Migi develop altruism during that scene where they fought Gotou in the forest? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks so much for reading, and please be safe and well. Until next time, Sayonara!


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2 thoughts on “Did Migi Develop Altruism? (Parasyte: The Maxim)

  1. Very insightful and interesting post. I haven’t watch Parasyte all the way through, so I can’t really judge Migi. Altruism is a very interesting social trait. There are many studies I have read that ask if animals other than humans practice altruism, and what altruism might even be as far as where it fits into social behavior and personal behavior. To an extent making personal sacrifice to save another makes the best sense, as in any mother mammal (and other) animals who will fight to the death to defend her own offspring in most cases. Personal sacrifices cannot be assumed to be altruistic, but must be examined in a larger context. In the case of a parasite, which is dependent on their hosts survival, this adds another layer of complexity. You’ve dealt with it quite well and in a very interesting post. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

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