I read about this book in a post here, on one of the few blogs I’ve found that reviews much Japanese SF. Her description pretty much guaranteed that I would check this book out, though it failed to live up to the zany expectations engendered by the review. I was looking forward to a homicidal Lady Part stalking through the halls, doing awful things to misguided scientists. Tragically, this is not quite what happens. Anyway, Parasite Eve was published in Japan in 1995. It appears to have been a cultural phenomenon, spawning a (probably bad) movie adaptation and a smash hit video game sequel. It was finally translated and published here in 2005 by Vertical Press, one of just a couple reliable sources for Japanese SFF in translation. I’m a bit puzzled why this became so popular, for reasons that we’ll delve into further.
The big take home from Parasite is to not trust our mitochondria, since we have no idea what it’s really up to. This is a promising start to a horror tale, but Sena buries the lede under 170-some pages of Too Much Medical Information. For the first time, I finally understand how a regular person feels hacking through Hard SF. As the entirely too detailed descriptions of surgeries, organ transplants, inner workings of cells, and the life of biologists piled up, I found myself skimming more than is healthy. Biology has never been my thing and Parasite didn’t change my mind. There are occasional interesting bits here and there, as the mitochondria take over lovely, sheltered, and doomed Kiyomi’s body, give random people hot flashes, and occasionally dispense creepy, orgasm-y feelings to Kiyomi when her husband says the word “mitochondria.”
On the other hand, way too much time is spent talking about 14 year-old Mariko, the real loser at the end of the book, who gets dead Kiyomi’s kidney but has massive hang-ups about her new organ. Her featured chapters may be a grudging nod to characterization, or maybe just a way to build pathos, but mostly they made me not like poor Mariko. Her typical salaryman dad also gets some attention, but the narrative is mostly dominated by Toshiaki: the lead scientist, aforementioned husband, and “hero,” who is downright bizarre in his obsession with cultivating his dead wife’s liver cells. By page 200, it’s hard to like any of these characters, with only Toshiaki’s dutiful graduate assistant garnering any sympathy. (The last is, like grad students everywhere, merely present to be exploited by everyone and everything. A sad lot, grad students.)
From here on out, expect spoilers. Things finally pick up a bit for the last 50 or so pages. (A good thing, too, or Parasite would be the most boring book I’ve ever seen.) This is where I expected the Vengeful Lady Part to appear and start raping everything in a paroxysm of slime and fire; Sena meets me halfway. First to go is the grad student. (Of course.) I will give Sena some credit here – the grad student breaks not a one of the usual Thou Shalt Nots for females in horror, though she is tall. As I said above, she’s basically the only likable character of the bunch. Pure too, as far as I know, which is supposed to keep her safe in Weird Horror Parallel Reality. So there’s a surprise. Regardless, she gets taken over by rampaging mitochondrial goop, poor girl. All of this excitement is too much for the evil mitochondria, who begins to form herself into a slimy, woman-shaped “Eve.” In the unquestioned highlight of the novel, and probably the hardest to film for public release, Eve starts by making herself from the goop a brand new lady part, a finger, and a single boob. Um…. yes. Brilliant.
Toshiaki wanders over after some other weirdness and, in a massive disappointment to me, is pursued by a squishy and runny Eve who has now formed herself fully into Kiyomi shape. Eve shapeshiftingly rapes the holy heck out of Toshiaki in a scene that had me snorting awkwardly on the bus, glad that nobody could see what I was laughing at. I was disappointed that Eve went all the way to human shape here, rather than stomping around as Kiyomi’s naughty bits, but at least she was shape changing and slimy while harvesting Toshiaki’s potent seed. Now able to create some weird, mitochondrial-human hybrid, Eve escapes through the sewer. Toshiaki gives chase, but Les Miserables this is not.
Meanwhile, Mariko is having horrible nightmares and her kidney is bouncing around inside her in a most unkidney-like fashion. Eve pours herself through the sink, tosses a doctor against the wall, and enflames two nurses. This sets Sena off on a random, multi-paragraph tangent about, what else, spontaneous combustion. Toshiaki and Mariko’s dad arrive in time to extinguish the doctor’s hands, which Eve lights on fire as she makes off with Mariko’s unconscious body. They miraculously figure out exactly where Eve might go and give chase, despite several people being in various stages of recovery from massive burns, rape, and shock at seeing a monster run off with a nubile 14 year-old whose kidney is trying to escape, Alien-style, from her body.
This brings us to the ickiest part of the book, when Eve debates how to best insert her fertilized egg inside Mariko’s womb. Fortunately for Eve, this is Japan, where the correct answer to most questions is “rape,” so she doesn’t have to think for long. Eve makes some necessary adjustments to her equipment, then Sena tells us much more than we ever wanted to know about how this sort of thing might happen. Thanks, Sena! The men are naturally horrified by it all, and even moreso as nine months of pregnancy condense themselves into about that many minutes; before they can say, “Holy hideous and hostile hybrid, Batman!” Eve and Toshiaki are proud parents. Normally, this would be the end of the world as we know it, but some detail of biology that I don’t really understand means that the mitochondriac love child literally needs a man, so she merges with Toshiaki in a creepy daddy-daughter pairing that kills them both off in some sort of inappropriate-yet-parental ecstasy.
At this point, a now conscious Mariko, apparently unaware that she has been violated by a monster and forced to carry its now dead baby to term, smiles at her dad and says, “Everything is ok now, the kidney is really mine.” And they all lived happily ever after, even the grad student.
So yeah, where do I start? Pacing and characterization and stuff are not egregiously bad, but I really can’t figure out why this book among hundreds set off a firestorm. It’s really boring for a long time. I guess enough people made it to the last set pieces, since those do have enough pyrotechnics to offset the preceding drudgery. I have no idea how this got turned into a movie without some massive story changes. Japanese studios didn’t have the budget or technology in the late 1990s to make some of this work, to say nothing of the waggling, marauding genitalia. Still, the end was fun and it made me laugh. (That may not be what Sena had in mind, but I don’t see how the reader can take this seriously.)
What is more troubling is Sena’s portrayal of women. The dude has a serious Madonna-Whore complex going here; some of his descriptions of Eve made me cringe. The ladies are either pure, shy, and/or uninterested, or they are brazen, rape-machine hussies. Well, one hussy. It’s pretty clear what nice girls don’t say and do in Sena’s world. At the same time, he unabashedly turns Ye Olde Male Gaze on his victims. Among others, I now know far more than I want to about Mariko’s young (underage), wholesome body. Note to prospective authors out there: I used to teach junior high school girls. Please don’t attempt to make me think about them in that way. It just gives me the willies and makes you look gross. Finally, there is the end of the book, when the strong, forceful woman who attempts to overthrow the system is thwarted by her own, male-needing biology. Three cheers for the Three P’s of Japanese Society: Patriarchy, Pederasty, and raPe. (OK, so that is a little clumsier than I might have hoped. Sorry.)
Final recommendations? Let’s go with hilarious, but sometimes cringe-worthy, fun. Well, fun leavened with 170 pages of biology infodumps. If the gentle reader only wants to consume the best fiction out there, give this a pass. However, much as I have been known to occasionally crave Taco Bell and corn dogs, some readers may periodically wish to read something grotesque and offensive, with side orders of nurse combustion and rape-happy goop balls. If this is so, do I have a book for you.
Rating: Gotta go with the Japanese Women’s National Team being forced to fly economy to the 2012 Olympics, but only if there are too #%^% many snakes on that plane.