24 December 2014

12 Days of Anime: Christmas (Parasite) Eve

Watching the latest crop of video game commercials, one comes across a whole lot of “cinematics” being thrown around. Lush, lovely scenes in today’s games that serve to enhance the experience of playing with a television. And as each console generation passes, the line between game and interactive movie blurs even more. Seriously, look at games like Destiny or Wolfenstein- they’re shooters with cutscenes that play themselves off like films, building a world with characters that the player is part of. 

Some of these attempts succeed (Mass Effect, Skyrim...to an extent), and others fall short (Final Fantasy XIII), but the desire to make games more like movies has been part of a trend that stretches all the way back to the 90s. For my final post in Study of Anime’s 12 Days of Anime project, I wanted to focus on one of those old properties, which conveniently begins at Christmas, and proceeds almost to the New Year. 

Parasite Eve was released in 1998 by then-Squaresoft, part of its RPG “Renaissance” that spanned the entirety of the decade. Billed rather proudly on its back cover as “The Cinematic RPG,” Square attempted to move beyond the sword-and-sorcery epics it had made in the past, and focus on a game that blended RPG mechanics with a modern setting. Centered around NYPD Detective Aya Brea (also a “first” as the game had not just a female protagonist, but the sole playable character), who finds herself suddenly trapped on Christmas Eve at an opera debut at Carnegie Hall, when the audience quite literally burns up. What follows is an episodic tale strung together by Brea’s encounters with the mysterious opera singer Melissa Pearce, who is slowly mutating into something else-Mitochondrial Eve, the founder of a new race determined to wipe humanity off the face of the planet. 

At the time I had no idea that the game I was playing (and replaying) was based on a novel, or that it was intended to be a horror game on top of being a new type of JRPG. I was taken in by the cutscenes, the serial nature of the episodes, and the slow-burning buildup to a showdown with a monster on the last day of the year. Aya was an amazing character to play, her active battle system and use of “Parasite Powers” adding bits of strategy to an otherwise straightforward game. On top of that, I played the game right around Christmas, which tied in with the time frame of the story, and honestly made the holiday feel more like Halloween. Parasite Eve was something new, and I welcomed the experience. 

Despite sharing a name with famous novel be Hideaki Sena, Parasite Eve shares little else in terms of plot, characters, or setting. When I first picked up the novel, I was honestly expecting a literary version of the game I had played over and over between 1998 and 2000. But what I read was anything but. Instead of a science fiction horror story set in Manhattan as the world decays into a mass of sludge and mitochondrial terror, the book was for more subtle in its execution, using science and speculation to create an elaborate what-if scenario. What if a man driven mad by grief used science to upend the order of the world. What if his desire to create and sustain life resulted in the ending of it? Much like the seminal classic Frankenstein, Parasite Eve the NOVEL was more about fringe science and mental disarray. 

Parasite Eve the GAME was more cinematic, linear, and definitely focused on the “action” instead of the “consequences.” Its ties to the novel are established loosely, mostly through references to Aya’s mother being named Mariko, who was a teenage girl in the novel. Loss is still confronted, as Aya loses her mother and sister, and almost her sight, in a car accident as a young girl. Like the novel, a piece of her lost family is left behind- her sister Maya’s cornea, transplanted into the young Aya. This postmortem gift would prove to be advantageous to the girl, who gains a hint of the power that Maya’s other harvested organs bestows upon opera singer Melissa- just enough to harness in defense, without losing her sanity as Melissa does.

But the sense of frantic loss and the devouring need to impact the present is missing from Aya’s story. She confronted her loss as a young girl, and has grown up a bit distant, but still stable. Toshiyaki Nagishima, on the other hand, obsesses over his brain dead wife (influenced by Eve, but still playing out the role of the grieving husband). The sharp sense of recent loss causes him to fall prey to suggestion, which in turn perverts the genuine affection he had for his wife Kiyomi, and transforms it into something...else. Just like Eve is a transformation of mitochondrial cells into something...else. The beauty of both love and life are upended, stolen, and warped by the presence of a malicious force claiming to be the mother of the new world.

And now for some wild, completely ridiculous commentary. You have been forewarned. 

On December 24th, 1997, Eve arises in Manhattan, to replace mankind with something she describes as “superior.” “Ultimate.” Something that will sweep away the flawed parasite that is humanity and replace it with “purity” and power. Eve succeeds in bringing this new force to life, but mankind ultimately continues on its path of destruction, and kills the infant before it can implement change. Though some express regret and wonder about what could have been, and life goes on.

Definitely NOT Jesus...
Somewhere in the deep past, on December 24th, a young mother prepares to give birth to a child who will (hopefully) change humanity. We are broken and flawed, consumed by greed and sinful impulses. This child will force us to confront those flaws, and transform into something better, stronger, more powerful. Maybe more pure, but that has yet to be discovered. The child is born, lives a life of teaching, and is then killed by those same humans he was born to save. Though some express regret and wonder about what could have been, and life goes on. 

Now I’m definitely not going to say that Parasite Eve has anything to do with the birth of Jesus, aside from the fact its set during Christmas, and uses the birth of an “Ultimate (mitochondrial) Saviour” that will change the world as a central plot point. Many, many authors died just now as I made that statement. But given how the book twists something beautiful like birth, rebirth, and transcendence into something terrifying, allegory might still apply. 

Parasite Eve is a blend of philosophy and speculation, not just about human emotion, but also about the perversion of human emotion. Eve is supposedly looking out for her child’s best interest, but that child’s motivations are unclear. It is destroyed in both novel and game right after being born, showing in part "proof" that its aberrant form equates it with being a monster. But at the same time Aya’s final words in the game flat out decry humanity’s relationship with the planet, comparing us to the ultimate parasite, as opposed to the symbiosis between nucleus and mitochondria as espoused by Eve. Maybe the Ultimate Being would have been a savior for the world, but Aya still kills it. Humanity keeps on living, and hopefully learns from their mistakes. The saviour might promise a better world, but its up to mankind to make that decision for itself. And the latent fatalism of both book and novel claim that mankind is neither strong enough, nor determined enough to take that step. 

One more dead author...

I played Parasite Eve a total of 8 times on the Playstation. And 5 more times on the PSP. One of those times was last night, as I blasted through the game yet again (I can clear it in under 3 hours now, thank you EX mode) in preparation for this post. While the graphics are now clearly dated, and the mechanics clunky when compared to recently released the games, it’s the story that drew me in all those years ago, and it remains sharp to this day. The same voices that infused drama and emotion into the tale of Aya Brea still resonate, and still motivate people to experience the world they created. While I for one would adore an HD remake, at the same time there’s something timeless about a game that came out almost 15 years ago still retaining its relevance, and enjoyment. 

Merry Christmas, and bless of EVE-ry one. 

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